The Forever-Stubborn NFL Needs to Accept Defeat and Finally Free Us From Watching the Lions on Thanksgiving Each Year

Article Highlights:

  • The NFL needs to step in and finally end the Detroit Lions’ monopoly on Thanksgiving games
  • Detroit has played at home each Turkey Day since World War II ended
  • We have an idea for how the NFL can modernize its Thanksgiving schedule

There are some Thanksgiving traditions that, seemingly, will never go away. Unfortunately for football fans, the Detroit Lions’ presence in the early window is right up there with nosy in-laws and political discussions at the dinner table.

This year, things are set to get even more exciting with a possible showdown between the 0-9-1 Lions and the free-falling 3-7 Chicago Bears. Those who pick the Thanksgiving Classic over the Puppy Bowl or Netflix won’t even get to see Bears rookie Justin Fields, who went down in Week 11 with an injury to his ribs.

With respect to the Lions’ custom of playing and losing on Thanksgiving, it’s time to change the menu for good.

The NFL needs to finally end the Detroit Lions’ monopoly on Thanksgiving home games

There comes a time where enough is enough. If we didn’t reach that point with the Lions in the 2000s or 2010s, let the 2020s — a decade already full of change — bring about a new reality in the NFL.

If the league is serious about exploring new growth opportunities, as they’ve done with embracing sports gambling and allowing Amazon Prime to take over the Thursday Night Football rights in 2022, then the next step is altering the Thanksgiving schedule — at least, where it applies to the Lions hosting a game every year.

You know the deal by now. The Lions began the Thanksgiving tradition in 1934 and, after briefly pausing things during World War II, have continued the practice since the 1940s. The Dallas Cowboys joined them in the 1960s and, since 1978, have played in the late window.

Although the Cowboys are usually competitive at this time in the year, the Lions, more often than not, are playing for pride and the upcoming NFL draft. Considering the 2021 Lions are already assured of a losing record, not much has changed on that front.

So why are we still subject to this same song and dance every year? No, the response shouldn’t be tradition or that we should go watch The Sopranos for a 10th time since the pandemic began. 

We want a change; history be damned.

Tradition cannot keep winning out with how miserable the Lions are

We’ll give the Lions somewhat of a pass for going 6-15 on Thanksgiving from 2000-20. The Cowboys are only 10-11 in that time, and they’re supposed to be America’s Team. 

However, the issue is how often the Lions are already out of the playoff race when Thanksgiving arrives. For as disappointing as the Cowboys have in the 21st century, they at least have 10 winning seasons (and another four 8-8 seasons) in that span. The 2021 Cowboys entered Thanksgiving at 7-3 and needing two more wins to clinch their first winning record since 2018.

The Lions, conversely, have five seasons since 2000 — 2000, 2011, 2014, and 2016-17 — where they finished with a non-losing record. Thursday will mark the third time in the last 22 seasons that Detroit will be winless on Thanksgiving Day.

CBS announcer Jim Nantz, who calls the Lions’ Thanksgiving game every other year, defended the tradition in a 2020 appearance on the Sports Illustrated Media Podcast.

“Having been around and done it for so many years in Detroit, [removing the game] would really hurt that market. They have a big parade that goes through the streets … and don’t forget; the Thanksgiving Day tradition was started by the Lions.”

Jim Nantz

That’s not good enough, not with how awful the Lions are every year. You can change the coaches and the roster and the uniform and the spices on the turkey, but the Lions are still the Lions.

We propose the NFL follow Major League Baseball’s advanced scheduling strategies

We’d apologize to Lions fans for what we’re about to propose, but they’ve suffered just like us.

First, the NFL needs to stop allowing the Lions to host games every Thanksgiving. If the compromise is that they’ll play the Thanksgiving Classic in even years, when NFC teams have an extra home game because of the 17-game schedule, we’ll allow it. Dallas, by the way, gets to keep their yearly home game until further notice.

So who would replace the Lions, you ask? Well, who says it needs to be one specific team? The NFL could learn from Major League Baseball’s approach to international games and the Field of Dreams game and announce the matchup a year in advance, especially when we already have a rough idea of most teams’ future opponents.

For the sake of argument, let’s use the Indianapolis Colts. Much like the Lions, the Colts have an indoor stadium (although Lucas Oil Stadium is retractable; Ford Field in Detroit is domed) and play in Eastern Standard Time. We know the Colts will play six games against AFC South opponents, three against the AFC North, and four against the NFC South.

Perhaps, then, the NFL could announce in November 2022 that the 2023 Thanksgiving Classic will feature the Colts and the Baltimore Ravens in the early window. Although the NFL couldn’t guarantee those two teams would be competitive a year in advance, it’d at least be better than the Lions and Bears, right?

Please, end the pain already. We’d rather choke on a piece of the turkey than sit through another embarrassing Lions loss on Thanksgiving.

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