If it wasn't for football, Thanksgiving might be slowly getting phased out.
With stores and companies running Christmas ads the very instant Halloween ends (or earlier), Thanksgiving almost seems like an afterthought these days. Everyone's already going to buy a ton of food on the last Thursday in November, so why not squeeze every last Christmas dollar out of consumers instead? The Thanksgiving Day parade is more played out that Peyton Manning's career. The travel is always a nightmare. The modern Thanksgiving is basically used as a prop for Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Small Business Saturday, and Waste Your Wallet Wednesday. (I might have made up that last one but don't think it isn't coming eventually.) In today's cynical world, people are too busy griping about spending time with relatives and dreading hordes of shoppers to actually enjoy their four-day weekend. Everything that once made Thanksgiving weekend great is slowly fading away.
Except for the football. Oh, that wonderful, glorious football. Three NFL games on Thursday, 12 more on Sunday, with a ton of great college games sandwiched in between. We can gorge on football long after our waistlines have waived the white flag on the third helping of stuffing. If it wasn't for Thanksgiving football, we'd actually have to make small talk with our in-laws. We wouldn't be able to insist that "this super important play coming up in the Detroit game" is more important than doing the dishes. Most importantly, we wouldn't have anything good on TV to fall asleep to when the food coma kicked in. So make sure to appreciate everything you are blessed with this Thanksgiving--especially the football.
When it comes to the Minnesota Vikings, I think we can all be thankful that they are 7-3. I know we felt like everything sucked after the 30-13 home loss to the Packers last Sunday, but a little perspective can go a long way. If you told any Vikings fan before the season--or after Week 1--that the team would be 7-3 and have the same record as Green Bay after ten games, nearly all of them would have been very happy with it. They're still very much in the playoff picture and control their own fate over final last six weeks of the season.
I am also thankful that the Vikings have a big opportunity to solidify that playoff position this weekend when they visit the Atlanta Falcons. Minnesota will get a second straight chance to defeat a reeling team coming off their third consecutive loss. After coming out of the gate 5-0, Atlanta has lost four of their last five games, all to teams that currently do not have a winning record. After escaping with a few close wins over NFC East opponents earlier in the year Atlanta can't seem to close games out anymore.
I think it's because Vikings fans can be thankful that Matt Ryan is just a pretty good quarterback and not a great one. As I discussed with Andy Carlson on the Purple FTW! Podcast earlier this week, Ryan usually has great numbers but you're never all that worried about him. Last week was a perfect example. Ryan finished with 280 yards and 3 touchdowns but had two really bad interceptions that turned the game in the Colts' favor.
On the first interception, Ryan tried to force a pass for Roddy White into a window that simply wasn't there. The decision cost Atlanta a chance for at least three points.
The second was even worse. Ryan obviously didn't see D'Qwell Jackson dropping into coverage, but even if Jackson wasn't there Jacob Tamme was being blanketed. Either way it's a throw you can't be making from your own end zone.
Ryan had an excellent pocket and plenty of time to throw on both occasions. If the Vikings pass rush can get to him more often than Indy (who had only 1 sack), they should be able to force Ryan into more bad decisions.
That said, Ryan still puts up numbers for a reason. Atlanta's offensive line is one of the few groups of blockers that haven't been hot garbage this season. Atlanta has allowed only 12 sacks through ten games, tied for fewest in the NFL. And Ryan can certainly make the necessary throws to consistently find his greatest weapon, Julio Jones.
I am very thankful that the Vikings don't have to face Jones as often as his NFC South opponents. Jones leads the league in receptions and yards because he can do anything you can ask of a wide receiver. (So, basically, he's the anti-Mike Wallace.) Even when Jones isn't getting the ball nearly ten times a game, he can make a big impact. Watch how he delivers a huge block to set the edge for a big Devonta Freeman gain:
Which brings me to the next people I am thankful for: Linval Joseph and Sharrif Floyd. Because stopping Freeman will be key if he passes the concussion protocol and plays Sunday. Anyone in a fantasy league knows how Freeman's season has been going; the Vikings need to make sure they don't have a repeat of what Eddie Lacy did to them last Sunday. Even if Freeman can't go, Tevin Coleman is a decent runner when he isn't putting the ball on the ground. I have a feeling the team that rushes for the most yards will win on Sunday.
Thankfully, Adrian Peterson is tough to keep down two weeks in a row. After being held to only 45 yards rushing last week against Green Bay, Peterson has now been held to less than 50 yards rushing 18 times in his career. In the previous 17 games immediately following such a low yardage output, Peterson is averaging 93.6 yards per game with 17 touchdowns, right back near his career averages. It's very rare that AP has two quiet games in a row. The Falcons have allowed the fewest rushing yards in the NFL through the first ten games of the season, but I would still bet on Peterson having a bounce back game. You know, as long as he doesn't keep bouncing the ball back off the turf.
