One thing that each NFL team should be thankful for at Thanksgiving
Thanksgiving may be here, yet the NFL hardly has a bountiful offering of turkeys in 2021.
With the regular season entering Week 12, 75% of the league's teams – 24 to be exact – either currently project into the 14-team playoff field or are no more than one game out of a wild-card spot. Three others are two games behind the NFC's seventh seed, and Miami – winner of three straight – is 2½ games out in the AFC ... yet has a more than reasonable shot to get to .500 with the Panthers, Giants and Jets all traveling to South Florida as the Dolphins' next three opponents.
Sure, fans of the Lions, Texans, Jaguars and Jets have heaping helpings of dark and white meat to choose from. But everyone else gets a plateful of parity unlikely to cause a tryptophan coma over the final seven weeks of what should be captivating conclusion to the regular season, which hopefully is prologue to a wide-open playoff field.
And though Thursday features a tripleheader of six salty teams trying to rebound from Week 11 defeats – Chicago-Detroit, Dallas-Las Vegas and Buffalo-New Orleans – it's still an appropriate time to relish (get it?) NFL football and appreciate what you have.
Without further ado, here's one reason for all 32 teams (and their fans) to be thankful ... even if the gratification might be delayed:
They managed to go 2-1 without injured QB Kyler Murray, retaining the league's best record (9-2), and appear well on their way to ending an NFC-high five-season playoff absence.
They appear to have a generational tight end prospect with rookie Kyle Pitts – who currently looks so promising that not many people are asking (yet) if this team should've drafted QBs Justin Fields or Mac Jones fourth overall instead.
When he's well enough to get out of bed on Sunday morning, Lamar Jackson has blossomed into the kind of quarterback 31 other teams might very well use as their template moving forward.
With one of the league's most exciting young quarterbacks (Josh Allen), steadiest and most underrated head coaches (Sean McDermott) and the backing of a Mafia that provides unwavering support – not to mention seven weeks to iron out issues elsewhere – no reason to give up on a season that could still deliver on the high hopes so many in Buffalo (and elsewhere) had for it.
Like the long-lost relative who receives a warm welcome after some time away, QB Cam Newton returned and quickly reminded why he’s beloved by Panthers Nation.
Owners of the league's longest active losing streak (five games) and an injured rookie quarterback (Justin Fields), there is hardly a drumstick on the table this year. Their fans hope each loss drives owners not named Aaron Rodgers to cleaning house, though.
This franchise has a history of squandering prosperity, but it could take quite the concerted effort to suppress the potential of a promising young corps headlined by Cincy's most recent first-rounders, QB Joe Burrow and WR Ja'Marr Chase. They might even be good enough to end the Bengals' 31-year drought without a playoff win (the longest in the league) – perhaps even this season.
No, this year hasn't gone as hoped – to this point. Yes, it's only been five minutes since this franchise lost 49 of 53 games. So be thankful, it could be (as it has recently been) so much worse.
The offense still packs a heavy punch, while Dan Quinn has remade the defense in his likeness. Also … even though the NFC East is not as much of a dumpster fire this year, it's almost time to name America's Team the projected winner.
Oregon's Kayvon Thibodeaux looks like an exciting prospect who could anchor the pass rush for years to come. Assuming Detroit takes him, there are also three other first-rounders in hand over the next two drafts to spend on a potential quarterback fix.
Only a few more months until GM George Paton obtains the quarterback who will galvanize this roster into a championship contender. Right?
Green Bay Packers
Rodgers doesn't have to test for COVID-19 for roughly three months. Who knows how those results would be coming back otherwise?
We'll get back to you. Definitely will get back to you. Eventually.
NFL running backs are so often meteors, streaking through the ether with such beauty ... before suddenly breaking apart. So let's appreciate league MVP candidate Jonathan Taylor in the here and now while hoping he realizes his long-term potential to be every bit the franchise and community cornerstone in Indianapolis that Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck were and still are.
Still plenty of time for No. 1 pick Trevor Lawrence to unlock his copious talent and solve the NFL. He's only 22. Still ... time for coach Urban Meyer to solve the NFL. He's only 57.
