NFL Insider Notebook: Best Thanksgiving Day Ever?

As far as I’m concerned Thanksgiving is the best holiday of the year. In fact, it’s the best day of the year. Like many in this country that celebrate the holiday, it’s not really about the Pilgrims and the Native Americans for me (apologies to my former teachers), rather the edibles, sports and commercialism.

Thanksgiving is centered around two of the three things I love the most and that’s football and eating large amounts of food. Here’s a preview of the feast that the nation will enjoy on television.

Green Bay vs. Detroit

we have to suffer through an early Detroit Lions game hoping the game won’t be too much of a blowout or if it’s close the game doesn’t involve double-digit turnovers. For perhaps the first time in my lifetime the Lions are pretty good (7-3 record). Not only do we get to see an explosive offense that features Matt Stafford, Calvin Johnson and Kevin Smith (okay maybe not Smith), but we also get to see the best quarterback in the world in Aaron Rodgers and the undefeated Packers.

“Every game is big for me and every game is big for this team,” Lions wide receiver Nate Burleson said. “Being on Thanksgiving, being the Packers, being in the division, being that we were 1-1 with them last year, there are a lot of reasons why this is more exciting. But they are all important.”

Home teams normally have huge advantages on short weeks and the games will get exponentially more difficult for the Packers as their undefeated streak goes along. If they weren’t getting their opponents best shots before, they are certainly getting them now.

“This is a mental week,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “We’re going to do as limited practice time on the field that we feel gives us a chance to be ready to go. I’m not going to lose the game on Tuesday and Wednesday because we practiced too much. I’ve made those kind of mistakes in the past – in training camp and things like that.”

Miami vs. Dallas

If you simply look at the win-loss records, Thursday afternoon’s game between the Miami Dolphins and Dallas Cowboys looks like a significant mismatch. Miami opened the season with seven consecutive defeats and the Cowboys have a share of first place in the NFC East.

The Cowboys are surging as they’ve won three in a row and four out of five to pull to within a tie with the Giants for first place. Dallas has been feasting upon inferior competition but they will have to stay focused to take down a very hot Miami team.

“This game will be here before you know it,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. “We have to be focused on that. We’re not real concerned about the standings right now.”

The Dolphins are playing with no pressure and winning football games behind a solid defense which has allowed less than seven points per game during their three-game winning streak.

“It really doesn’t matter what team we play, or who we play. It’s all about how we prepare for them, and if we run the plays right,” said nose tackle Paul Soliai. “Our goal is to stop the run, make every team one-dimensional.”

Miami is also scoring at a rate of nearly 30 points per game thanks to the efficient play of quarterback Matt Moore. Moore is completing nearly 71 percent of his throws during the streak with six touchdowns and just one interception.

“Matt’s done a tremendous job right now, and it’s all about what you do with your opportunities in our league,” coach Tony Sparano said. “As of right now, he is doing a nice job with his opportunities. Matt will be the first to tell you that we need to continue to get better.”

Two hot teams, two hot quarterbacks and what appears to be another intriguing game.

San Francisco vs. Baltimore

Much of the nation will miss Thurday’s nightcap between the two fighting Harbaugh’s which will be televised on the NFL Network. Jim Harbaugh brings his San Francisco 49ers east on a short week to face his brother’s Baltimore Ravens.

“I think it was very considerate of the NFL to reunite the brothers on Thanksgiving,” 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh said. “I think that’s going to be very difficult on our team. And there’s no question we drew the short end of the straw on this one.”

The game is much more important for 7-3 Baltimore, as they’re in a first-place tie with Pittsburgh. Although the Ravens hold the tiebreak, one slip up could leave the team traveling throughout the playoffs, a road that they’ve had to endure the last two seasons.

“We control our own destiny,” Ravens tight end Ed Dickson said. “That’s all we can do is win one game at a time. We’re thinking about San Francisco now, and it would be great to get that victory.”

San Francisco comes in at 9-1, winners of eight in a row and they’re doing it with their defense. The 49ers are tops in the league against the run thanks to what could be the league’s best linebacking corps featuring All-Pro Patrick Willis, Navarro Bowman, Ahmad Brooks and Parys Haralson.

The 49ers have a five-game lead in the NFC West and could lock up the division with a victory on Thursday.

Thursday Picks

Green Bay -7 @ Detroit

The Packers usually start games off fast and the Lions have been sluggish in the beginning of games. Look for this trend to continue and then Detroit to make a furious run to get “the backdoor cover”. Packers 34, Lions 28.

Miami +7 @ Dallas

As well as the Dolphins are playing, traveling halfway across the country on a short week to play a much better Cowboys team doesn’t bode well for the Fighting Sparano’s. Cowboys 27, Dolphins 13.

San Francisco +3 @ Baltimore

The 49ers have been solid against bad teams and good against the good ones. They haven’t had a tough road game in over a month and to play Baltimore, who is undefeated at home will be a tall task. Ravens 20, 49ers 14.

Charlie Bernstein is the NFL Insider for ESPNFlorida.com and ESPN 1080 and 1040 in Orlando/Tampa and Editor-in-Chief of Sports Media Interactive, covering the National Football League, NCAA, and National Basketball Association. Charlie covers the Jacksonville Jaguars for FoxSports and has been featured on the NFL Network and Sirius NFL Radio. Charlie is also a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. You can follow Charlie on Twitter @nflcharlie

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