Week 11 sets up most thrilling Thanksgiving lineup of games ever
Thanksgiving Day boasts some great matchups, including 49ers-Ravens
Red-hot Bears were dealt a potentially deadly blow with Jay Cutler's broken thumb
Streaking Dolphins make Fine 15; MVP Watch; Ten Things I Think I Think; more
I love Thanksgiving. Always have. It's the food mostly, and seeing family I haven't seen in a while. Football's always been a part of it, but never the central part. This year might be different. This week, I'm going to politely have to say, "Uh, I need to watch 10 hours of football on Thanksgiving.''
It's not going to work, but a fellow can try. The TV's going off at some point, and it'll be off for a couple of hours at least, as it should be. But the one thing that's happened in the last month is that every game Thursday is now incredibly relevant. This is likely the best combo platter of football games the league's ever had on Thanksgiving, and certainly the best tripleheader since the league added the night game in 2006.
12:30 p.m. ET: Green Bay (10-0) at Detroit (7-3). The Detroit game has always been the wasteland game. Eat early folks! Lions are down 30 in the third quarter! Not now. I can't imagine the combined record of the two teams in the early game being 17-3. By my imprecise calculations, the last time the Lions played a game with a better combined record on Thanksgiving was 1962, when the 10-0 Packers came to Tiger Stadium on a windy and chilly day to play the 8-2 Lions.
Detroit corners Dick LeBeau (yes, that Dick LeBeau) and Night Train Lane picked off Bart Starr on that Thanksgiving Day 49 years ago, and Detroit handed Green Bay its only loss of a 13-1 championship season.
Back to the future: Detroit scored 49 and won for the second time in six weeks Sunday, and with the Bears on their heels, the Lions will be playing this one like a playoff game. If the season ended today, Detroit's the fifth seed in the NFC playoffs and Chicago the sixth. A fourth loss puts the Lions into Falcons/Giants/Cowboys tiebreaker land.
4:15 p.m.: Miami (3-7) at Dallas (6-4). Dolphins and Cowboys are 6-0, combined, over the last three weeks. Much to my surprise (and your disgust, as I'm sure I'll find out), the Dolphins enter the Fine Fifteen this week because they are just mashing teams this month. Dallas, tied with the Giants atop the NFC East, now has a clear edge in the division race because of the schedule. The Cowboys have Miami and offensively challenged Arizona in the next two weeks; the Giants have the Saints and Packers. But Miami looked a lot more beatable a couple of weeks ago. For those with a love of football history, it might be nice to see snow Thursday in Dallas -- and Leon Lett.
8:20 p.m.: San Francisco (9-1) at Baltimore (7-3). "Forget the brother thing -- this is going to be a really good game,'' said Ravens coach John Harbaugh after Baltimore survived the Bengals Sunday. "I don't think I'm going to think about that while we're out there. They're such a good team. I love their team. I love their [defensive] front. They'll be really tough to prepare for.''
San Francisco could be playing to tie Green Bay for the league's best record by nightfall. I haven't been much into the Harbaugh Bowl thing, but it's going to be fun. Saw a snippet of the NFL Network's feature on the Harbaugh family that will run on the network's pregame coverage Thursday, and it's interesting how much of their football-coaching Dad the two boys have taken with them to the NFL.
Jack Harbaugh, schooled under Bo Schembechler, used to say to the boys that the three most important things in football coaching are the team, the team and the team. And so Jim Harbaugh put that on the wall of the team meeting room at the 49ers. And John Harbaugh, when introduced as head coach of the Ravens, repeated his dad's mantra. This will be, by the way, the first time in the 92-year history of the NFL that two brothers head-coach against each other.
The NFL never thought last spring when making this schedule that the league would be leaving only the leftovers for the 12 Sunday games. That's what's happened. Only one of next Sunday's games (Chicago at Oakland) pairs two teams with winning records. And the three Thursday games have six teams with a combined 42-18 record. The Harbaugh Bowl looked nice as a family story, but not as a football game, not with the Niners being the latter-day Niners. We saw the Lions coming. But the Pack, flawless?
I was surprised Sunday to hear Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy talk about how much he liked playing the Thanksgiving game. "We're pretty experienced at it -- this will be our third time in six years,'' he told me. Third time in five, actually. Green Bay played at Detroit on Thanksgiving in 2007 and 2009.
"I love playing on Thanksgiving,'' McCarthy said. "I think the players really like it too. Our battle cry here has been, 'Three games in 11 days.' It's an honor to play on the holiday. And it gives the players something to look forward to -- a break in the season. It's human nature to look for the light at the end of the tunnel, and once we play this game, our guys can get a couple extra days to rest. I think they like the quick turnaround anyway.''
After we spoke, McCarthy was headed up to his office to finish game-planning for Detroit. "We get their game [on digital video] in at 9 o'clock tonight,'' he said. Today and tomorrow, and early Wednesday, the coaches will install the game plan. "It's just a one-hour flight,'' said McCarthy, "so we'll leave a little later than usual Wednesday and be ready to go.''
The six teams will have mini-bye-weeks after the games. If you can survive the quick turnaround, playing on Thanksgiving is a big edge for your last five weeks of the season.
