Thanksgiving 2016: 20 Things We’re Thankful For in the NFL
On Thanksgiving, there are plenty of things that NFL fans have to be thankful for this holiday.
Each Thanksgiving holiday, there are several traditions many celebrate. There is, of course, the food shared with friends and family. However, it’s most importantly the holiday where we should all give thanks for what we have in life—and for the NFL
The NFL is full of characters, great players, great coaches and some of the most loyal fan bases around in any sport. Each NFL season, we can also be thankful for the rich history that the league has given us. There is also a thankfulness that needs to be shown for changes in the current game, too.
Games on Thanksgiving are another aspect of the NFL many are thankful for. And for others, it isn’t the games itself that they are thankful for—but the individual stats each player achieves for their fantasy football team. (I’m still thankful for the career year of Peyton Hillis in 2010.)
So, as we sit back and prepare for however we like to celebrate Thanksgiving on Thursday, be thankful for all that the NFL gives us as fans. Even though many of us have our differences when it comes to the teams and players we cheer for on a weekly basis, all of can be thankful for something when it comes to pro football.
Here are 20 things to be thankful for in the NFL.
1. The Return of the Oakland Raiders
The Oakland Raiders never exactly went anywhere, but how great is it to see them as a viable contender in the AFC once again? Their young roster mixed with a smattering of veterans makes this team exciting to watch even for a casual observer of them.
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The Raiders like to go by the motto of “Just Win Baby,” which was created by their late owner Al Davis. As they are 8-2 entering Week 12, that is what they’ve done for most of this season under head coach Jack Del Rio.
What a great comeback this is for Del Rio, too. His years with the Jacksonville Jaguars weren’t the best, but he’s showing what a proper draft and having a franchise that wants to return to what it was during their glory days can achieve.
They are doing so with players like Derek Carr, Amari Cooper and Latavius Murray on offense. Defensively, the likes of Khalil Mack, Reggie Nelson, Riley Perry and Bruce Irvin are difference-makers, too. There are certainly more, but that’s just to name a few.
The NFL is much better, more exciting, and complete when the Raiders are competitive. This year, they are giving their fan base a lot to cheer for. And how much more exciting would it be to see the Silver and Black back in the playoffs for the first time since the 2002 season?
2. The Offensive Line of the Dallas Cowboys
The offensive line of the Dallas Cowboys, when they are run-blocking, is exciting to watch. They are the best in the business at what they do. Having three first-round draft selections and possibly the three best players at their individual positions makes for some exciting football to enjoy.
Dallas’ offensive line deserves much credit for how they play the game. Back in the 1990s, this unit was known as the “Great Wall.” Well, this is a reincarnation of that group, because they are doing some amazing things this season.
Two years ago, they blocked for DeMarco Murray and his 1,800-yard season. This year, they are doing the same thing, possibly at an even higher level, for rookie Ezekiel Elliott and Co. As a team, the Cowboys have rushed for 1,567 yards through 10 games. Elliott himself has rushed for 1,102 yards, breaking the Cowboys’ rookie rushing record already this season—but more on him later.
This offensive line is special and it was built because of a lot of poor seasons and high draft picks by this franchise. This year, they are showing what a true rebuild through the draft can do for a team and the offensive line was the foundation that got the ball rolling.
3. Brett Favre’s Hall of Fame Speech
All of the limelight for the 2016 Pro Football Hall of Fame induction was mostly set around former Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre. And if there ever was a speech that impressed and pulled at the heartstrings a little bit more than usual, it was his.
Favre showed great passion and why he and many of us love the game of football. His speech mirrored his style of play, as he left it all out on the field, so to speak. One of the many things Favre said during that speech was this:
What makes me most proud is how I played the game and being real, authentic and spontaneous, and loving the game to me is what it was all about. I couldn’t believe that they paid us and that I was racking up statistics like I was. I was just having fun. I’m most proud of that.
Favre played the game like many of us do in the backyard. He was the common man playing at an uncommon level. And how he described his football playing style as “spontaneous” makes many of us even more thankful for Favre, not only how he played the game, but how he expressed what we all feel in his Hall of Fame speech.
