Who doesn't love a hoagie on Turkey Day?
What's more American than taking any kind of meat you can find at the table and wrapping it up in some bread and pouring some gravy on it and gobbling it up while watching football? It's about as good as it gets. That's what holidays are made of right there.
And we've got a special Thanksgiving edition of The Hoagie Scale here to prepare you for what is ahead. I like this slate of games, for the most part. It could be a lot worse. There is some form of playoff permutation to each game and a genuine reason to watch. Heck, we've even got a footlong in the bunch, so what could be better than that?
Pittsburgh at Baltimore
Thursday, Nov. 28, 8:30 p.m. ET (NBC)
Why to watch: I've said it before and I will say it again -- this is the best rivalry in football. It always has massive playoff ramifications and it doesn't matter who is at quarterback, what the records are or anything else. It's always close and, quite often, comes down to the final play of the game. This one should be no different, as the first meeting between them fit that description and the stakes are even higher now. The winner of this one is finally on a winning streak and will have the inside shot at the sixth playoff seed. The winner will also remain in contention for the AFC North title, giving the Bengals a run. The loser will be back in the muckety-muck of the murky AFC playoff picture, will have no real margin for error and likely need some help to even have a chance of getting in. Baltimore must continue to find ways to win at home and cannot afford to be swept by the Steelers, and these Turkey Day games have brought out the best in them before -- an emotional victory against the 49ers a few years back. The game also tends to make their wild crowds that much frothier. It's the perfect nightcap to a full day of Thursday football.
What to watch for: Ben Roethlisbeger is coming in off his two best games of the season and he is finding Antonio Brown all over the place. This offense is clicking in all quadrants of the field and has a vertical element to it. ... Steelers safety Troy Polamalu comes in off by far his best game in years, flying to the football, looking confident, anticipating where the ball is going. He generally plays his best against the Ravens and has ended these games in the past with strip sacks. Ravens QB Joe Flacco better account for him with sliding protections, etc. ... Baltimore's pass rush needs to show up. Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil didn't get to Big Ben much in the first meeting and Pittsburgh revived its running game at the Ravens' expense. ... A big game from battered Haloti Ngata might be a lot to ask on a short week, but keeping Roethlisberger from stepping up into the pocket would be critical. ... Does Ravens corner Lardarius Webb shadow Brown? ... Expect to see Tyrod Taylor on the field in wildcat formations for the Ravens. ... If the Ravens do get TE Dennis Pitta (preseason hip surgery) back for this game, his presence alone would bring balance and diversity to an offense desperately in need of it. ... I see Ravens WR Marlon Brown making a big play or two deep in this game. ... Baltimore needs Jacoby Jones to continue returning kicks and punts after Tandon Doss's occasional missteps. ... Do the Ravens attack the interior of this defense early -- even despite their woes in the run game -- with NT Steve McLendon out?
Green Bay at Detroit
Thursday, Nov. 28, 12:30 p.m. ET (FOX)
Why to watch: Green Bay suddenly needs to save its season, trying to stave off a fifth consecutive loss since Aaron Rodgers went down (OK, so it's technically three losses and a tie, but come on, it has to feel like four losses already). The Lions aim to retain a grip on the NFC North lead after successive heartbreaking losses. This is pretty much season-defining stuff right here and we all know from the past that when these teams get together on Turkey Day, crazy stuff can happen -- like Brett Favre throwing a bunch of picks to lose to an awful Lions team; or Ndamukong Suh stomping on a dude like a madman and earning a suspension. So stay tuned for that alone. If you recall the last time Packers QB Matt Flynn faced Detroit, he threw for like a million yards and six TDs a few years back before he left for the green of free agency. Flynn will need to rally the boys in this one or else it won't matter when Rodgers comes back, because it will be too late. And Matthew Stafford has to rebound from his ugly outing last week, throwing four picks in a defeat to the Bucs that now has some questioning whether this Detroit team has turned the page on its 2012 ways, after all.
What to watch for: Green Bay needs to get rookie RB Eddie Lacy back. This team was rolling best when it was bludgeoning people in the run game and the Lions are vulnerable to a physical attack on the ground. The more the Packers can pound Lacy and James Starks, the better, especially given what Suh might do to their quarterback. ... Nick Fairley's matchup will be critical as well. He is having one heck of a season, and when he shows up, he shows up big. ... How can the Packers stop Megatron? I'm not sure they can really slow him down much, even if they double him. ... Would imagine Reggie Bush gets the ball in his hands in excess of 20 times, watching how the Packers were gashed on the ground. ... Wonder if Mike McCarthy coaches a little more aggressively now that they're backed into a corner. Was surprised he didn't try to go for it in overtime around the goal line rather than kick a field goal that let the Vikings extend the game with a field goal. ... Packers receiver Jordy Nelson will give the Lions secondary fits. ... Detroit's early play calling will probably look to push the pace of this game, hoping to force Flynn into situations where he has to put the ball in the air with regularity. He was throwing some up for grabs Sunday in the comeback attempts against the Vikings.
Oakland at Dallas
Thursday, Nov. 28, 4:30 p.m. ET (CBS)
Why to watch: Dallas remains in contention to win the NFC East and the Cowboys generally tend to make things interesting no matter how the game is going. Boring, they are not. The Raiders do have some physicality up front to harass Tony Romo some. Oakland is also dedicated to the run game and that's something the Cowboys struggle with. And, man, wouldn't it be the most Cowboy thing ever to blow a game at home to the Raiders, on national TV, after Oakland just lost a tough game that probably killed its flickering playoff hopes -- and with Dallas having won a huge game against a division rival at the same time? I mean, would that really be a shocker?
What to watch for: Jason Witten floated back into the Cowboys offense last week, but will he show up against any team other than the Giants? ... Dallas DL Jason Hatcher is blowing people up pretty consistently, and with Oakland having a revolving cast of interior offensive linemen, that could be a problem. ... Cowboys WR Dez Bryant took a beating on Sunday and you have to wonder if that will linger into a short week -- his shoulder in particular. ... Raiders are intrigued by what undrafted rookie QB Matt McGloin is giving them. He led a big late drive last week, going perfect on it and connecting a few times with Rod Streater. And even with Terrelle Pryor on the mend, he looks like the flavor of the week there. ... Oakland needs to keep getting versatile fullback Marcel Reece involved; he caught a key TD pass last week and should be more of an outlet for McGloin. ... Miles Austin is showing signs of life -- possibly being a third-down receiving option for the Cowboys.