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Thanksgiving week means best football still lies ahead

Thanksgiving week has to be one of the best weeks of the year for any football fan.

It all starts with high-school rivalries that play on Thanksgiving Day, like the one that will occur in Easton, Pa. between the Phillipsburg (N.J.) Stateliners and the Easton (Pa.) Red Rovers. The historic rivalry dates back to 1905, and Easton and Phillipsburg have met annually on Thanksgiving Day since their first holiday showdown on Nov. 30, 1916. The record between the two schools is insignificant, as bragging rights is what matters most.

After the morning high-school games, fans are treated to an afternoon of traditional football and all you-can-eat turkey. For dessert, besides pumpkin pie, we get another game. Does life get any better than that?

Thanksgiving and the NFL

The NFL has a deep history of football on Thanksgiving Day, which includes the legendary Red Grange making his professional debut with the Bears on the holiday in 1925. **More ...**

I believe in traditional games. In fact, I think it is great that the city of Detroit has the game every year. Now, some may say, as Grace McGarvie once did, "Tradition is an explanation for acting without thinking." Therefore, giving the lowly Lions a Thanksgiving Day game every year might be considered "acting without thinking." However, this great game was built on the traditions of the past, and while the Lions have been bad for far too many years, we have to be tolerant and respect our traditions. They are what have made this league so great.

Some of my fondest memories as a youth were watching the Green Bay Packers play the Lions in old Tiger Stadium on the corner of Michigan Avenue and Trumbull Boulevard. Who cared about the win-loss records? It was still football. It was Thanksgiving. And that was all that mattered. So let us stop all the talk about taking the game away from the Lions and the city of Detroit. In these tough times in Michigan, they deserve a shining moment.

Besides the wonderful traditions of Thanksgiving, the reality of the season starts this week. For the past 11 weeks, teams have put themselves in or out of position to make the stretch run. Some teams are way out of the race, while others are doing what Tom Brady talked about Sunday: "I'm looking forward to what's ahead." Coach Bill Belichick always says the season starts after Thanksgiving. And yes, it does.

In Week 11, fans said good-bye to some teams' playoff chances; teams such as the Jets, Bears and 49ers. Some clubs are on playoff life support, and unless they get their act together they will not be invited to the party. Last year, the Cardinals entered the Thanksgiving weekend at 7-3 and got thumped 48-20 by the Eagles, but rallied late in the season and eventually made their first Super Bowl appearance. In 2007, the New York Giants were also 7-3 after 10 weeks and made a strong run late, which then led to a Super Bowl victory. So this week as you are eating your turkey, getting ready to hit the stores on Black Friday and, most importantly, giving thanks to all the gifts in our life, know that the best football lies ahead.

Sunday's best

» On Sunday, I had my first visit to the new Cowboys Stadium, which was stunning to say the least. It was impossible for me to take my eyes off of the video screen, even as the game was going on. For any fan, I strongly recommend seeing a game in the magnificent arena.

» Matthew Stafford grew up big-time against the Browns, throwing five touchdowns and leading his team rally for an amazing victory. Nothing helps bond a team to their quarterback more than a come-from-behind win, and I expect great things from Stafford for years to come. He is the real deal.

» The Jets proved Sunday that they don't have anybody who can cover Wes Welker. He caught a career-best 15 passes and likely has the Jets reconsidering who they will have covering him next season. New York's thoughts on the draft must be to find someone who can handle Welker's incredible quickness.

» I admire the Chiefs for their toughness. They keep fighting in every game they play. Their efforts were finally rewarded at home with an impressive overtime win against the Steelers. In seven of 10 games, teams have gained more than 400 yards on the Chiefs, and more than 500 yards in two of those contests. They might not be talented, but they are competitive.

» Are you aware the Jacksonville Jaguars are not only in the playoff hunt, they would qualify if the postseason started. They have won three in a row by a combined total of eight points.

Sunday's funnies

» The Bears have all but eliminated themselves from the playoff race by losing five of six games. Besides turning the ball over too often, their defense cannot make stops at critical points in a game. Let's face it, one first down in the fourth quarter does not help either. The Bears had their chances against the Eagles, but failed to execute in crunch time.

