Wednesday, December 6, 2023

The Starting 11 – John Madden Thanksgiving Celebration, Inaugural Black Friday Game Highlight Week 12

NEW YORK ­— Pondering that immortal room in Canton filled with bronzed busts, JOHN MADDEN said that when the lights go out, they all talk to each other. ​

What would those busts say about this season so far?

Well, for starters, they might point out that only four teams have never played in a Super Bowl. And each of those teams – CLEVELAND (7-3), DETROIT (8-2), HOUSTON (6-4) and JACKSONVILLE (7-3) – enter this week either in first or second place in their divisions. For the first time since the Texans entered the league in 2002, all four teams have at least six wins entering Week 12. Both the Browns (who last won a division in 1989) and Lions (1993) are fighting for their first division titles in three decades, and each completed a thrilling comeback to win in the final seconds last week. And if the season ended today, all four of those teams would be in the same NFL playoff bracket for the first time.

Hope is always abundant in the National Football League. It’s as plentiful as the highway miles Madden put on his bus traversing the country while preparing to call games for ABC, CBS, FOX and NBC.

In partnership with the networks, the NFL is honoring and commemorating Madden’s legacy with the second annual John Madden Thanksgiving Celebration. The day combines all the aspects of life Madden loved, including family, football, food, tradition and fun. Madden’s contributions to football will be celebrated, both on the field and in the broadcast booth, with tributes interspersed throughout each game on Thanksgiving Day. Each telecast will begin with a Madden hallmark and each network will select a player of the game; the NFL Foundation will then donate $10,000 to a youth or high-school football program in those players’ names because the developmental levels of the game were important to Madden.

On the field, each of the six Thanksgiving teams will wear jersey patches with the Madden silhouette. The NFL will also feature that silhouette on the coin at each coin toss (heads), while the reverse side of the coin (tails) will be a six-legged turducken. What’s more, commemorative John Madden Thanksgiving Celebration stencils will show prominently at Ford Field, AT&T Stadium and Lumen Field.

Additional broadcast partners Westwood One and SiriusXM NFL Radio will air Madden and Thanksgiving-related programming throughout the week leading up to Thanksgiving Day.

Known simply as Coach by all fortunate to work with him, Madden once said, “There’s no place that I would rather be today on Thanksgiving than right here, right now, at a football game.”

And football is forever thankful for Coach.

The Starting 11 entering Week 12

1.   FIRST PLACE UP FOR GRABS IN AFC SOUTH: After food, family and football (and this year, Black Friday Football), one of the more intriguing games on the Week 12 schedule is JACKSONVILLE (7-3) at HOUSTON (6-4) on Sunday (1 p.m. ET, CBS). Jacksonville needs a win to hold onto first place in the AFC South and avenge a home loss to the Texans in Week 3. Houston, meanwhile, needs a win to own at least a share of first place in the division for the first time this late in a season since the end of the 2019 campaign. While the road team has won the last four games in the series, Houston has actually won 10 of the last 11 meetings. The Texans’ only loss to the Jaguars in that stretch came last year at NRG Stadium.

  • The Jaguars are 3-1 in the AFC South, tied with the LOS ANGELES RAMS (also 3-1) for the NFL’s second-best division record (minimum three games) behind PHILADELPHIA (3-0). Jacksonville also leads the NFL with 20 takeaways this season.
  • The Texans have won three straight games, their longest streak since they won nine in a row in 2018.
  • Since the 1983 NFL Draft, 209 rookie quarterbacks have started either a regular-season or playoff game. And of those 209, only 15 have won four-or-more regular-season starts and started playoff games in their rookie seasons. Could the Texans’ C.J. STROUD be the 16th?

The 15 rookie quarterbacks who won at least four regular-season starts and started playoff games, since 1983:

Brock Purdy (2022)Russell Wilson (2012)Matt Ryan (2008)
Mac Jones (2021)Andrew Luck (2012)Ben Roethlisberger (2004)
Lamar Jackson (2018)Andy Dalton (2011)Shaun King (1999)
Dak Prescott (2016)Mark Sanchez (2009)Bernie Kosar (1985)
Robert Griffin III (2012)Joe Flacco (2008)Dan MarinoHOF (1983)
  • Elsewhere in the AFC South, the INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (5-5) host the TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (4-6) on Sunday (1 p.m. ET, CBS). Colts wide receiver MICHAEL PITTMAN has seven games this season with eight-or-more receptions. The only other player in team history to do that is Pro Football Hall of Famer MARVIN HARRISON, who did it twice (12 games in 2002, seven in 2001).

2.   NUMBER OF THE WEEK – 115: The number of games this season – 115 of 164 (70.1 percent) – that have been within one score in the fourth quarter. Only 2022 (126) and 2016 (123) had more entering Week 12.

  • Also this season, 90 games have been decided by one score or less (eight points). Only 2016 (96) and 2022 (95) had more entering Week 12.
  • This year, 85 games have been decided by seven points or less, third in league annals entering Week 12 (90 in 2016, 86 in 2022).
  • Plus, 70 games have been decided by six points or less, third-most through the first 11 weeks in NFL history. Only 2022 (72) and 2016 (71) had more entering Week 12.