4. The End of Deflategate
Maybe the thing to be most thankful for is we don’t have to read or listen about Tom Brady going to court over some footballs from two years ago. Brady served his suspension, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell became Public Enemy No. 1 to some northeast football fans and now everyone can move on.
When Brady was gone, the New England Patriots went 3-1. Since his return, they’ve won five games and lost one. The Patriots are doing just fine—the suspension didn’t really hurt the Patriots or Brady—but in the process, the folks in charge of the NFL were made to look a fool.
Each year, we have to hear about some type of “Gate” during the NFL preseason recently. But this one lasted two years and I, for one, am thankful it is all over with…I hope.
How thankful would Patriots fans be if Goodell has to be hand New England the Lombardi Trophy after winning Super Bowl LI? How awkward would it be for him to be with the player he nearly destroyed? Though I’m not a Patriots fan, that would be a sight to see for sure. Maybe it would boost the NFL ratings that have gone down some this season.
5. The NFL Draft
This past April, the 2016 NFL Draft was three days of pure entertainment. That draft has already made stars out of two of the top four selections in Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz (No. 2 overall) and Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott (No. 4 overall), both residing in the NFC East.
The NFL draft not only gave us potential franchise players at their respective positions, but it gave us a lot to talk about then and even now. For example, we start to ponder how a quarterback like Dak Prescott is 9-1 as a rookie starter after being drafted in the fourth round while the New York Jets drafted Christian Hackenberg in the second round and he hasn’t gotten close to the field during the regular season.
That is the beauty of the NFL Draft and one of the reasons I’m thankful for being a fan of the NFL. It is the unknown of exactly how players we all put time into studying, scouting and reading about turn out. Sometimes we find out quickly. Other times, it takes a little while longer to see how a player will be at the professional level.
How long do we have until the 2017 NFL Draft? I can’t wait!
6. The Hope Jeff Fisher Brings to Everyday Life
Current Los Angeles Rams head coach Jeff Fisher gives everyone hope that, no matter how bad you are at your chosen profession, you can be rewarded.
The last Fisher-led team to have a winning record was the 2008 Tennessee Titans at 13-3 overall. They were the No. 1 seed in the AFC that season and lost in the divisional round of the playoffs after receiving a bye. Since then, his teams either in Tennessee or St. Louis have finished with no more than eight wins in a season (2009). From 2010-15, no team Fisher has coached has finished with a winning record, having a 7-9 record twice, a 6-10 record twice and once his team went 7-8-1.
This season, the Rams are 4-6 entering Week 12 and the best they can finish is 10-6 overall. Let’s be honest though, with the way their offensive line blocks for running back Todd Gurley, that record isn’t happening.
To add even more to this glorious mystery of how he stays a head coach in the NFL, Fisher is closing in on Dan Reeves for having the most losses in the history of the NFL, needing just four more to achieve that. Maybe that is just part of the game since he has been a head coach since 1994.
7. Fantasy Football
Many of us love fantasy football. Maybe that’s an understatement, because what was once just something to do in the regular season has become a 24-7-365 hobby and a job for many, too. Is fantasy football an obsession? That could be a possibility, but it is a form of entertainment that makes football even more exciting than it already is.
Why do we love fantasy football so much? One of the main reasons to love and be thankful for fantasy football is the fact that fans now pay more attention to players and have become more of a stat guy. This isn’t just about stars as it’s led to watching film of lesser-known players. I’m in a dynasty fantasy league where we drafted 32 offensive and defensive players total and keep those players each season. With trades and a rookie draft, that type of fantasy football makes me and others a better overall fan of the game.
There are many other reasons to be thankful for fantasy football. Other than the fact that it makes you more informed on the usual superstar players, it teaches fans to get more excited for certain matchups between a wide receiver and defensive back or for how a quarterback fares against a certain type of defensive style. Fantasy football makes the game better in more ways than it hurts it.
New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski makes the NFL fun. Sure, he’s outlandish at times. But when he’s on the football field, he’s all business and he walks the walk. Just by watching Gronkowski, it is evident he enjoys what he does for a living and he’s played through and recovered from some serious injuries in his NFL career.
