Who Plays NFL Football on Thanksgiving Day?

Thanksgiving is a time for family, friends, and of course, football. But which NFL teams play on Thanksgiving Day? Here’s a look at the schedule for this year.

The History of Thanksgiving Football

The National Football League (NFL) has played games on Thanksgiving Day since its creation in 1920. To most, playing football on Thanksgiving seems like a tradition as American as pumpkin pie, but the truth is, it’s a relatively new tradition. In fact, it wasn’t until 1934 that the NFL made Thanksgiving Day a regular occurrence. So, how did it all start?

The first Thanksgiving football game

The first Thanksgiving football game was played on November 29, 1876, between Yale and Princeton, two of the top college teams at the time. The game was played in front of a small crowd at Hamilton Park in New York City and ended in a scoreless tie.

The idea of playing a football game on Thanksgiving Day quickly caught on, and by the early 1920s, there were three games being played: the annual matchup between Army and Navy, the Detroit Lions hosting a game, and another game featuring college teams.

In 1934, the Lions began a tradition of hosting a game every Thanksgiving Day. The Lions have hosted a total of 79 Thanksgiving games (as of 2018), more than any other team in the NFL. Detroit has been joined by Dallas and Miami as teams that regularly play on Thanksgiving Day; each team has hosted at least 20 Thanksgiving games (as of 2018).

The first NFL Thanksgiving game

In 1920, the American Professional Football Association (now the National Football League) was founded. This league was created to protect players’ salaries and to eliminate the scourge of player-poaching by rival leagues. The first official NFL game was played on October 3, 1920, between the Rock Island Independents and the St. PaulIdeals—the Independents won, 48-0.

The following year, in an effort to increase fan interest and rival college football’s popularity, NFL president Joseph Carr scheduled three Thanksgiving games: the Chicago Blackhawks vs. Decatur Staleys (now the Chicago Bears), the Buffalo All-Americans vs. Detroit Heralds (now the Detroit Lions), and the Canton Bulldogs vs. Cleveland Indians (no relation to today’s baseball team). The first Thanksgiving game was held on November 25, 1921, between the Blackhawks and Staleys—the Staleys won, 7-6.

With 19 total members at that time, not every team could play on Thanksgiving Day every year, so the tradition alternated between just two teams per holiday. In 1934, however, all NFL teams were required to play one game on Thanksgiving Day as part of league expansion; furthermore, every team would alternate between home and away games each year. The Detroit Lions have hosted more Thanksgiving games than any other team—they’ve played at home on 34 different occasions! The Dallas Cowboys (29), Green Bay Packers (23), Miami Dolphins (22), and New York Giants (21) have also hosted many Thanksgiving games throughout NFL history.

The Teams That Play on Thanksgiving Day

There are three NFL football games played on Thanksgiving Day. They are the Detroit Lions vs the Minnesota Vikings, the Dallas Cowboys vs the Buffalo Bills, and the New Orleans Saints vs the Atlanta Falcons.

The Dallas Cowboys

The Dallas Cowboys have played on Thanksgiving Day eleven times since 1966. Their record is eight wins and three losses. The Detroit Lions have played on Thanksgiving Day twenty-five times since 1934. Their record is eleven wins and thirteen losses, with one tie.

The Detroit Lions

The Detroit Lions are a professional American football team based in Detroit, Michigan. They are members of the National Football League (NFL), as part of the NFC North division. The team plays its home games at Ford Field in Downtown Detroit.

The Lions franchise was originally established as the Portsmouth Spartans in 1929 and became the Detroit Lions in 1934. The Spartans competed in the NFL as a member club from 1930 to 1933. Despite success within the NFL, they could not survive the financial strains placed on them by the Great Depression and relocated to Detroit for the 1934 season. The Lions have won four NFL Championships, tied for 9th overall in total championships amongst all 32 NFL franchises; although they have not won an NFL Championship since 1957, which gives them the second-longest NFL championship drought behind the Arizona Cardinals. They are one of four current teams and one of only two NFC teams to have not yet played in an NFC Championship Game, along with the Minnesota Vikings; as well as one of only three current teams and one of only two NFC teams to have not yet played in a Super Bowl, along with the Vikings and Seattle Seahawks.

Since their 1935 inception, the Lions have won 15 divisional championships (most recently in 2019), attracted 63 playoff appearances (both tied for sixth all-time),[10] hosted 16 NFL playoff games (tied for seventh all-time),[11] played in four NFL Championship Games (tied for seventh all-time),[12] and won four NFL Championships (tied for ninth all-time).[13][14]

The Green Bay Packers

The Green Bay Packers are a professional American football team based in Green Bay, Wisconsin. The Packers compete in the National Football League as a member club of the league’s National Football Conference North division. It is the third-oldest franchise in the NFL, dating back to 1919, and is the only non-profit, community-owned major league professional sports team in the United States. Home games have been played at Lambeau Field since 1957.

The Packers are the last of the “small town teams” which were common in the NFL during the league’s early days of 1925 and 1926. Founded in 1919 by Earl “Curly” Lambeau and George Whitney Calhoun, the franchise traces its lineage to other semi-professional teams in Green Bay dating back to 1896. Between 1919 and 1920, the Packers competed against other semi-pro clubs from around Wisconsin and Michigan, before joining the American Professional Football Association (APFA), now known as the National Football League (NFL), in 1921. Although Green Bay is by far the smallest major league market in North America,[7] Forbes ranked the Packers as being worth US$1.02 billion as of 2016, making them also one of world’s 50 most valuable sports franchises. The Packers have won 13 league championships, more than any other teamstriving to win their 14th championship in Super Bowl LIII against

Other Notable Thanksgiving Football Games

The Detroit Lions play every Thanksgiving Day and they have done so since 1934. The Dallas Cowboys also play on Thanksgiving Day, a tradition that started in 1966. These are not the only two teams that play on Thanksgiving, however. There are a few other notable Thanksgiving football games throughout NFL history.

The Thanksgiving Classic

The Detroit Lions have played on Thanksgiving Day every year since 1934, with the exception of 1939-1944 (due to the Great Depression and World War II). In 2016, the Lions faced off against the Minnesota Vikings, marking their 92nd consecutive Thanksgiving game. This game is also known as the Thanksgiving Classic.

The Turkey Bowl

The Turkey Bowl, also known as the Thanksgiving Day Football game, is an annual American football game that is typically played on Thanksgiving Day. The game is usually between two teams from the National Football League (NFL), but can also feature teams from other levels of American football.

The Holy War

On Thanksgiving day in 1983, the Detroit Lions took on the Green Bay Packers in what would later be nicknamed “The Holy War.” With a final score of 27-21, the Lions won the game, but it was a close match. This game is notable for being one of the most intense rivalries in NFL history.

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