With Thanksgiving just hours away, FOX Sports went looking for the seven things NFL fans should be most thankful for on this, the holiday of giving thanks. (It's right there in the name.) Fans of all 32 teams can find a way to give thanks, whether for an exciting new coach, an unexpected playoff race, continued dominance or the fact that LeBron has made the Browns season just a little less depressing. Happy Thanksgiving to all.
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The moment your fantasy season ends
Throughout life, wisdom and age will inevitability lead you to realizing something you once loved is actually quite sucky. It can be music (you liked Metallica, Eminem and/or Bon Iver?), TV/movies (Caddyshack, Monty Python, the collected works of Judd Apatow), books (the ones you used to lie about having read) or sports (the NBA). For me, it was fantasy football. I'm 18 years into my fantasy career and like an athlete just going through the motions, I've lost all interest after coming to the realization it's just not very fun. But still I play. It's like watching The Walking Dead. You know it's gotten horrible, you're aware that it no longer brings you the joy it once did but you feel compelled to stick with it out of a misguided sense of obligation and because it gives you something to talk about with your friends. Knowing full well I sound like an old man, the game has changed. The days of scoring games yourself are over. No one buys fantasy magazines, after walking uphill in the snow to a special place called a "book store," to study for the draft. And scouring the Internet for stats that might give you some insight as to who to start? No need. You could spend all week reading opinions about your lineup and come out more confused than you were going in. The worst part is that with vulturing running backs, prolific quarterbacks on bad teams running up numbers in garbage time and all those injuries, fantasy has basically become like playing the sports lottery. There's no such thing as being good. It's all about being lucky. (Or getting into a league where people don't know anything about football and/or are too lazy to change their teams.) The lottery thing is fine once a year when you do it with your NCAA tournament bracket, but week-in, week-out for four months?
Football on Thanksgiving, obviously
How big is football in America? Across the country, people will adjust their Thanksgiving meal times so they can watch the bigger of the two afternoon games (in this case, Redskins at Cowboys at 4:30 p.m. ET on FOX, wink, wink). Relatives who couldn't tell the difference between Kirk Cousins and your random second cousin who stopped by unannounced this year will happily take input so that the 4 p.m. dinner is bumped up to 3 p.m., all in the interest of America's Pastime. Also, by the time Thanksgiving hits the NFL schedule (which is always Week 12 or 13), the season is reaching the home stretch, which means games between two good teams will inevitably bring big playoff implications. The NBA's Christmas lineup is cool and something good to have in the background while you try to fly your new GoPro drone indoors, but like all NBA games that aren't Games 5, 6 or 7 of a playoff series, they're completely meaningless.
The best games on the NFL slate are divvied up between the late-afternoon slots on Sunday and the primetime game later that night. And while primetime games always have a special feel, a 4:25 p.m. ET (or 1:25 p.m. PT) showdown gives fans one of the rarest treats in professional sports -- a major event that doesn't end after a reasonable person goes to bed. It's never made sense to me that the NFL can own Sunday afternoon (where ratings are usually higher than the nighttime), but the World Series and NBA Finals refuse to budge from weekend primetime.
Statistics are meaningless
Football numbers have little year-to-year comparative value, and the statistical analysis leaves a lot everything to be desired. The most respected evaluation metric had the Philadelphia Eagles as the best team in the league a week ago and still has the 5-5 team at No. 2. That's no diss of the evaluators, just an example of the difficulty in culling meaningful statistics from such a situational game. We love stats. With all the numbers at their disposal, baseball fans are like kids in a candy store, and the advancement of sabermetrics is like building another wing on that store. But there was still something fun about debating who should win Most Valuable Player -- not just writing down the name of the guy with the most wins above replacement. With no such statistical absolutes in football, the debate is alive and well. It's like art: open to interpretation. Do you put all you faith in records and therefore think the 8-2 Raiders are the third-best team in football? Do you use your eyes and say the 7-2-1 Seahawks are better than anyone? Or do you go by feel and say that the Giants, who've had a bizarre season that's somehow led to a 7-3 record, have the look of one of those New York teams that sneaks into the postseason and finishes with a stroll down the Canyon of Heroes? Who's more important: Dak Prescott or Ezekiel Elliott? Can Tom Brady really be the MVP if he only plays 12 games? Did Aaron Rodgers really get that bad or is he trying to save the Packers defense by doing too much? Is Brock Osweiler's contract more or less appetizing than creamed corn or canned cranberry sauce? In football, no number is going to give you that answer, and there's something fun about subjectivity in a digital world.
Football and wings go together as well as football and beer, and football and beer go really, really well together (though beer goes well with a lot of things -- baseball, summer days, golfing, Tuesdays, etc.). In terms of food, though, has any snack/meal/gorging instrument been as associated with a sport as wings are with football? Maybe Crackerjack and baseball back in the days when men wore suits to games and women weren't invited, but today? It's wings: delicious, messy and available in a variety of flavors that allow you to make assumptions about the people who order then. (Mild? You're a grown man. Mild is for children, salsas and meteorological descriptions of April afternoons.)
The flow of the game
There's only about 11 minutes of actual play in an average NFL game but, except for the interminable replay reviews and the dreaded touchdown-commercial-kickoff-commercial combination, the game generally has a good, uninterrupted flow that parcels the drama and the anticipation in equal amounts. It's unique that way. College basketball is great, but you don't get a second to breathe. Then, in the final two minutes, you see officials spend more time staring at a television than you see actual basketball. Baseball is tremendous, but the drama is built in those 25 seconds between pitches while the batter adjusts his gloves with more precision than a NASA checklist and a pitcher shakes off three signs, throws to first, then shakes off four signs. It's captivating, but there's always a sense of "are we there yet?" The NBA is so yawn-inducing that it plays music while the game is going on and lets teams move up 45 feet on the court simply by putting their hands in a T. Football, though? It's just right. The beginning of the game matters as much as the end of the game. Comebacks are built in any number of different ways; there's no single recipe. The game is built so that, at worst (e.g. a Ravens game), there's a crucial moment every three plays. At best, it's like Cowboys-Steelers from two weeks ago. Overall, football simply has a nice pace that always moves the game but has enough downtime that fans can do other things in between plays, like eating mild wings.
Christmas Eve football
Every couple of years -- whenever Christmas Eve is on a Saturday or Sunday -- the NFL has a mostly-full slate of games on the non-holiday holiday. With Christmas falling on a Sunday this year, we'll have a Saturday full of football. With Christmas falling on a Monday next year, we'll have a Sunday full of football. If you celebrate, there's a festiveness to games so close to Christmas. The house is all toasty, it smells like pie, the presents are waiting under the tree and you're able to become one with your family as you gather together to root against Bill Belichick. But either way, Christmas Eve games are a gift for all: It's NFL action that you can enjoy without knowing you have to go to work the next day.