There is also the current Madden NFL 17 commercial where he’s singing 1980s hair-band type of music. Gronkowski makes the Patriots even more interesting than they already are. It amazes me that, with the way he acts away from the football field, he stays on the good side of the bullish head coach of the Patriots, Bill Belichick. They might be the true odd couple of the entire NFL and it’s absolutely wonderful
With Gronkowski, there is also the “Gronk Spike,” a touchdown celebration that’s incredibly simple, but now a modern symbol of the NFL. What’s more, Gronkowski has been in the business of changing how tight ends are used in the NFL today. He’s a hybrid and more powerful wide receiver in addition to his run-blocking duties. He’s easily a game changer. That in itself makes him a player to be thankful for.
9. Games on Thanksgiving, Of Course
It used to be there were just two games on Thanksgiving with the early game featuring the Detroit Lions and the second game being hosted by the Dallas Cowboys. Those two great traditions still live on today. But in 2006, a third game has been added for primetime, giving NFL fans three games to overload on after we recover from a meal of turkey and pie, or whatever you prefer to eat on Thanksgiving.
These games hopefully bring back good memories for everyone (except the Cowboys vs. Dolphins in 1993 thanks to Leon Lett), especially fans of the Cowboys and Lions. It is part of what makes Thanksgiving so special. This year, the Lions host the Minnesota Vikings, the Cowboys host the Washington Redskins and the Indianapolis Colts host the Pittsburgh Steelers. Overall, the Cowboys are 29-19-1 on Thanksgiving, and the Lions have a record of 36-38-2.
With the NFL going away from so many other traditions or making decisions based solely on how much money they can make, knowing the Lions and Cowboys will be a staple of each and every Thanksgiving makes the day even a little more special than it already is.
10. The New Extra Point Rule
Many might actually be thankful for the new extra point rule for kickers after there were a total of 12 PATs missed in Week 11. It is the assumption the kickers of the NFL are not a fan of moving the kicks back, but doesn’t it make you a little more on edge about those kicks now? If you are a fan of the Cincinnati Bengals or the New York Giants, you aren’t thankful at all for the new rule as Mike Nugent and Robbie Gould each missed two extra point attempts.
What makes this rule even better is that some coaches will go for more two-point conversions, and when isn’t a two-point conversion exciting? Kickers will eventually become more comfortable with the current distance of 33 yards. But for now, I’m thankful for the excitement and unknown it brings to the otherwise boring PAT.
In a recent USA Today article by Josh Peter, he suggests moving the extra point attempts back another 10 yards. I’m not sure that will ever happen. Even though it would affect the outcome of games, it would make the game more exciting in the long run as there would be more two-point conversion attempts each game.
11. NFL Network
The best channel on TV is NFL Network, especially during the offseason with their coverage of everything NFL Draft. Obviously the draft is a big deal for many fans and NFL Network makes for great TV for football junkies with their coverage of the select college senior bowl games and the combine.
Also with the NFL Network, there are the Thursday night games (which are okay at times) and sometimes games on Saturday. Maybe the best part about the NFL Network is their documentaries, especially A Football Life, because we get to see more than just the Xs and Os of the game.
There is a lot about the NFL Network to be thankful for, but I think it would be even better if there were more classic games to watch all season long. Sometimes it would be nice to have a game from the 1980s on the Network for the younger generation to see how different the game was 30 years ago—or even classic games from the 1990s.
In any case, all NFL fans should be thankful in some way for the NFL Network, because it makes the overall experience of pro football better.
Though I’m a huge fan of offense and a big yardage play, is there anything that will make you jump out of your chair faster than a quarterback sack? It doesn’t matter if your quarterback is the one being sacked or if it is your favorite defense making the sack, there is certain feeling of joy or anger that happens when a sack occurs.
When your team is the one making the sack, that is the part to be thankful for, but there is also more than just the actual play that makes the sack something to be thankful for. For instance, there would be no term for the play if it wasn’t for Deacon Jones. Jones was maybe the best at the sack, but during most of his NFL career, that stat wasn’t kept on record.
