Your NFL Field Guide: Thanksgiving Edition
By TJ Hatter
This is a special time in an NFL fan's season. Multiple days off and multiple games on multiple days. Yet they all too often need to be balanced with familial obligations and, depressingly, shopping. That's why Field Guide exists: to help you prioritize how to get the most out of your NFL consumption without too much disruption on the home front.
While schmoozing with family and consuming copious amounts of excess food, all of these games will be on in the background as we go step-by-step through the stages of Thanksgiving. Utilize them freely as a means of distraction from the incalculable potential for awkward moments at events such as these. But remember, pick your spots wisely. In many cases, you only see these people a few times a year. It's important that you remember why.
Packers at Lions
As you prepare for guests to arrive (aka cleaning your domicile) or are waking up from seeing your hometown friends (aka recovering from the biggest partying night of the year) or are embarking upon your journey to your destination (aka a car ride with your family) or some combination of the three, having this game on in the background whilst stifling nausea, preparing and/or gobbling down hors d'oeuvres, don't feel like you're missing out on an epic classic. Without Aaron Rodgers this is not a match up worth disturbing domestic tranquility over. None of the contenders in the NFC North, not Green Bay nor Detroit nor Chicago have taken command of this division and Detroit has been inexplicable in their inability to capitalize on a year when everyone else in the division is hurt or – in Minnesota's case – out till next year. This game is the perfect curiosity to have on as you greet relatives and try to avoid conversation topics like: “Susan's new piercing and/or tattoo” and “John's recent work on a political campaign,” “Lisa's new significant other that I hate,” and finally “Where are you working these days?” None of these are items you want to discuss, particularly if/when alcohol has been consumed. This is why you smoothly point to Calvin Johnson jumping over three defensive players and offer to get everyone a beverage when these items come up.
Or fake some sort of injury.
Raiders at Cowboys
Most of you will be settling into the main course of your dinner during this game, and that's perfectly appropriate because even on a normal Sunday, food greatly trumps it in importance. So as you enjoy the stuffing, turkey, potatoes, stuffing, mushrooms, gravy, stuffing, and assorted local trimmings – did I mention stuffing? Seriously, it's gone for the other 364 days of the year but the stuff is phenomenal – and try to avoid any more awkward conversations by eating enough food to properly feed the offensive line of either of the two teams on the field, you're making the right decision and probably not missing much. The Cowboys and Philly are in a two-team race to make the playoffs as winners of the NFC East and their looming showdown will be for all the leftover stuffing. This game? It's fine to click back into as you deeply, deeply regret all of the food you just consumed and some of you feel guilt over the plight of third world nations as you watch the remains be tossed aside or fed to dogs. Which is also what has happened recently to the Raiders franchise.
Steelers at Ravens
At this point in the evening, the excess food you've eaten and booze you've drank will probably have you close to being knocked out. So, too, with these teams, one of whom will presumably knock the other out of their improbable playoff contentions. The AFC playoff picture is a complete and total shambles at this particular time, but the closest thing we have to a certainty is that the loser of this game is entering into the land that the NY Giants entered into after this past Sunday and Washington entered into the Sunday before: The End of Inexplicable Optimism. Of all the games this Turkey Day, this is the one with the most appeal. Do your best to have set up your couch time to accord with this game if you can. Because as you're passing in and out of consciousness and contemplating which pie to gorge yourself with, this will be watching the NFL equivalent of a Hunger Games showdown, as you continue to somehow shovel down more food. Because, America.
This week is unusual, so this week's Field Guide will be as well. If, as many do, you manage to have a four-day weekend, you'll have the opportunity to peruse some more football. Perhaps the rest of the family is out shopping or you're traveling home and will be at an airport or will have a few more hours at home with the family and will be unsure of what to have on TV. In any or all of these instances treat yourself to the glory that is The Iron Bowl.
