Thanksgiving Football

Thanksgiving Football is a time for celebration. A time for family. A time for football. Standard Sport enlisted the help of former American football star and regular pundit on the BBC’s NFL show Jason Bell, to preview this year’s festive games…

In the US, football is synonymous with the celebration of Thanksgiving, a tradition to rival the sacred rituals of Boxing Day soccer in this country, or the Boxing Day Test in Australia.

“Thanksgiving is a huge week for football,” Bell explains. “Even if you’re not a football fan, you’re watching on Thanksgiving.

“In my rookie year, playing with the Dallas Cowboys, playing on Thanksgiving – you knew the world was watching, the nation was watching.”

And this nation will be too. Interest in the NFL on these shores has never been greater, and after another successful run of London games, it’s becoming increasingly easy for viewers in the UK to join the party stateside, not least through the NFL’s Game Pass, which gives subscribers access to every single game.

Chicago Bears @ Detroit Lions 5:30pm GMT
The Bears are enjoying a terrific season, riding high at the top of the NFC North on a 7-3 record, led by the best-paid defensive player in football, Khalil Mack, and 2017 first round draft pick Mitch Trubisky at quarterback.

“The Bears are an amazing team,” Bell says. “They get so many turnovers, you just think week to week they can’t continue that success, but they do and they have.

“Trubisky has evolved and it’s because of his coach [Matt Nagy]. He’s got a ton of weapons around him, so that helps, but this team is really, really good.”

The Lions, meanwhile, are languishing at the bottom of the division but this day means more to them than most, having played on every Thanksgiving since 1934. The two teams met just two weeks ago in Chicago, with the Bears running out 34-22 winners, and Bell believes the proximity of that fixture could play a part at Ford Field.

“It would make me a little more confident if I’d played well,” he says. “If I played against a receiver and I felt like ‘man, I can cover this guy now’. It doesn’t work in your favour if you’re like ‘I never want to see that guy again’.”

Washington Redskins @ Dallas Cowboys 9:30pm GMT
With the Philadelphia Eagles suffering from a huge Super Bowl hangover, and the expected New York Giants revival yet to materialise, the NFC East is wide open.

The Redskins looked set to be the chief beneficiaries, so when they lost starting quarterback Alex Smith to a broken leg last weekend, it came as something of a hammer blow.

“This is devastating for them because they really had something special going on,” says Bell of a team who will now rely on backup QB Colt McCoy and an efficient run game to reach the playoffs. “It would be a great opportunity missed because they were the front runners.”

The Cowboys were a team in crisis just two weeks ago at 3-5, but after two wins on the bounce can go top of the division with a home win here. So what’s changed?

“What’s turned around there is defence,” Bell says. “They don’t get all the attention because you think about Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott, but really what’s happened for them is the way they’re playing on defense. That linebacker [Leighton] Vander Esch, he is amazing.”

Atlanta Falcons @ New Orleans Saints 1:20am GMT (Friday)
“They are the best team in the league right now,” says Bell of the Saints, who are romping their way towards the playoffs on a nine game win streak, led by 39-year-old QB Drew Brees.

“The thing about Drew Brees is that he has evolved as a player,” Bell says. “Each year he tweaks his game. He’s got all the answers to the test. He’s seen everything.

“He’s playing at an MVP level but he also has MVP level weapons around him on that offense. It is crazy what they’re able to do.”

The Falcons look set to become the latest in a long line of teams to fail to reach a home Super Bowl, with the February showpiece scheduled for their Mercedes-Benz Stadium. However, Bell believes injuries, rather than the much-talked about Super Bowl curse, are to blame for their 4-6 start.

“When you have a home Super Bowl, everybody’s eyes are on the ultimate prize and no matter what happens, you didn’t have success if you didn’t make it,” Bell says.

“The Falcons would’ve had a shot if they hadn’t been decimated by injuries on defence. Their strength was in the middle of the defence: the linebackers and the safeties. You lose both your starting safeties and your starting linebacker – that really hurts you.”

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