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Like turkey and cranberry sauce, the NFL is an integral part of the Thanksgiving Day experience and has been for over a century.

Here, we take a quick look at how football became a Turkey Day tradition and which NFL teams have played and won the most games on the holiday.

When did football on Thanksgiving become a thing?

Football on Thanksgiving is a time-honored tradition that actually dates back to before the National Football League was created.

The first reported Turkey Day game was in 1876, just 14 years after Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a national holiday. That game was a collegiate affair between Yale and Princeton, which led to other Ivy League colleges holding games on Thanksgiving. 

The NFL got in on the action during its inaugural season in 1920 with six games on the slate. 

Which NFL team has played the most Thanksgiving games?

For several decades, the NFL had just two Thanksgiving games on the schedule but added a third in primetime in 2006, perhaps due to a little uproar about the same two teams hosting every year for several decades. And you know who we’re talking about.

The Detroit Lions began playing home games on Thanksgiving in 1934 and have done so every year since, minus 1939-1944 due to World War II. 

The Dallas Cowboys started their tradition of hosting Thanksgiving football in 1966 and have only missed playing on the holiday twice since.

Both the Cowboys and Lions have hosted their own Turkey Day game every year since 1978. Detroit holds the record for the most games played on Thanksgiving with 83 and typically fills in the early timeslot, while Dallas, second on the list with 55 appearances, takes the mid-afternoon slot.

Which NFL team has won the most Thanksgiving Day games?

A general view of the video scoreboard displaying the Happy Thanksgiving message is seen during a regular season Thanksgiving Day NFL football game between the Chicago Bears and the Detroit Lions on November 25, 2021 at Ford Field in Detroit, Michigan
A view of the scoreboard displaying the Happy Thanksgiving message during a regular season Thanksgiving Day NFL football game between the Chicago Bears and the Detroit Lions on November 25, 2021 | Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Since the Lions and Cowboys always play on the holiday, it’s no surprise they hold the records for the most Thanksgiving victories.

Detroit leads the way with 37 wins, with Dallas in second with 32. The Cowboys, however, own the better winning percentage at .591 with a record of 32-22-1. The Lions currently sit at .458 with a mark of 37-44-2. 

Here’s a look at how every current NFL franchise has fared on Thanksgiving Day. It should be noted that AFL games are included in these totals.

TeamRecordWin %
Arizona Cardinals6-15-2.304
Atlanta Falcons1-3.250
Baltimore Ravens2-01.000
Buffalo Bills6-4-1.591
Carolina Panthers1-01.000
Chicago Bears20-15-2.568
Cincinnati Bengals0-1.000
Cleveland Browns0-3.000
Dallas Cowboys32-22-1.591
Denver Broncos4-7.364
Detroit Lions37-44-2.458
Green Bay Packers14-20-2.417
Houston Texans2-01.000
Indianapolis Colts2-1-1.625
Jacksonville Jaguars0-0
Kansas City Chiefs5-5.500
Las Vegas Raiders4-4.500
Los Angeles Chargers3-1-1.700
Los Angeles Rams4-1.800
Miami Dolphins5-2.714
Minnesota Vikings7-2.778
New England Patriots3-3.500
New Orleans Saints3-1.750
New York Giants7-6-3.531
New York Jets4-4.500
Philadelphia Eagles6-1.857
Pittsburgh Steelers2-6.250
San Francisco 49ers2-2-1.500
Seattle Seahawks2-2.500
Tampa Bay Buccaneers0-1.000
Tennessee Titans5-2.714
Washington Commanders4-8.333


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