NFL's best Thanksgiving slate since 1975

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NFL's best Thanksgiving slate since 1975

From Comcast SportsNet

By Howard Fendrich, Associated Press

After so many years of bad Detroit Lions teamsand their games, no matter the week, meaning so littleall of a sudden that traditional Turkey Day contest in the Motor City is no turkey at all.

Detroit, which is 7-3, hosts the reigning Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers, who are 10-0, to open a tremendously compelling three-game NFL feast Thursday.

The always-polarizing Dallas Cowboys (6-4) host the Miami Dolphins (3-7) next in a matchup between two teams on three-game winning streaks, and the San Francisco 49ers (9-1) are at the Baltimore Ravens (7-3) at night in the Harbaugh Bowl, the first time two brothers will face each other as head coaches in the league.

A case can be made that these are the three most intriguing NFL games of the week. It certainly qualifies as the most enticing Thanksgiving Day lineup in decades.

Thats good. Good for the NFL, good for the fans, good for the people, Minnesota Vikings linebacker Erin Henderson(notes) said. Something entertaining to watch while we all stuff our faces with that good food.

Not convinced this is a special tripleheader?

Consider:

The six teams are 42-18, which translates to a .700 winning percentage. The last time the holidays NFL participants boasted that strong a combined win-loss record was 1975 (also .700).

Its the first Thanksgiving since 1998when there were only two games that each club in action won its previous game.

The Packers are the first unbeaten team to play on the fourth Thursday in November since the 1962 Packers also were 10-0, before losing to Detroit. Including the playoffs, Green Bay has won its last 16 games in a row.

San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh will match wits with his older brother, Baltimore coach John Harbaugh, in a game for family bragging rightsand with significant playoff-seeding implications.

Even the game that was shaping up as a dud, Miami at Dallas, now becomes worth watching, because the Dolphins are the only team in NFL history to go from 0-7 to 3-7 and present a real challenge to the recently resurgent Cowboys and quarterback Tony Romo(notes) (who, by the way, is 18-2 with 49 touchdown passes and 12 interceptions for his career in November).

The lineup includes four teams with at least a share of first place (Green Bay, San Francisco, Baltimore and Dallas), two who can clinch a playoff berth this week (Packers, 49ers), and one with the inside track for a wild-card berth (Detroit).

Give the Lions credit for helping boost the anticipation for this years Thanksgiving games, because they sure deserve a lot of the blame for the holidays NFL blandness of late.

Heck, there even was talk about moving that game out of DetroitI thought it was sacrilegious talkbecause Detroit hadnt been very competitive on those days on national TV. So the thinking was, Hey, lets spread it around to other cities, said NFL Network analyst Steve Mariucci, who coached the Lions from 2003-05.

And I think that talk went away, thankfully, because it needs to be in Detroit forever, he added. And theyre really competitive right now.

Only two other times in the past 50 yearsyes, 50 years!did the Lions arrive at Thanksgiving at 7-3, in 1993 and 1969, according to STATS LLC. You have to go all the way back to 1962 to find them with a better record (8-2) at this point in the season.

Each of the past two years, they were 2-8. That was an improvement from 2008, when the Lions were 0-11, on their way to 0-16.

And while Detroit has lost a franchise-record seven consecutive gamesby an average of more than 20 pointsin its annual showcase, there is reason to believe they can make things interesting this time around.

From what its been in the past to now, its different. For us to be doing as good as were doing right now, its real exciting. Then weve got Green Bay coming inthe big, 10-0 Green Bay, said Detroit defensive lineman Corey Williams(notes), who used to play for the Packers.

Its going to be fun. Its going to be like a mini-Super Bowl, I think, atmosphere-wise, Williams said.

Plus, this particular trio of games gives fans a chance to see some of the sports most dynamic players: Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers(notes), putting together one of the greatest seasons ever by a QB; Detroit receiver Calvin Johnson(notes) and defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh(notes); San Franciscos cant-be-run-on defense, led by Patrick Willis(notes) and Aldon Smith(notes).