If not for the quarterback sack, the late Reggie White wouldn’t be remembered as he is today. His ability of sacking the quarterback made for his nickname, “The Minister of Defense.” Legends are made because of the sack and those legendary players are something to be thankful for. If not for them paving the way, the defensive superstars we have today like JJ.. Watt and Von Miller, to name just two, wouldn’t be the household names they are.
13. Player Nicknames
Nicknames in the NFL have been around practically forever. In the past, there were names like “Primetime,” “Night Train,” “Broadway” and even “The Refrigerator.” Today’s players have some creative nicknames, too.
One in particular that comes to mind is Cowboys rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott and his simple but effective nickname, “Zeke.” There is also “Matty Ice,” for Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan. How can we not mention “Revis Island?” Though at one time, nobody ever wanted to visit that particular island, while it has become more of a resort this season.
Nicknames in the NFL makes referencing players a little easier and fun. But what really makes it something to be thankful for it can turn really good players into legends with the proper nickname. Even groups of players can be known by a nickname. For instance, the Seattle Seahawks defense has affectionately (and accurately) been dubbed the “Legion of Boom” for years. Historically, there’s also the 1990s Cowboys trio of Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin, who were known as “The Triplets.” That nickname has been trying to resurface with some current Cowboys, too.
Nicknames make the NFL fun and, for a league that some have nicknamed the “No Fun League,” a little extra fun and excitement is something to be thankful for.
14. 2016 Rookies
How can we not be thankful for some of the rookies in today’s NFL? Rookies in the NFL have made teams like the Philadelphia Eagles and the Dallas Cowboys relevant again, with Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott for the Cowboys and Carson Wentz of the Eagles. Also in the NFC East, the New York Giants and rookie wide receiver Sterling Shepard are making their passing game better than last year.
Another rookie to be thankful for from this class is San Diego Chargers linebacker Joey Bosa. Though his offseason wasn’t something to be thankful for with a holdout, fans of the Chargers have a possible game-changer in Bosa. The Ohio State product has 15 tackles and four sacks to go with numerous pressures.
There is also Jalen Ramsey of the Jacksonville Jaguars, as the defensive back has already proven to be the correct choice for the Jaguars at No. 5 overall. Fans of the Jaguars have a player who will contribute for many years for their franchise, which they hope will turn around as a whole sooner rather than later.
Another rookie to be thankful for is Tennessee Titans offensive tackle Jack Conklin, who didn’t allow a sack through the first 10 weeks. You can also bet that second-year quarterback Marcus Mariota is thankful for his new tackle.
Rivalries make the NFL fun, plain and simple. Plus it is always good to have a team you want to see your team beat, no matter how good or bad the season has become. For example, one of the most historic rivalries in the NFL is the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears. Though some aren’t fans of either one of these teams, there is a little extra attention paid to that game when you hear they are facing each other.
The same can be said for the Kansas City Chiefs/Oakland Raiders/Denver Broncos or the entire NFC East, because those games are always hard-hitting and heated. Lately, the Cincinnati Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers have had some very violent rivalry games, including the playoffs from last season, when things went a bit crazy to say the least.
Those type of rivalries are just some that make the NFL great. They have past historic value and, at times, get back to the pure dislike teams had for each other. Many are civil after the game, but when the clock is running and a win or loss is on the line, there is just something that just can’t be beat as an NFL fan.
16. Al Michaels
The voice of NBC Sunday Night Football, announcer Al Michaels is the very best in the business today and of the past few decades. He always brings us great insight and, even at his increasing age, he’s still at the top of his game.
Also with Michaels, you know when he’s got the call of a game, the game has some great importance. The same can be said of Mike Tirico, who has taken over some of the broadcasting duties of Michaels with the increased workload by NBC Sports with the addition of Thursday Night Football.
Though Michaels’ most famous call came with the 1980 United States hockey team and the Miracle on Ice, he’s still a staple of NFL coverage. Also remember that, before he called the Sunday Night Football games, he was the No. 1 announcer for Monday Night Football. And let’s be honest, since he’s left Mondays, the games don’t seem as big as they once were.
There is no announcer that is better than he is when it comes to announcing football. His voice is noticeable and, when you hear his voice over the airwaves, folks should be thankful because most likely a great game is about to happen.
