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Breaking down the NFL’s 2021 Thanksgiving Day slate

(AP Photo / Nam Y. Huh)

In a sport that has so many traditions, it’s tough to beat Thanksgiving Day football.

For decades, the NFL has turned the holiday from a day of giving thanks and eating food to an opportunity to sit in front of the couch with your family and watch 11 hours of football.

Since 2006, the league has been showcasing three games throughout its Thanksgiving Day slate, giving six fanbases the chance to watch their favorite team play on one of the United States’ most popular holidays.

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After a 2020 season that was impacted by COVID-19 and saw a primetime Thanksgiving Day matchup get cancelled at the last minute, football fans around the country are gearing up for the NFL’s 2021 slate.

As you prep your stomachs and try to map out when you’ll have to have conversations with some more distant family members, here are some breakdowns for each game on the 2021 Thanksgiving Day schedule:

Chicago Bears vs. Detroit Lions: 12:30 p.m. ET on FOX

One of two teams that gets a game on the holiday every single year, watching the Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving Day is as much of a tradition as eating more turkey than you ever imagined was possible.

Unfortunately for Lions fans, that tradition has evolved into watching their favorite team lose on what is supposed to be a holiday focused on happiness and thankfulness.

Detroit has lost each of its last four Thanksgiving Day games, and the franchise has notoriously been streaky when the holiday rolls around. In the years ahead of that four-game losing streak, they won four straight Thanksgiving Day games between 2013 and 2016.

Before that? They lost a whopping nine straight from 2004 through 2011, a stain on their 37-42-2 overall record on the holiday.

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Two of the Lions’ last four Thanksgiving Day defeats came at the hands of the NFC East rival Chicago Bears, but head coach Dan Campbell’s bunch will get the chance to right that wrong in 2021.

The Bears didn’t play on Thanksgiving Day in 2020 after playing the Lions in back-to-back years in 2018 and 2019, so they may be a bit rusty.

Add in the fact that rookie quarterback Justin Fields will, in all likelihood, make not only his first Thanksgiving Day start, but his first career start on a Thursday night, and this could be a nightmare scenario for Chicago.

As long as the Lions lose to the Cleveland Browns in Week 11, Detroit would be looking for their first win of the 2021 season when Thanksgiving Day rolls around. Could the holiday provide that extra boost to give Campbell his first “W” as the Lions’ head coach?

Las Vegas Raiders vs. Dallas Cowboys: 4:30 p.m. ET on CBS

The other team that always gets to play on Thanksgiving Day, the Dallas Cowboys will slide right into their usual premier spot in the holiday’s annual slate when they take on the Las Vegas Raiders at home.

With Dak Prescott out of the equation in 2020 after his devastating, season-ending injury, the Cowboys were embarrassed on Thanksgiving Day last year in a 41-16 blowout loss against the Washington Football Team.

Fast-forward a year, and Prescott is back under center for Dallas as “America’s Team” looks to improve upon an impressive all-time Thanksgiving Day record.

The Cowboys are 31-21-1 in their illustrious Thanksgiving Day history, and have hosted a game on the holiday in all but two years since 1966. But, the franchise hasn’t won a Turkey Bowl since their 31-23 win against Washington in 2018, and they’ve only won three times on the holiday since 2013.

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Meanwhile, the Raiders aren’t exactly a staple as it relates to this holiday. In fact, in the NFL’s long Thanksgiving Day history, the Raiders have only made seven appearances, and haven’t suited up for the unique Thursday slate since losing to the Raiders in 2013.

The franchise (based in Oakland and Los Angeles for all of the Raiders’ other Thanksgiving Day appearances) is 3-4 on the holiday, and will count on quarterback Derek Carr and an interim head coach to even up that all-time record.

Had it not been for a litany of off-the-field issues throughout the first half of the 2021 season, the Raiders would’ve made this one interesting. But, with the roll that the Cowboys are on and the dry spell that the Raiders are dealing with, you may want to slot your Thanksgiving Day nap for the middle of this game.

Buffalo Bills vs. New Orleans Saints: 8:20 p.m. ET on NBC

Since 2006, the league has strayed away from its usual Thanksgiving Day suspects to give football fans a little bonus for dessert.

The Lions and Cowboys take up the league’s afternoon real estate, but a few other lucky teams get their chance to compete under the bright lights on NBC as everyone unwinds after spending hours upon hours with their families.

This year, the New Orleans Saints will return to the Thanksgiving Day slate for the third time since 2018, taking on a new AFC powerhouse in the Buffalo Bills.

Head coach Sean Payton’s Saints seem to welcome the Thanksgiving Day challenge at this point, considering the fact that they beat the NFC South rival Atlanta Falcons in back-to-back primetime affairs in 2018 and 2019.

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Before that stretch, the franchise’s only other Turkey Day appearance came in a 30-27 win over the Cowboys in 2010. They are only one of five teams without a loss on the holiday, and one of those teams hasn’t even appeared in a Thanksgiving Day game.

Meanwhile, the Bills will look to improve upon a respectable 4-4-1 record in their Thanksgiving Day history, making their first appearance since a 26-15 win over the Cowboys in 2019. Before that victory, the Bills’ last game on the holiday came all the way back in 1994.

A season-ending injury for Saints quarterback Jameis Winston takes a bit of steam out of this one, but don’t count out a savvy Saints defense as they look to thwart Bills quarterback Josh Allen’s MVP campaign in 2021.

It may not be a high-scoring affair by any means, but this one could be just the right recipe to end the NFL’s 2021 Thanksgiving Day slate on a high note.

Which Thanksgiving Day game on the NFL’s 2021 schedule are you most looking forward to? Let us know by following @SOTSports on Twitter or by liking our Facebook page!

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