Thanksgiving in Week 12 of the 2023 NFL season: Six essential highlights

Photo of The Green Bay Packers vs the Detroit Lions in the thanksgiving 2023 celebrations match.

Thanksgiving, football, and Madden constitute the treasured trifecta for one of America’s favorite family holidays, and this Thursday will witness the celebration of all three once again. Last year’s inaugural John Madden Thanksgiving Celebration wasn’t a one-time occurrence. Madden’s legacy will be commemorated once more on the football-centric day he helped establish.

This year’s three-game lineup is especially thrilling, with each match carrying playoff implications. Envision Thursday’s tripleheader as a turducken—the mysterious, Madden-favored dish featuring a deboned chicken within a deboned duck, all nestled inside a deboned turkey. Each layer imparts distinct texture and flavor, leaving you pleasantly stuffed into a tryptophanic state by day’s end.

The initial matchup features Packers-Lions, reminiscent of the traditional turkey layer but with a twist. Unlike previous seasons when the Lions were less competitive, this year’s team boasts an impressive 8-2 record, their best in 61 years. The Packers, at 4-6, are still in the playoff hunt. This is no ordinary, dry white-meat game.

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Following that is the duck layer, known for its richness. The mid-game showdown between Washington and Dallas has produced classics since their inaugural Thanksgiving meeting in 1968. Dallas, currently the stronger team with four wins in their last five games, faces off against the Commanders, who have stumbled in four of their last five. Despite the Cowboys’ home dominance this season, they’re only 2-4 in their past six Turkey Day games.

The final course, a delectable chicken, arrives with 49ers-Seahawks. Despite the 49ers’ earlier lackluster performance in a three-game losing streak, they’ve gained momentum. The Seahawks, having lost two of their last three, are only a game behind the 49ers in the NFC, adding a significant flavor to the day’s football feast.

“I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else but here, immersed in a Thanksgiving football game,” Madden expressed during the 1997 Bears-Lions Thanksgiving Day matchup. Even though the turducken had its first appearance in a Saints game the previous December, it truly caught the attention of many when Barry Sanders seized one of its six (!) legs and started feasting. A specially designed turducken-themed coin will be flipped during Thursday’s three games, underlining the influence of this poultry phenomenon.

In homage to the formidable triple-bird chimera and its plethora of appendages, here are six key points to observe across the three games during the NFL’s John Madden Thanksgiving Celebration:

The Green Bay Packers, holding a record of 4-6-0, are set to compete against the Detroit Lions, who proudly showcase an 8-2-0 record. The matchup is scheduled at Ford Field in Detroit, commencing at 12:30 p.m. ET and will be televised on both FOX and FOX Deportes.

1-) The Lions’ current powerhouse stems from their running back tandem. David Montgomery’s return from injury has notably energized the Detroit run game, as Montgomery and rookie Jahmyr Gibbs have collectively recorded 46 carries, 305 yards, and five touchdowns in the last two games.

Additionally, they’ve amassed 116 receiving yards on 11 combined receptions. Despite Jared Goff’s struggles in Week 11, throwing three interceptions with two more dropped picks, the Lions turned to their dynamic RB duo to engineer a comeback against Chicago.

The Packers are fully aware of the potency of this duo, having faced difficulties containing them in Detroit’s Week 4 triumph at Lambeau. Montgomery secured 121 rushing yards and three scores, while Gibbs contributed 51 scrimmage yards.

Although Green Bay’s run defense displayed strength against the Rams and Vikings, it has encountered challenges throughout the season, allowing 200-plus rushing yards in three games.

While the Lions won’t abandon the passing game with Goff, the running backs, especially Montgomery and Gibbs, could play a pivotal role. Their blend of power and agility mirrors classic Thanksgiving pairings, such as turkey and stuffing or mashed potatoes and gravy.

2-)Jordan Love is currently on an upward trajectory but is up against a formidable challenge. Despite an impressive performance in his recent NFL start, throwing for 322 yards and two TDs without interceptions, Love faces a tough test. In their previous encounter with the Lions, resulting in a 34-20 loss, Love was sacked five times and intercepted twice.

This time, without the availability of Aaron Jones and Luke Musgrave, Love’s primary targets, the challenge is even greater. However, Love has recently relied on Doubs, Reed, Watson, and Wicks, with AJ Dillon effectively filling in for Jones. The Lions have shown vulnerabilities in their pass defense this season, making Doubs and Reed potential impact players. Keep an eye on Wicks, who has emerged as a big-play threat since their last meeting.