Alabama at Auburn
Regardless of the records, this game reliably produces more drama in households across the state of Alabama than a drunken family member with political opinions. Every year the fate of bragging rights at countless impending holidays are determined. There are other rivalries like it, but none as intense and this year both teams are playing for a chance at a national championship. Even if you or your friends and family aren't normally college football enthusiasts, make time for this game if you can. It will be filled with more drama, more cutaways to SEC girlfriends, more pure hatred than any other game you'll see this weekend. No. 1 Alabama going for it's third straight SEC and national championship against it's blood rival, the No. 4 Auburn Tigers who were the last team to win the SEC and national title before the current Bama run. Regardless of the outcome, this game is worth whatever time you can dedicate to enjoying it.
Now back to the NFL, where many of the Iron Bowl participants will soon be playing.
You've survived the holiday and have waddled to Sunday. Congratulations on making it again. Sure your pants don't fit anymore and you may have spent the Gross Domestic Product of Uganda on your holiday shopping, but don't let that get you down. Disliking yourself isn't healthy. You're awesome and it's Sunday and that means more NFL football. If you'd like a place to focus that seam-busting, credit card scorching, family trauma induced hate, the NFL has one to offer you.
Dolphins at Jets
The Dolphins will be on this list for as long as they continue to be in the hunt for the playoffs and continue to employ the current regime. If you need to refocus your hatred of Miami, think of the Richie Incognito situation as that last serving that sent your weight way over the top. If that doesn't do it for you, how about this: Are you in the rest of America that will be frozen solid and recovering from either bitter cold and snow? You are? Well guess what? It'll be roughly 80 degrees in Miami on Sunday. You feel that? No, it's not pain from having over-eaten this past Thursday (actually, it could be but we'll say it isn't) it's the hate you feel that it is incredibly nice outside somewhere and you're stuck in the cold. The team itself will be suffering in the cold against the Jets, who are just perpetually suffering. Not enough to actually be irrelevant however, despite the fact that they finally broke their streak of win-loss-win-loss last week, no they're still relevant and in the hunt for a playoff spot and still disproving all that is logic and reason. As are the Dolphins. You should hate them both. Also, try not to focus too hard on the linemen in this game, you'll find it does weird things to your self-esteem during this Thanksgiving food pregnancy. Just focus on what's sure to be a game of consequence by two teams that defy common sense at every single turn and feel free to condemn all of it. It's good for you.
The rest of the NFL slate on Sunday is rather lukewarm, but there are two outstanding games that are going out nationwide this week.
Broncos at Chiefs
If you feel like we just saw this, it's because we did. It's still a good game and we'll watch it anyway. Even if the current consensus is that both of these teams have subsequently been exposed in the past two weeks as dodgy playoff bets.
Saints at Seahawks
This is the game as hefty as the meal you ate on Thanksgiving. Home field is everything this year in the NFC and both of these two teams want and need it to ensure deep playoff runs and a shot at the Super Bowl. This is New Orleans's chance to get one up on Seattle, yet the Saints struggles away from the Superdome show what a tough assignment this is for them both now and in a potential playoff matchup. While Seattle has a sparkling record, they've had games where they've looked less than dominant. Of all the games this week, this is the one you want to ensure you watch. Holiday commercials in full swing, the temperature is unbearably cold and your mini-vacation is over but at least this Monday Night Football game is something to cheer you back up. It promises to be a doozy.
Your Random Aaron Sorkinism For The Weekend:
C.J.: Sorry to ask you this, sir, but...
President Bartlet: Not too late to stop yourself.
C.J.: I need you to pardon a turkey.
President Bartlet: I already pardoned a turkey.
C.J.: I need you to pardon another one.
President Bartlet: Didn't I do it right?
C.J.: You did it great, but I need you to come out here and pardon another one.
President Bartlet: Aren't I going to get a reputation for being soft on turkeys?
C.J.: Sir, can you come out here and just get this over with?
President Bartlet: No, I'm not gonna just get this ... What the hell's going on?
C.J.: They sent me two turkeys. The more photo-friendly of the two gets a Presidential pardon and a full life at a children's zoo. The runner-up gets eaten.
President Bartlet: If the Oscars were like that, I'd watch.
Enjoy the holiday and the games.