» The Jets' defense, for all its swagger and talk, has allowed 26 points per game in New York's six losses. The Jets' expectations far exceeded their talent level this year. Just because the Ravens and Falcons went to the playoffs with a rookie quarterback last season does not mean the Jets were going to do the same this year. Mark Sanchez is playing like a rookie, throwing ill-advised balls resulting in 16 interceptions.

» The 49ers went into the season hoping they could win games with their running game, playing good defense and not turning the ball over. On Sunday, they allowed 484 yards to the Packers and now their playoff hopes are all but gone.

» The key to beating the Colts is to have success in the red zone. The Ravens played hard, but failed to score touchdowns and had to ultimately settle for field goals. The first team to beat the Colts this year won't be 0-4 in the red area as the Ravens were Sunday.

On the lookout

» The Kurt Warner road show continued in St Louis as the Cardinals moved to 5-0 away from University of Phoenix Stadium. Warner was sensational playing on his former home turf, and now the Cardinals have found an impressive run game to blend with their potent passing attack.

» The Steelers might want to reconsider their strategy on kickoffs, as they have had four go back for touchdowns this year, including two in the last two games. Kicking out of bounds might be a better option.

» With the Packerslosing linebacker Aaron Kampman and cornerback Al Harris for the season, this will put more stress on the offense to control the ball as it did against the 49ers (for more than 40 minutes) and keep the defense off the field.

» The Redskins played hard, and with passion and purpose against the Cowboys. Washington overcame some critical injuries during the game, but could not overcome missing two field goals -- one from 39 yards and another from 50.

Off the beaten track

» The Falcons might want to adjust their thought process at the end of the first half. They have been aggressive and, at times, it has cost them points after a turnover. At the end of the half against the Giants, Matt Ryan was sacked and fumbled, which allowed the Giants to extend their lead to 17-7 going to the locker room. Had they just been more careful with the football, they might have only been down 10-7.

» Josh Freeman is tall, carries the ball loosely in the pocket and has fumbled too often in his brief stint as starter. He must learn ball security, as he fumbled once again in the Buccaneers' 38-7 loss to the Saints.

» The Saints threw for 187 yards and three touchdowns, but also ran for 183 and two scores. Now that is great balance.

Three-step dots

» The Falcons are 5-5, but until they can play better on defense -- which I doubt will happen this year -- they will not be a factor in the playoff race. ...

» The Cowboys need to make sure that what happened on the sidelines with secondary coach Dave Campo and Terence Newman does not happen again. Or if it does, not in front of everyone. ...

» Tony Romo was high with some throws, but if Roy Williams wants to be a No. 1 wideout, he has to make those catches. Talking about being a top option and actually playing like a No. 1 is entirely different. ...

» The Redskins paid $100 million to Albert Haynesworth this past offseason, and he did not play Sunday. Washington still only allowed Dallas to score seven points. I am not saying it was overspending, but when your defense does not seem to miss the $100-million man something is wrong. ...

NFL Weekly Countdown

Where does Brady Quinn's breakout performance in the Browns' wild loss to the Lions rank among Week 11's top moments? This is your chance to make the call and **cast your vote!**

» I am worried about the Giants on defense, as they look too slow to move laterally and do not show any explosion. ...

» Speaking of the Giants, running back Brandon Jacobs does not seem to have the same power in his lower body. Right now, New York looks like a better offensive team when backup running backs Ahmad Bradshaw and Danny Ware are in the game. ...

» Even though his team lost, Brady Quinn played well enough to give Cleveland fans some hope. Now, if he can have a similar outing this week against the Bengals, then at least fans can feel he is making some progress and the season is not a total loss. ...

» I am really looking forward to watching the Titans' Chris Johnson play against the Texans on Monday night. Every time he touches the ball, I am expecting a 50-yard run. ...

» I'm very excited about the Thanksgiving week ahead. I am very thankful you stopped by to read my work, and even more thankful to wish my mother a happy birthday on Wednesday.

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