The Washington Commanders, with a record of 4-7-0, are set to take on the Dallas Cowboys, who currently boast a 7-3-0 record. The matchup is slated to happen at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, at 4:30 p.m. ET and will be televised on CBS.

3-)The Washington Commanders, currently grappling with a string of losses, are in dire need of an upset to reverse their fortunes. Having dropped four of their last five games and seven of the previous nine, the recent loss to the Giants, orchestrated by undrafted rookie QB Tommy DeVito, has heightened the pressure on Ron Rivera and his coaching staff. Despite the Commanders still being in the playoff race, a defeat on Thursday could significantly imperil their postseason aspirations.

Quarterback Sam Howell, guided by the new coordinator Eric Bieniemy, has displayed glimpses of potential as a future franchise QB. However, Howell has encountered difficulties, facing three or more sacks in nearly every game. The imposing Dallas pass rush, spearheaded by Micah Parsons, presents a substantial threat. Parsons, with 2.5 sacks in Week 11 against the Panthers, played a key role in the Cowboys amassing seven sacks in that game.

Despite Howell’s 18 TD passes and multiple games with 290 or more passing yards, the Cowboys’ pass defense, led by cornerback DaRon Bland and his four pick-sixes, has generally performed well this season, with the exception of the 49ers game. For Washington to orchestrate an upset, they must achieve success in the passing game while minimizing the negative plays that have haunted them.

4-)Dak Prescott and CeeDee Lamb have been in stellar form, establishing themselves as one of the NFL’s premier passing combinations. Despite Lamb being limited to six catches for 38 yards by Carolina, he has accumulated 47 receptions for 655 yards and four TDs in the past five games. Prescott, since the Week 5 loss to the 49ers, has been remarkable, completing 70.8% of his passes for 1,543 yards, 14 TDs, and only two interceptions.

Additionally, he has contributed 96 rushing yards and two scores. Although Washington’s pass defense has faced recent challenges, allowing an average of 258.5 pass yards per game this season, Prescott struggled against them in Week 18 last season. In that crucial matchup for Dallas with playoff implications on the line, Prescott faced difficulties despite the stakes.

The San Francisco 49ers, holding a 7-3-0 record in 2023, are gearing up to take on the Seattle Seahawks, who currently stand at 6-4-0. The clash is slated to unfold at Seattle’s Lumen Field at 8:20 p.m. ET, with the game broadcasted on both NBC and Telemundo.

5-)The revitalized 49ers understand the importance of this game. Although a loss in Seattle wouldn’t officially surrender their division lead, it would tie both teams in the standings as they approach the crucial final stretch of the season. The prospect of a pivotal rematch at Levi’s Stadium looms in Week 14. Additionally, the 49ers are keenly aware of their standing in the conference.

Following Philadelphia’s triumph over the Chiefs, the Eagles have surged to a 9-1 record, holding a substantial two-win advantage over San Francisco. However, securing a victory on Thursday would position the 49ers to swiftly narrow the gap in the race for the NFC’s No. 1 overall seed and the coveted bye that accompanies it. In their three matchups last season, the 49ers convincingly outperformed the Seahawks with an 89-43 point differential.

Despite a three-game losing streak before their bye week, the 49ers have showcased dominance in recent performances. Brock Purdy’s nearly flawless display in the past two games, complemented by a robust lineup of playmakers, and the resurgence of the 49ers’ defense underscore their formidable form. The injury-laden Seahawks face a formidable challenge in overcoming their opponents.

6-)Despite an elbow/triceps injury sidelining Geno Smith in Sunday’s loss to the Rams, he is expected to play on Thursday. Exiting the game with a nine-point lead, Smith returned for the final two-minute drill, but the Seahawks fell short, with Jason Myers missing a field goal attempt at the buzzer.

Although Smith’s current status is uncertain, he remains the Seahawks’ best chance for victory. The team heavily relies on its top three receivers — DK Metcalf, Tyler Lockett, and rookie Jaxon Smith-Njigba — in the passing game, potentially exploiting openings in the Niners’ secondary if the pass protection holds. With star safety Talanoa Hufanga lost to a season-ending knee injury in Week 11, the 49ers will turn to rookie Ji’Ayir Brown as his replacement.

While Brown demonstrated his abilities with a fourth-down interception last week, he anticipates a thorough examination. To counter the threat posed by Nick Bosa, Chase Young, and the formidable 49ers’ pass rush, the Seahawks might opt for a run-heavy approach, a customary aspect of their offense. However, the injury to Kenneth Walker III (oblique; doubtful) has elevated rookie Zach Charbonnet to the primary workhorse back role.


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