3.   SHAKE, RATTLE & ROLL: That was Big Joe Turner’s hit that climbed to No. 1 on the Motown charts in 1954, the last time the Lions had a winning streak longer than four games against the Packers. Fast forward to 2023 and DETROIT (8-2) has an opportunity to extend its current winning streak over GREEN BAY (4-6) to five when the NFC North rivals clash at Ford Field to kick off Thanksgiving (12:30 p.m. ET, FOX).

  • Last week, Detroit became the first team since the New York Jets in Week 2 of the 2022 season to overcome a deficit of 12 points in the final three minutes and win in regulation. The Lions improved to 8-2 for the first time since 1962.
  • In the win, Detroit wide receiver AMON-RA ST. BROWN had eight receptions for 77 yards and one touchdown. St. Brown has 28 career games with at least six receptions and surpassed ODELL BECKHAM JR. (27) and MICHAEL THOMAS (27) for the second-most games with at least six receptions by a player in his first three seasons in NFL history. Only JUSTIN JEFFERSON (32) has more.
  • Looking only at players with three years or less of NFL experience, Detroit (17) and Green Bay (16) lead the league in scrimmage touchdowns. Among Detroit’s core young players are St. Brown (five scrimmage touchdowns), rookie running back JAHMYR GIBBS (five) and rookie tight end SAM LAPORTA (four), who have combined for 14 scrimmage touchdowns this season. On the opposite sideline, second-year wide receiver ROMEO DOUBS leads the Packers with seven scrimmage touchdowns, while rookie wide receiver JAYDEN REED has five and second-year wide receiver CHRISTIAN WATSON has two. Doubs, Reed and Watson each had important touchdowns in Green Bay’s win last week.
  • Also in that victory, Packers quarterback JORDAN LOVE passed for a career-high 322 yards, including a game-winning 24-yard touchdown pass to Doubs with 2:33 remaining in the fourth quarter. Reed led the team with 46 rushing yards on three carries, and rookie wide receiver DONTAYVION WICKS recorded a team-best 91 receiving yards.

4.   SPOTLIGHT – INDIVIDUAL MATCHUP: The second Thanksgiving contest features Cowboys wide receiver CEEDEE LAMB, who ranks tied for second in the NFL with 1,013 receiving yards, facing Commanders cornerback BENJAMIN ST-JUSTE, who enters with 15 passes defensed, second most in the league. Lamb reached 1,000 yards last week in his 10th game. In Cowboys history, only Pro Football Hall of Famer MICHAEL IRVIN (nine games in 1995) eclipsed 1,000 receiving yards in fewer games.

  • When WASHINGTON (4-7) visits DALLAS (7-3) on Thursday (4:30 p.m. ET, CBS), the Cowboys will seek their 13th straight home win. The Dallas streak of 12 consecutive home wins is the second-longest in franchise history, behind an 18-game streak from 1979-81.
  • The NFC East rivals mark their 11th Thanksgiving game. The Cowboys own a 7-3 advantage in the holiday series.
  • In last week’s win, Dallas linebacker MICAH PARSONS tied his career high with 2.5 sacks and cornerback DARON BLAND had his fourth interception-return for a touchdown.
  • Parsons has 11 career games with at least two sacks and surpassed DWIGHT FREENEY (10 games) for the fifth-most such games by a player in his first three NFL seasons since 1982, when the individual sack became an official statistic. Only Pro Football Hall of Famers REGGIE WHITE (16 games) and RICHARD DENT (12) as well as SHAWNE MERRIMAN (12) and ALDON SMITH (12) have more.
  • Bland tied the single-season NFL record and became the fourth player in NFL history with four interception returns for touchdowns, joining ERIC ALLEN (1993 with Philadelphia), Pro Football Hall of Famer KEN HOUSTON (1971 with the Houston Oilers) and JIM KEARNEY (1972 with Kansas City).
  • Washington’s defense has 35 sacks, fourth in the NFL.
  • Last week, Commanders quarterback SAM HOWELL, who leads the NFL with 3,038 passing yards, became the first player in 2023 to reach the 3,000-yard landmark.
  • This season marks 25 years since Minnesota topped Dallas, 46-36, in a Thanksgiving thriller on Nov. 26, 1998. The teams combined for 984 yards of total offense. RANDALL CUNNINGHAM (359 yards, four touchdown passes) and Pro Football Hall of Famer TROY AIKMAN (NFL Thanksgiving Day-record and career-best 455 yards, one touchdown pass) combined to pass for 814 yards. Pro Football Hall of Famers RANDY MOSS (163 yards, three touchdown receptions), CRIS CARTER (135 yards, one touchdown reception) and MICHAEL IRVIN (137 yards) each topped 100 receiving yards.

5.   SPOTLIGHT – TEAM MATCHUP: Two of the NFL’s top three teams in turnover differential square off when PITTSBURGH (6-4) visits CINCINNATI (5-5) on Sunday (1 p.m. ET, CBS). The Steelers are plus-11, first in the NFL, while the Bengals are plus-10, tied for second with SAN FRANCISCO (also plus-10).

