Thanksgiving is known for turkey, parades, and naps. But for many Americans, the annual holiday is best known for football. Football has been a staple of Thanksgiving Day for decades, and in recent years the NFL has added more games to the turkey day schedule to keep fans entertained throughout the day.
No matter what time you plan to eat your Thanksgiving meal this year, there will be NFL football to watch. Below is a roundup of the three Thanksgiving Day NFL games for 2022.
Buffalo Bills at Detroit Lions, 12:30 p.m. (EST), CBS
You can’t celebrate Thanksgiving without Detroit Lions football. The franchise has played more Thanksgiving Day games (82) than any other team and has played on Thanksgiving every year since 1945. Something noteworthy about the Lions’ Thanksgiving record is that all 82 of the team’s games have been played at home.
The holiday hasn’t always been full of celebration for the Lions and their fans, however. Detroit has lost their last five Thanksgiving Day games and are just 37-42-2 all time on the big day. And things won’t get any easier in 2022 when the Buffalo Bills visit town.
Buffalo began the season with wins in five of its first six games and quickly solidified itself as one of the best teams in the NFL. Odds makers list the Bills as among the favorites to win the Super Bowl, and quarterback Josh Allen is a front runner in the MVP conversation. Buffalo led the NFL in total defense in the early goings of the season and will look to shut down Detroit stars D’Andre Swift and Amon-Ra St. Brown.
Meanwhile, the Lions dropped five of their first six games of the season and through Week 7 were one of only two NFC teams with only one win.
But the Lions do have one thing on their side for their 2022 matchup against the Bills: history. Detroit is 2-0 all time against Buffalo on Thanksgiving. In 1994, the Lions beat the Bills 35-21 and in 1976 Detroit defeated Buffalo 27-14.
Buffalo is 5-4-1 all time on the holiday and has won its previous two games on Thanksgiving, including a 31-6 victory against the New Orleans Saints in 2021.
The Bills are 6-4-1 all time against the Lions and have won the previous three contests, including the most recent matchup in 2018.
New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys, 4:30 p.m. (EST), FOX
The afternoon game on Thanksgiving is a matchup between NFC East Division rivals and two of the most storied franchises in NFL history. It’s also a matchup of two of the best teams of 2022 and one that could have major playoff implications. Through Week 7, the New York Giants maintained a 6-1 record while the Dallas Cowboys sat comfortably at 5-2.
Dallas is led by quarterback Dak Prescott, who shook off an early-season injury to return to the Cowboys lineup in late October, the dual running back threat of Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard, and star wide receiver CeeDee Lamb.
The Giants are anchored by quarterback Daniel Jones and running back Saquon Barkley and the team’s fast start has been one of the top storylines of the 2022 season.
The Cowboys have played the most Thanksgiving games after the Detroit Lions, having played 54 times on the holiday that includes all but two years since 1966. The Cowboys are 31-22-1 all time on Thanksgiving. Like the Lions, the Cowboys have never played a road game on Thanksgiving.
While the Cowboys have some momentum in the early half of the 2022 season, recent Thanksgiving games haven’t yielded much success for America’s team. The Cowboys have won just one of their last five Thanksgiving games and only four of their previous 12. Dallas lost 36-33 in overtime to the Las Vegas Raiders in the 2021 game and last won on Thanksgiving in 2018.
The Giants are 7-5-3 all time on Thanksgiving and last played in 2017. The Giants have lost their last three Thanksgiving games and haven’t won on the holiday since 1982.
Despite being division rivals, the Giants and Cowboys have only met one time on Thanksgiving Day. In 1992, the Cowboys easily defeated the Giants 30-3.
Dallas leads the all-time series 72-46-2.