Eleven stories for Week 11
1. Jay Cutler. Now this is weird. Really weird. Early in the fourth quarter of Chicago's 31-20 win over the Chargers, Cutler threw an interception to Antoine Cason. Trying to tackle Cason near the sideline, Cutler flailed at him while being blocked, and his right hand slammed on the ground. When Cutler got up, he looked at his hand and flexed it a couple of times. But he stayed in the game and finished, throwing two more passes. After the Bears' fifth straight win (and third straight game scoring in the thirties -- the first time the Bears have done that since 2005), Cutler greeted some Chargers on the field as he normally does with foes after game. Nothing said about a sore thumb. A Bears' PR man escorted Cutler to talk with NBC Sports' Alex Flanagan. Nothing said about a sore thumb. Cutler showered and did his local press conference. Nothing said about a sore thumb. Coach Lovie Smith did his press conference. Nothing said about a sore thumb for Cutler. Cutler is the NFL's Howard Hughes, thrilled if you know absolutely nothing about him. But this was ridiculous.
I asked two reporters who saw Cutler after the game, and neither said he was flexing or holding his hand in any way that would make you think he was hurt. About an hour after the game, word leaked through FOX's Jay Glazer that Cutler had a broken thumb, and soon after that, the story spread like wildfire through the Chicago press, with reports that Cutler would miss six to eight weeks. This morning, on WBBM radio in Chicago, coach Lovie Smith admitted Cutler had a fracture of his right thumb, and he was injured chasing down Cason.
The sad part of this is how the Bears, with Mike Martz and Cutler figuring how to move him in and out of the pocket to avoid the pressure that had been plaguing him in his Chicago career, finally got the offense going well. In Chicago's record 5-0 run, Cutler's been the franchise quarterback Chicago traded for in 2009. He'd been sacked only five times while putting up 32 points a game. Into the lineup steps Caleb Hanie, who has never started an NFL game. If he's Curtis Painter, the Bears are in big trouble. If he's better, Chicago could hold onto the sixth and final NFC playoff spot and be a factor when -- if -- Cutler returns in January.
2. The Bear schedule. Now this is weird. Really weird. Sunday's game was the beginning of four straight against the AFC West, and five straight against western teams. After dispatching San Diego, here are Chicago's next four games: at Oakland, Kansas City, at Denver, Seattle. If it makes a Bear fan feel any better this morning, at least they can't have much scouting intelligence on Hanie, from Colorado State.
3. Matt Moore. The Dolphins, left for dead at 0-7, are now way out of the Andrew Luck Derby. In fact, they're playing like they don't need a quarterback at all. Matt Moore has been terrific in averaging 29 points per game in Miami's three-game winning streak. Check out how, in the last three games, he's nestled between the two best quarterbacks in football:
Luckily for the Dolphins, there's going to be a very deep pool of quarterbacks in the April draft. If Saturday night showed us anything -- with USC's Matt Barkley shredding Oregon in Eugene, and Robert Griffin III and Landry Jones playing lights out on downfield throws in Baylor's win over Oklahoma, it's that quarterback life doesn't begin and end with Luck in college football this year. What Moore has done well, after his 2010 debacle in Carolina, is keep the chains moving and make sure the Miami defense doesn't have to win every game.
4. Tyler Palko. "Anyone who has ever accomplished anything great has had to overcome some obstacles,'' Palko, the Kansas City quarterback, said the other day on the verge of his first start in the NFL. How about his first two starts, if all goes well tonight in Foxboro: at Bill Belichick's team in game one on "Monday Night Football'' on ESPN, home against the Pittsburgh on "Football Night in America'' on NBC the following Sunday. Quite a ride for Palko.
He was the Pitt quarterback who won the starting job in 2004, forcing Joe Flacco to transfer to Delaware. The rest is, sort of, history. Palko faded under Dave Wannstedt at Pitt and went undrafted. Flacco ascended at Delaware and was a first-round pick of the Ravens in 2008. My favorite year on the Palko resume: 2009. Cut by the Cardinals in training camp, he went to camp in the United Football League with Denny Green's California Redwoods. But he lost the job to Shane Boyd, and Mike McMahon (the clean-shaven former Lion) and someone named Liam O'Hagan also played quarterback for the 'Woods in 2009. But not Palko. "The way I was raised,'' said Palko, "you're not too good to be brought down to earth or to be fired. I don't really look at it as a low point in my career.''
He's a braver man than I, not being able to earn one of three quarterback jobs with a United Football League team. Then it was up to Montreal, to the Canadian Football League Alouettes practice squad. Though he was eventually activated, he never threw a pass for the Alouettes either. When the Steelers had two quarterback injuries late in the season, Palko signed as a backup there. In the span of three months, he was in camp with four teams -- Cardinals, Redwoods, Alouettes, Steelers -- in three leagues ... and never threw a pass. Now, because Matt Cassel is hurt and rookie Ricky Stanzi isn't ready, Palko starts against the Patriots on national TV. Nobody, except Palko, is expecting much. But it's a heck of a story.
5. Roger Goodell. I've got the commissioner on my podcast this week, and I'm going to take three of your questions in with me to the interview Tuesday morning. So get them to me, preferably via Twitter, @SI_PeterKing by tonight. The podcast will be up by late Tuesday. Start a great Thanksgiving tradition with the family: Huddle around the fire Wednesday night and listen to the "NFL Podcast with Peter King.'' What fun!