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Dublin: 15 °C Thursday 2 October, 2014

The Redzone’s NFL Thanksgiving special

It’s basically Christmas for NFL fans with three Thursday games to enjoy this evening.

A Detroit Lions fan gets in the Thanksgiving spirit.
A Detroit Lions fan gets in the Thanksgiving spirit.
Image: Rick Osentoski/AP/Press Association Images

THANKSGIVING IS AN odd holiday for me. Obviously, we don’t really celebrate it here but, as an NFL fan, the chance to watch three american football games on a Thursday is something that has to be taken advantage of so, like a lot of fans this side of the Atlantic, I’ve taken today and tomorrow off work.

Sadly, Thanksgiving also serves to remind me that my nickname as a child was ‘Turkey’.

Now, much like generations of Chalky Whites and Spud Murphys, Turkey was an inherited nickname. Why people called my father Turkey was never made clear but it wasn’t a nickname I cared for too much. Who, in their right mind, would appreciate being called after a bird that looked like, well, a turkey?

Having the nickname also made turkey-centric days like today and Christmas a bit awkward but, thankfully, I grew out of it. Later in life, specifically when I was coaching Tullamore Phoenix, my nickname changed to ‘Coach Awesome’. Sadly, that one didn’t stick either.

These days I get called lots of things, especially on Twitter, but it’s fine because at least now I can enjoy Thanksgiving football without worrying about a bird ruining it for me.

This year, the Raiders will do that job quite well.

Green Bay Packers @ Detroit Lions (-6.5)

Does anybody actually want to win the NFC North? Last weekend, the Lions lost to the Buccaneers, the Bears were overran by the Rams and the Vikings and Packers played out just the eighth tied game in 25 years.

While the Packers have an excuse — they are, afterall, on quarterback number four this year — the Lions really don’t. Despite the addition of Reggie Bush to the backfield, Matthew Stafford is still throwing the ball far too often. He attempted 663 passes in 2011, 727 last year, and is already at 465 attempts through 11 games this season. Even with Megatron to aim at,the Detroit offence too one dimensional.

With Aaron Rodgers still out with a broken collar bone, Packers fans will hope Matt Flynn repeats the performance he produced the last time he faced the Lions. On that day, he completed 31 of 44 passes for 480 yards and no less than six touchdowns as Green Bay won a shootout 45-41. More of the same tonight would make for a great opening game.

Verdict: Honestly, if these teams can’t beat the Buccs or Vikes, how can they be expected to beat each other. Still, Detroit are due a Thanksgiving win so Lions by 7.

Oakland Raiders @ Dallas Cowboys (-7.5)

If the Cowboys are America’s team, the Raiders are probably the team football fans love to hate. Perhaps it’s the brash fans, the terrible draft picks or sacking coaches like it was going out of fashion, who knows? The problem for the Raiders at the moment is that they are neither good enough for the playoffs nor bad enough to get a decent draft pick.

In tonight’s second game they face a Cowboys team that regained first place in the NFC East with Sunday’s 24-21 road victory over the streaking New York Giants. Quarterback Tony Romo tends to reserve his best performances for Thanksgiving, winning five of six and throwing 17 touchdowns on Turkey Day.

The Raiders could welcome back the perennially injured Darren McFadden for this game though it’s unlikely he’ll dislodge Rashad Jennings as number one back as the former Jacksonville Jaguars has surpassed 100 all-purpose yards in each of his last four games. Terrelle Pryor may make a return from injury at some point tonight too.

Verdict: I’d love to say the Raiders will beat the spread but losing to the Titans on the final drive — and missing out on a playoff spot as a result — will take some time to recover from. Cowboys by 8.

Pittsburgh Steelers @ Baltimore Ravens (-2.5)

After a terrible start to the season, the Steelers now sit second in the AFC North with genuine hopes of making the playoffs in a wildcard spot. The big revelation this season has been the form of wide receiver Antonio Brown who leads the league in receptions (80) and whose receiving yards (1,044) trail only Calvin Johnson.

If the Ravens are to win this game they’re going to have to a) stop running the wildcat — Joe Flacco was so uninterested it was like they’d only ten players on offence — and b) hit Ben Roethlisberger early and often. Baltimore lead the NFL in sacks with 37, while Big Ben himself has been toppled 36  times already this season, the third most in the league.

John Harbaugh has lost three of five games against the Steelers at M & T Bank Stadium since taking over as Ravens head coach which flies in the face of Baltimore’s generally brilliant home record since 2008 (37-8).

Verdict: The Ravens are a shadow of the team that won the Super Bowl last year and that side weren’t exactly stellar. The Steelers to continue their road success in Baltimore by 3.

Stay tuned for TheRedzone’s full week 13 previews later this weekend.

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