The Schein Nine

Tony Romo's return, Cardinals' rise among things I'm thankful for

I love Thanksgiving! Football, family and food. What could be better?

Yes, I'm particularly thankful for my beautiful family: my wife Katie and our three wonderful kids, Jolie, Maya and Theo.

But I'm also thankful to you, for reading these columns every week.

And I'm thankful for this amazing sport we get to watch. The NFL is better than ever.

Here's a special Schein Nine on what I'm thankful for across the league this holiday season. And Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!

1) Tony Romo, quarterback, Dallas Cowboys

I've long argued that Romo is a great quarterback who has been wrongly maligned by both Cowboys fans and the larger football-watching public. Over the years, Romo has been the victim of Dallas' problems and dysfunction, bad defense and bad plans. He's always been tough and fantastic. Perhaps now -- after seeing the 'Boys win all three games they've played this season with Romo, and lose all seven games they've played without him -- the haters will give No. 9 the respect he has longed deserved. Perhaps, those who foolishly questioned him didn't know what Dallas had until Romo was gone.

I'm happy that Romo, who is a fierce competitor, is back in time for the Thanksgiving showcase against the 10-0 Carolina Panthers. Romo knows that, having swiftly returned to action, he risks breaking his collarbone again. It doesn't matter. Romo just wants to play ball -- and win.

2) Arizona Cardinals

Think about the Cardinals' reputation throughout their history. (Hint for those people who are unaware: It's not a good one.) Now, under the watchful eye of team president Michael Bidwill, Arizona has become one of the best organizations in the NFL. As I wrote this past offseason, Steve Keim and Bruce Arians make up the best general manager and head coach combo in the NFL today.

Last Sunday's win over the Bengals in prime time was a perfect showcase and snapshot of what this team is. The Cards are deep and talented -- they can beat you in any phase. Arizona shined against Cincy in front of a rabid fan base that truly had to be built. The Cardinals dazzled in University of Phoenix Stadium, Game No. 100 in their gorgeous new home. Rookie J.J. Nelson enjoyed a breakout game on the national stage, with four catches for 142 yards and a touchdown. And another rookie, backup running back David Johnson, provided a touchdown of his own. Shoot, little-known tight end -- and former professional basketball player -- Darren Fells hit paydirt. This team can hurt you in so many ways.

The Cardinals are a true Horatio Alger story -- the type of thing that makes sports special.

3) Bill Belichick, head coach, New England Patriots

Three guarantees in life: death, taxes and the Patriots winning double-digit games.

Belichick is the best coach in NFL history. It's just that simple. This is the salary-cap era. This is the parity era. The league is built for teams to go 8-8. New England is beautifully abnormal. The Patriots, who now have 13 consecutive seasons of 10-plus wins, defy logic. The Pats suffer key injuries and it doesn't matter. They have bad matchups and they persevere. Belichick's game planning and mental toughness shape the team. His accountability permeates throughout the organization. The Patriots' current roster is hardly perfect, but their record is. That's coaching. That's the coaching of the best to ever do it. I'm thankful for the Hoodie!

4) Thomas Davis, linebacker, Carolina Panthers

The 2014 Walter Payton Man of the Year is the epitome of class. He's also one of the best linebackers in the game and the leader of the undefeated Panthers. It's cliché, but true: Davis represents what the NFL is all about.

In September of 2011, Davis tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee for the third time in less than 23 months. Three ACL tears! To the same knee! In less than two years! Yet, over the past three years, he's piled up three 100-tackle campaigns -- and he's well on his way to another.

This dude's an inspiration, on and off the field. Quite easy to root (and be thankful) for.

5) The Oakland Raiders being ... relevant!

Sure, the loss to Detroit was very disappointing. There's no other way to put it. But I'm not going to let that curb my enthusiasm for these Raiders.

Look, Oakland (4-6) is playing in relevant games down the stretch of a season. When's the last time we were able to say that? And with 24-year-old QB Derek Carr, 25-year-old RB Latavius Murray and 21-year-old WR Amari Cooper headlining an emerging offense, the future is incredibly bright in Oakland.

I'm thankful that Raider Nation can finally enjoy the last month of a regular season.

6) Everything we've witnessed from Peyton Manning

Now, I'm not ending Peyton's career before he has his retirement press conference. But Gary Kubiak announced Monday that Brock Osweiler will be under center again on Sunday, following a strong performance in his first NFL start. And on Tuesday, the team announced that Manning, who visited foot and ankle specialist Dr. Robert Anderson, will miss at least the next two weeks. That takes us into mid-December. I laid out last Monday why the Broncos have to go with Brock, and I find it hard to believe I'll stray from that opinion next month.

All that said, Peyton Manning changed football. He's a living legend. He is an all-time great. I am thankful I got to see every game he played. He's someone you'll talk to your kids and grandkids about. And regardless of how his career ends, let's all remember how special a career it was.

7) The Bears-Packers rivalry is back!

John Fox has maximized the talent-poor Bears team he inherited. Jay Cutler has turned from a combination of Jeff George and Debbie Downer into a legit NFL quarterback under the watchful eye of offense coordinator Adam Gase.

Meanwhile, Green Bay was my preseason Super Bowl pick. And on Sunday, in a marquee NFC North matchup against rising Minnesota, the Packers finally played like what I expected -- strong in every phase, with Aaron Rodgers leading the way.

Lambeau Field is going to be rocking on Thursday night -- with Brett Favre back in the building to get his jersey retired -- and the drama, energy and juice is going to be palpable.

8) Philip Rivers, quarterback, San Diego Chargers

The 2-8 Chargers are awful. They can barely field a team, with the plethora of major injuries suffered in 2015. Rivers is wasting away. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't stop and smell the roses on a quarterback whose greatness has been lost in the shuffle because he's played for some bad teams -- and in the same conference as Tom Brady and Peyton Manning -- during his career.

This guy's a pleasure to watch: A wiz in the pre-snap chess game and a warrior in the post-snap mayhem. The silver lining to the Bolts being pathetic and routinely playing from behind: more Rivers! San Diego's quarterback currently leads the NFL in pass attempts and completions.

9) Thanksgiving Day traditions

We regularly move on from so many special things in sports. I love the fact that we still have home games for the Lions and Cowboys on Thanksgiving in Detroit and Dallas. They wanted the games when nobody else did. I look forward to it every year. It's great for those local fan bases.

And from a national perspective, I like that we get to visit with the same football families each and every Turkey Day. Isn't that the true spirit of Thanksgiving?

Follow Adam Schein on Twitter @AdamSchein.

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