Before we get to some of the key matchups to watch for this week, here's a quick Thanksgiving story.
One of the two Thanksgiving Day games that took place on Nov. 27, 1952 was a matchup between the Chicago Bears and Dallas Texans. Midway through that season, the Texans were taken over by the league because they couldn't pay their bills. They played the rest of their games on the road, and the Thanksgiving game took place in Akron, Ohio. In fact, the game was essentially the second half of a doubleheader, following a big local high school football game -- and most of the fans in attendance were there for the high school game, not the NFL game.
Jimmy Phelan, head coach of the winless Dallas Texans, made an inspiring pregame speech. He told his players that when they go out onto the field, they should go into the stands and introduce themselves to the fans.
They did, and apparently it worked. The 27-23 win was the Dallas Texans' only win of the season.
Now, here are five key matchups for Week 12:
Packers QB Brett Favre vs. Lions QB Jon Kitna
The winner of this battle will most likely win the game, as this should be a pass-heavy contest. Kitna probably has the better wide receivers but Favre has the better tight end, as Donald Lee has been playing very well, and the better offensive line. The Packers have allowed 14 sacks, while Detroit has allowed a league-worst 43. Detroit's pass defense allows 43 yards more per game than Green Bay. Both teams are plus-5 in takeaways. The red-hot Favre has the advantage here, but don't sell Detroit short at home on Thanksgiving. Kitna must change what he did last week, though, when he threw 15 passes for Shaun McDonald but only 14 passes combined to Roy Williams and Calvin Johnson.
|Future New England opponents will be very interested to see how Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson attacks the Patriots' offense.|
Eagles def. coordinator Jim Johnson vs. Patriots offense
The question all season has been, "How do you stop the New England offense?" Well, the Eagles might not have the best defensive personnel to get that done but they do have a defensive coordinator in Jim Johnson who can at least give other teams an idea of how to attack Tom Brady and his slew of weapons. To show you how much respect there is for Johnson, none other than Bill Belichick once tried to hire him. Belichick wanted Johnson to be his defensive coordinator with the Browns, but Johnson turned down the offer. Johnson is one of the best at coming up with blitz packages to confuse opponents and stop both the run and pass. Several weeks ago, he devised a good plan to hold Adrian Peterson in check. This week he needs to confuse Brady and shut down WR Randy Moss -- if that's possible. It will be interesting to see how New England will adjust to the defensive schemes as the game progresses. One thing is for sure: New England's remaining opponents and possible playoff opponents will be watching carefully.
Bills MLB John DiGiorgio vs. Jags RB Maurice Jones-Drew
This is a natural matchup because the Bills need to stop Jacksonville's run-first attack if they want to win here. But it's also a good opportunity to highlight a player you may not have noticed but should. DiGiorgio has quietly been a force -- he has more tackles on the season than Baltimore's Bart Scott or the Giants' Antonio Pierce. He makes tackles in the box and sideline to sideline, a very underrated player who reminds me of a bigger Zach Thomas. Jacksonville, meanwhile, loves to run the ball and Jones-Drew has rushed for six TDs and averages more than five yards per carry. Buffalo needs to slow down the running attack and force the Jaguars to throw.
Texans WR Andre Johnson vs. Browns QB Derek Anderson
Houston is 3-0 with a healthy Johnson in the lineup. The former Hurricane is averaging 19 yards per reception and four of his 20 catches have gone for scores. He's a difficult matchup because of his height and speed -- and that matchup is even tougher here since Cleveland ranks 31st in pass defense. That means this could be a shootout, and Anderson is up for the challenge. He didn't throw any TD passes last week, but he has 20 TDs on the year, five more than the Browns had last year. He is the reason Cleveland is 11th on offense this season after ranking 31st on offense in 2006.
Vikings G Steve Hutchinson vs. Giants QB Eli Manning
Hutchinson has been a dominant player on a team that averages 5.9 yards per rush -- a pace that would break the single-season record of 5.7 yards set by the 1963 Cleveland Browns. For the Vikings to win, they need to keep the Giants offense off the field -- and that could be difficult because New York's run defense is pretty good. Still, they can't afford to give Manning too many chances against Minnesota's 32nd-ranked pass defense. After seeing Oakland's Daunte Culpepper throw for 344 yards against the Vikings last week, Manning should be able to post good numbers.