New England Patriots at Minnesota Vikings, 8:20 p.m. (EST), NBC
If you’re not in a turkey coma by sundown, the NFL has yet another marquee matchup to complete the 2022 Thanksgiving trilogy. The New England Patriots, winners of six of the previous 21 Super Bowls, travel to Minnesota to take on the NFC North-leading Vikings. The Patriots, off to a 3-3 start through Week 7, will try to find a needed spark while the Vikings, winners of five of their first six games, will look to maintain their position as a Super Bowl contender.
The Patriots are coached by the long-tenured Bill Belichick, who entered the season just four wins away from second place on the list of career NFL victories by a head coach. The Vikings feature popular running back Dalvin Cook and a pair of dynamic wide receivers in the young Justin Jefferson and the veteran Adam Thielen.
The Patriots haven’t played on Thanksgiving day since 2012 and have played just five Thanksgiving games in franchise history with a 3-2 record. However, those three wins have all come in the team’s most recent three Thanksgiving games.
The Vikings are 6-2 all time on Thanksgiving, having last appeared in 2017 and have won three of their last four games on the holiday. The Vikings and Patriots have never met on Thanksgiving.
New England has won 9 out of 13 games against Minnesota throughout history, including each of the last five. The teams last met in 2018.
College Football on Thanksgiving in 2022
While Thanksgiving day football is traditionally focused on the NFL, college football fans won’t be left with an empty stomach in 2022. Mississippi State travels to face in-state rival Ole Miss in Oxford in a pivotal SEC West contest. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. (EST) and the game can be seen on ESPN.
The History of Football and Thanksgiving
At some point while watching the games with a plate of leftovers, you may stop to wonder how and why NFL football is played on Thanksgiving.
The game of football has been played on Thanksgiving ever since the sport’s inception during the 1870s as Thanksgiving was a day that people typically were free from work and could gather for a game. Yale and Princeton met for a Thanksgiving Day game in 1876, beginning a long tradition of holiday football among the collegiate ranks.
By the time the NFL began operations in 1920 (then known as the American Professional Football Association), football was already established as a Thanksgiving Day tradition. The upstart league did not deviate from that tradition and the Decatur Staleys defeated the Chicago Tigers in the first Thanksgiving Day football game played in the league that is today known as the NFL.
A mismatch of mostly random teams participated in the Thanksgiving Day game in the early years of the NFL. In 1934, Detroit Lions owner George A. Richards saw Thanksgiving as an opportunity to draw more fans to a home game. The Lions’ stadium was situated downtown, and many people gathered downtown on Thanksgiving Day. So Richards theorized that staging a game at that time would draw people in from the streets. Richards also owned a local NBC affiliate radio station and was able to negotiate a deal to have the team’s Thanksgiving Day games broadcast over the airwaves. A new tradition was born, and 2022 will mark the 77th consecutive year that the Lions have played a home game on Thanksgiving.
In 1966, the Dallas Cowboys joined in the tradition of playing Thanksgiving Day games and have done so in all but two years ever since. Today, the Lions are granted the first game of the day and the Cowboys play in the second game. In 2006, the NFL added a third game to be played at night.
Notable Thanksgiving Day games include:
- Ernie Nevers accounting for all 40 of the Chicago Cardinals’ points in a 40-6 win over the crosstown Chicago Bears in 1929. The 40 points scored by a single player remains an NFL record today.
- The Lions’ 52-35 win over the Green Bay Packers in 1951 that accounted for the most points scored in a Thanksgiving game.
- The 1962 “Thanksgiving Day massacre” when Packers quarterback Bart Starr was sacked 11 times in a 10-0 loss to the Lions, which was Green Bay’s only loss of the season.
- The 1989 “Bounty Bowl” between the Cowboys and the Philadelphia Eagles.
- Leon Lett’s field goal blunder in 1993.
- The botched overtime coin toss in 1998 that awarded the Lions the ball to start the overtime period. They then kicked a field goal to defeat the Pittsburgh Steelers 19-16.
- The 2012 “butt fumble” game in which a fumble by the New York Jets’ Mark Sanchez was returned for a touchdown in the 49-19 Patriots victory.
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