17. Bill Belichick’s Press Conferences and Hoodies
Even though he can pull off being a jerk to the media each and every week, there is a special charm about a press conference involving Bill Belichick. He gives gruff, one-word answers and genuinely just doesn’t want any part of it.
He’s had some good press conferences in his time … remember the one with the repetitive answer of “We’re on to Cincinnati.” There was also his two-worded answer this season when asked if he would bench Tom Brady if his backup quarterbacks played well during Brady’s suspension. It is just great TV, so to speak.
There is also his fashion statement of hoodies with part of the sleeves cut off. Maybe that is some rebellion with the NFL, or it is more comfortable for him, but it has become a trademark of his to be thankful for.
He’s never going to change, we all know that, and he can be tough at being likable at times, but that is what makes him so great … the fact that he doesn’t care if he’s liked. He has one goal in mind, and that is to win. His old-school approach is welcome and something all NFL fans should be thankful for, at least just a little bit.
18. The Cleveland Browns
If you team has faced the Cleveland Browns this season, you must be thankful for the automatic wins. Also, for those who are fans of memes, we also have to be thankful for the Browns and all the entertainment they provide each week.
The Browns are 0-11 entering Week 12 and it seems like even just one win is becoming less and less likely. They’ve been in games only to give them away in the fourth quarter. But they have made a solid player out of former quarterback Terrelle Pryor. He’s now a pretty good wide receiver and keeps showing improvement.
Browns fans, you can be thankful for your winless team, too. They’ve set the bar so low this season in the win-loss column so that next year could seem like the rebuild is actually going to work. One thing the Browns do have that is a positive is that Hue Jackson is a good football coach. And no team’s fanbase has more patience than those in Cleveland.
The Browns are still unsure about their starting quarterback for next season and need help throughout the entire roster, but at least there is a team in Cleveland. Considering the situation just 20 years ago, that is something to be thankful for.
19. The Cowboys’ Rookie Duo
Even fans that hate the Dallas Cowboys with a passion have to admit the rookie duo of Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott makes the NFL more interesting and a better overall league. Many (myself included) thought that the Cowboys needed to draft defense in the first round to have a chance to be successful this season. I’ll be the first to admit I was completely wrong—and I’m thankful I was.
Elliott is battling for not only the Rookie of the Year award, but he’s also a player in the race for being the NFL MVP. Some have also mentioned Prescott in that talk as well and for good reason.
You want to know how good these rookies are after their first 10 games of their career? They are known nationally by just one name. Elliott is better known as Zeke, and Prescott can be known by just his first name, Dak. When a team has not one, but two players known by just one name, that’s usually a sign that something special is going on.
To show just how good they are, Elliott has rushed for 1,102 yards (223 carries) and 280 yards receiving (22 receptions) already this season. He’s also rushed for nine touchdowns and caught one touchdown. Prescott has completed 67.7 percent of his passes through 10 games with 2,640 yards passing, 141 rushing and a total of 17 passing touchdowns and four rushing. All of those numbers are something to be thankful for.
20. The Super Bowl
Is there any other sporting event that brings more buzz and excitement each year than the Super Bowl? No matter who is playing, fans of the NFL of varying levels of interest come out to watch this game.
There is a lot of energy the week of the Super Bowl and it really showcases what the NFL is capable of on the biggest stage of them all. In recent years, the Super Bowl has even been a great game. We’ll never forget the final play of the New England Patriots vs. Seattle Seahawks matchup in Super Bowl XLIX (just run the ball, Seattle!).
The Super Bowl makes great players into legends and regular players into stars for their one night of glory. That is what is great about the Super Bowl and why we all should be thankful for it.
Players, coaches and fans want nothing more than the team they are on or cheer for to play for and win the Lombardi Trophy. When they receive the trophy, that is a special moment as you can see the players being more than just athletes, letting their guard down and soaking in what it means to win that game. Players who don’t win it always talk about how they’ll never forget that feeling, too.
The emotions the Super Bowl can bring out in players, coaches, and fans alike is something to be thankful for as it gives anyone who is involved with the NFL. It’s what every team strives for from Day 1 of preseason and what every fan wishes for their team. And we should be thankful to have that kind of feeling.