For other NFL teams, theres work to be done Thursday, practicing and preparing for their next games. Then theyll go home and turn on the television.

I might get a little peek at John and Jim going at it. I think thatll be entertaining, St. Louis Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo said. Well certainly get the players out of here early, and the coaches as soon as we can after that, and Ill follow.

Does uncertainty for Carson Smith mean Red Sox need bullpen help?

Does uncertainty for Carson Smith mean Red Sox need bullpen help?

BOSTON — Tyler Thornburg’s gone for the season and there’s really no telling when the other set-up man the Sox expected to help in 2017, Carson Smith, will be back.

The Sox have already made inroads, if minor ones, in bolstering their third-base situation and rotation. Smith’s situation leaves a question of whether the Sox will need to pursue help in the bullpen as well.

There's not an easy answer to settle on at this point.

For one, the timetable with the right-hander Smith — whose shoulder has bothered him on the way back from Tommy John surgery — isn’t clear.

“He's in a no-throw [time] through the weekend,” Sox manager John Farrell said Friday afternoon at Fenway Park. “He'll be reevaluated on Monday to hopefully initiate a throwing program. He's responding favorably to the treatment. He continues to rehab as he's been. We have not closed the book in a sense on anything Carson can contribute this year.”

What does this year mean, though? Will they be able to know by July, by the trade deadline?

“Still too early to tell,” Farrell said. “We thought he was days from starting his rehab assignment after his last live BP session in New York [on June 6]. Unfortunately, that was put on hold for the time being. To get into any kind of timeframes, timetables, I don't know that any of us can predict that right now.”

The Sox relievers have done extraordinarily well without either Thornburg or Smith. Can that continue without reinforcements? The bullpen’s ERA entering Friday was 2.94, the second best mark in the majors. Its innings total, 217, was the second. lowest in the majors. 

So it’s not like the entire group is about to collapse from fatigue. But a guy like Joe Kelly, for example, isn’t someone the Sox want to use back to back.

It’s a young group and ultimately an inexperienced group. But Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski has already fallen into the trap of trading for premium set-up men twice, and that’s a dangerous road to pursue again. Perhaps a smaller trade makes more sense.

“Well, at this point, we’re open minded to help,” Dombrowski said when asked if he was targeting either third-base or relief help. “I’m not going to get into specifics at this time on what else we’re looking for. Keep an open mind on a lot of ways on which we can improve. We have guys coming back and both the spots, I think Carson Smith is very important to us and our bullpen has pitched great. The other day, we struggled but that was one of the few times we really struggled all year. 

“I think Carson still has a chance to come back and help us this year.”

 

Pedroia returns

Dustin Pedroia (ribcage) was out of the initial Red Sox lineup on Friday but was later added. Farrell said in the afternoon that Pedroia would be available by emergency Fridayand expected to be back in the lineup Saturday, but clearly, something changed.

Blake Griffin opts out of Clippers contract, becoming free agent

Blake Griffin opts out of Clippers contract, becoming free agent

According to multiple reports, Blake Griffin has opted out of his contract with the Clippers, making him a free agent. 

Griffin is considered one of the top free agents in a class that will also include Utah’s Gordon Hayward. The Celtics have been reported as possible suitors for both players. 

The first overall pick in the 2009 draft, the 28-year-old Griffin is a five-time All-Star, though injuries have limited him over the last three seasons. 

Over 61 games, the 6-foot-10 power forward averaged 21.6 points, 8.1 rebounds and 4.9 assists per game last season. Between numerous injuries and a suspension for hitting a member of the Clippers’ equipment staff, Griffin was limited to just 31 games in the 2015-16 season. 

Adrian Wojnarowski said recently that Boston’s reception for Clippers teammate Paul Pierce made a very strong impression on Griffin. Though there might not necessarily be a connection between the two, Griffin said on Barstool Sports’ “Pardon My Take” that Boston is on his Mt. Rushmore of NBA cities.