While Peterson is obviously a huge part of Minnesota's success, I am thankful that Teddy Bridgewater is still in one piece after Sunday's debacle. The offensive line seemed like they were slowly improving during the five-game win streak, but any progress quickly dissolved against Green Bay. The Packers constantly confused the Vikings front line, which led to several plays like this.
Brandon Fusco and Matt Kalil both pull to the right to block the same defender while Ha Ha Clinton-Dix streaks in untouched for the sack. (Don't forget to watch T.J. Clemmings allow his customary speed rush around the edge as well.) Bridgewater was calling out changes at the line before this play, but without knowing what they were it's hard to know who was at fault for the incorrect blocking assignments. Either way it needs to be cleaned up.
I'm thankful that Norv Turner is (hopefully) smart enough to know that adjustments need to be made. One way to counteract all the pre-snap movement by the defense is to run a hurry-up offense with lots of quick reads that get the ball out of Bridgewater's hands in a hurry. Dinking and dunking your way down the field might not be aesthetically pleasing or quiet the "Teddy's a game manager" critics but it sure as hell beats going backwards half the time. Because believe it or not, keeping Bridgewater upright is fairly crucial to the Vikings' success. The Vikings have allowed 18 sacks in their three losses and only 12 sacks in their seven wins this season. Randall McDaniel and Mick Tingelhoff aren't suiting up anytime soon, so it's time for the Vikings to do the best with what they have at offensive line.
With all of Minnesota's blocking woes I'm thankful that Atlanta isn't very good at getting after the quarterback. They have sacked the quarterback only 12 times, which is tied for fewest in the league. The Falcons got to Matt Hasselbeck twice last week but he moves around the pocket with a cane so that doesn't really count. The only time Kroy Biermann scares me is when I see his wife on TV. I'm confident that Bridgewater will have a little more time to see the field this week.
Finally, I'm probably most thankful that Mike Zimmer is the Vikings Head Coach. The last time the Vikings got embarrassed by 17 points with most of the nation watching, they rattled off seven victories in eight games. I'm thankful that Teddy Bridgewater's best day a passer to date came against the Falcons last year. I'm thankful that a win on Sunday would go a long way towards clinching a playoff spot. I'm thankful that I have enough faith in Zimmer to get a much better performance out of his guys this time around.
And if I'm wrong, I'm thankful that I can drown my sorrows in delicious leftovers.
Vikings 30, Falcons 20
And now for the rest of my Week 12 NFL picks (home teams in ALL CAPS):
LIONS over Eagles
I'm thankful Chip Kelly showed us that real-life fantasy football doesn't work. I'm also thankful that since Sam Bradford is questionable there's a chance that we might get another Thanksgiving Day Mark Sanchez butt fumble.
Panthers over COWBOYS
I'm thankful that so many people are picking Dallas for this game. It makes it easier for me to pick the undefeated team ready to show off in their first ever Thanksgiving game.
PACKERS over Bears
I'm thankful that I can heartily root for the Bears to win this week without feeling the least bit guilty about it.
CHIEFS over Bills
I'm thankful the Ryan brothers haven't yet grasped that we're laughing at them, not with them.
BENGALS over Rams
No jokes or snark here: I'm thankful that Stedman Bailey is still alive. What an awful and scary story.
Raiders over TITANS
I'm thankful that just two weeks ago people were questioning whether Oakland was better than Minnesota and the Vikings came out on the right side of the argument.
Buccaneers over COLTS
I'm thankful that the Bucs are turning out to be entertaining and frisky this year. My old roommate (a huge Bucs fan) is more thankful that he bet big on Tampa Bay to beat Philly last week.
JETS over Dolphins
I'm thankful that it's easy to pick against Ryan Tannehill when you know he's facing a defense that will pressure him a lot.
TEXANS over Saints
I'm thankful that the Gratuitous Picture of the Week can distract me from trying to figure out either one of these teams.
"Unlike our division, we're really hot / We'd be 0-10 without J.J. Watt!" (image via coed.com)
Giants over REDSKINS
I'm thankful I don't care about my Survivor Pool pick of the week anymore, because I have already picked all the good teams and I'm only 7-4 on the season after Philadelphia got boat raced by Tampa last week. That way I won't be as worried as I should be about backing an NFC East team on the road.
JAGUARS over Chargers
I'm thankful I finally got to see the day when the Jags were actually favored to win against someone outside of their own putrid division.
Cardinals over 49ERS
I'm thankful there are two more opportunities for the Cards to get banged up before they play the Vikings in prime time, because right now that game is looking pretty scary.
SEAHAWKS over Steelers
I'm thankful that the NFL gave us one good late afternoon game on Sunday because that San Francisco game might be over in a hurry.
Patriots over BRONCOS
I'm thankful that so many jokes can be made from Peyton Manning's Nationwide jingle commercials. Like "GUESS-I'll-just-sit-this-one-out."
BROWNS over Ravens
I'm thankful that after a weekend full of nothing but food and football we can make plans for Monday night and not have to worry about missing out on anything.
Last week: 8-6
Season so far: 99-61