Kansas City Chiefs
You're in first place, and Patrick Mahomes is still your quarterback. Anything is possible.
Las Vegas Raiders
The past two months have been nothing short of tragic off the field, the majority of the locker room left to deal with so much fallout that has nothing do with football. But Silver and Black lining? You guys get to live in Vegas.
Los Angeles Chargers
They've got a sublimely talented young quarterback in Justin Herbert. They have a wicked smart, football-forward coach in Brandon Staley. They're probably going to the playoffs. They're probably going to knock the Rams off the Hollywood marquee for a long time. Maybe soon.
Los Angeles Rams
The acquisition of QB Matthew Stafford to serve as commander of Sean McVay’s scheme was supposed to come with the keys to the NFC. The Rams might not realize home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, but if they represent the conference on Feb. 13, they will play Super Bowl 56 in their own building.
They don't have to answer additional questions about acquiring QB Deshaun Watson ... at least not before the Holidays end. And, seriously, given how they're playing and the way the schedule sets up, the Fins could be the relevant team entering January many assumed they'd be all along.
They have an elite receiver and … wait, they have another guy, too? Justin Jefferson, in Year 2, has emerged as a top-five wideout in the league, and Adam Thielen ain’t too bad himself, making life manageable for an offense helmed by QB Kirk Cousins.
New England Patriots
Given how Jones has panned out thus far – while being backed by the league's stingiest defense in terms of points allowed and a multi-faceted run game – it's starting to reasonably wonder if Bill Belichick's dynasty actually didn't die but merely spent one season in a Brady-induced coma.
New Orleans Saints
Be thankful the front office treats the salary cap as an abstract phenomenon, evidenced by the cash handed out to part-time QB Taysom Hill. Hopefully there's enough dough left over to bring in another option next year.
New York Giants
They will very likely have a top-five draft pick in 2022 and perhaps a second in the top 10 because the Bears stunk right on time. Also: They don't have to watch deposed coordinator Jason Garrett try to design an offense anymore.
New York Jets
They will very likely have a top-five draft pick in 2022 and perhaps a second in the top 10 because the Seahawks stunk right on time. Also: They (probably) don't have to worry about building the franchise around Magic Mike White anymore.
They're smart enough to rely on the best program in college football to build the offense? Jalen Hurts, the second-year quarterback who finished his amateur career at Oklahoma, and rookie WR DeVonta Smith, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, are both products of Nick Saban’s Alabama Crimson Tide.
Feels like the end of an era, somewhat like 1983 – Hall of Fame QB Terry Bradshaw's final season. Nothing's official yet with Ben Roethlisberger, 39, but Pittsburghers should treat this as a final ride for a playoff-caliber team ... before buckling in for what should be a wild offseason of quarterbacking speculation, sure to link the Steelers to Rodgers, Russell Wilson and all manner of possibilities.
San Francisco 49ers
Do-it-all Deebo Samuel has become the best running threat in Kyle Shanahan’s offense … and is still the most dangerous pass catcher, too.
"Resilient Russell" Wilson and his unparalleled capacity to heal have produced a middle finger that works ... well enough to throw passes once again while even completing some. Also, 12's, don't forget to love up Bobby Wagner, one of the more underappreciated players of his generation. He should teach Jamal Adams to play linebacker.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Some people love to travel during the Holidays. Others prefer the comforts of home. Throw the Bucs into the latter category – they’re 5-0 at Raymond James Stadium .
They still reside – barely – atop the AFC and have the conference's easiest remaining schedule in terms of opposition winning percentage (.411), as much good as that did last week against Houston. But if they can just hang on long enough for injured RB Derrick Henry to possibly return, the Titans are as capable as any team in the AFC of scrapping their way to the Super Bowl.
Washington Football Team
The record (4-6) isn’t where coach Ron Rivera wants to be, but QB Taylor Heinicke makes them watchable – even entertaining at times.
Back to you – rejoice, Houstonians! You'll have a pro football alternative in 2022 when the USFL's Gamblers return to Space City. If they're also able to re-sign QB Jim Kelly? Then: Texans vs. Gamblers (-9½).