6.   STREAK SPEAK: The DENVER BRONCOS (5-5) are tied with Philadelphia for the NFL’s longest active winning streak – four games, Denver’s longest in seven years – as the Broncos prepare for the league’s stingiest defense, the CLEVELAND BROWNS (7-3), on Sunday at Empower Field at Mile High (4:05 p.m. ET, FOX).

  • Sunday’s game is an important head-to-head matchup that could figure significantly in the AFC playoff picture next month. Cleveland also has one of the AFC’s best conference records, 5-2.
  • The Browns are allowing an NFL-low 243.3 yards per game, on pace for the best mark in the league since the 2008 Super Bowl champion PITTSBURGH STEELERS allowed just 237.2 yards per contest.
  • Cleveland’s performance against the pass (143.3 yards per game) is even more impressive. The last team to allow less than 143.3 passing yards per game over a full season was the 1982 MIAMI DOLPHINS (114.1), whose Killer Bees led them to a Super Bowl berth.
  • Cleveland defensive end MYLES GARRETT leads the NFL with 13 sacks, including two last week. Garrett is the third NFL player with at least 12 sacks in five of his first seven career seasons since 1982, when the individual sack became an official statistic, joining Pro Football Hall of Famer REGGIE WHITE (six seasons) and LESLIE O’NEAL (five).
  • The two teams played three AFC Championship Games over a four-year period from 1986-89.

7.   DID YOU KNOW?: Turnovers are always important in a football game, whether Pop Warner or NFL. But when BALTIMORE (8-3) takes the AFC’s best record to the West Coast to meet the LOS ANGELES CHARGERS (4-6) on Sunday Night Football (8:20 p.m. ET, NBC), turnovers will be even more critical. That’s because both teams have a knack for converting turnovers into points. The Ravens have scored 61 points off takeaways, tied for third in the league, while the Chargers have 52 points off takeaways, fifth in the NFL.

  • Led by defensive tackle JUSTIN MADUBUIKE (9.5 sacks), the Ravens lead the NFL with 44 sacks. Last week, Baltimore posted its fifth game with five-or-more sacks, also most in the league. Madubuike has at least a share of a sack in eight consecutive games.
  • Baltimore running back GUS EDWARDS, who ranks second in the NFL with 10 rushing touchdowns, is just the sixth player in Ravens history to reach double figures in that category and needs four to match the single-season franchise record set by JAMAL LEWIS (14) in 2003.
  • Last week, Ravens wide receiver ODELL BECKHAM JR. posted a season-best 116 receiving yards, his most in a game since Week 2 of 2019, when he had 161 for the Browns. What’s more, wide receiver ZAY FLOWERS (53) broke the team’s single-season rookie receptions record held by TORREY SMITH (50 in 2011).
  • Chargers quarterback JUSTIN HERBERT has 113 career touchdown passes and surpassed Pro Football Hall of Famer PEYTON MANNING (111) for the third-most by a player in his first four seasons in NFL history. Only Pro Football Hall of Famer DAN MARINO (142) and PATRICK MAHOMES (114) have more.
  • His favorite target, wide receiver KEENAN ALLEN, has 18 career games with at least 10 receptions and 100 receiving yards, tied with DAVANTE ADAMS (18 games) and JULIO JONES (18) for the third-most such games in NFL history. Only ANDRE JOHNSON (21 games) and ANTONIO BROWN (20) have more.

8.   UNDER-THE-RADAR STORYLINE: In seven of the last 12 NFC Championship Games, either the 49ers or Seahawks have played for a Super Bowl berth. Those teams will renew their rivalry to close the Thanksgiving tripleheader when SAN FRANCISCO (7-3) meets SEATTLE (6-4) at Lumen Field (8:20 p.m. ET, NBC).

  • Seattle head coach PETE CARROLL is 8-5 against San Francisco head coach KYLE SHANAHAN, including the postseason, although Shanahan and the 49ers have won three straight over the Seahawks.
  • In last week’s win, San Francisco quarterback BROCK PURDY compiled a 158.3 passer rating, the highest attainable mark. He passed for 333 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions and, at 23 years and 327 days old, joined LAMAR JACKSON (22 years, 244 days on Sept. 8, 2019) and JARED GOFF (23 years, 348 days on Sept. 27, 2018) as the only quarterbacks under the age of 24 in NFL history with a 158.3 rating (minimum 20 attempts).
  • San Francisco running back CHRISTIAN MCCAFFREY has five touchdown receptions this year. He is the first running back in NFL history with four career seasons with at least five touchdown receptions. McCaffrey also has 485 career receptions and surpassed ROGER CRAIG (483) for the most by a running back in his first seven career seasons in NFL history.

9.   TREND TIMEBUFFALO (6-5) and PHILADELPHIA (9-1) clash at Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday (4:25 p.m. ET, CBS), the first game in a challenging stretch for each club. After a road trip to face the team with the league’s best record, the Eagles, Buffalo gets a Week 13 bye followed by another road game at KANSAS CITY (7-3) and a home contest against DALLAS (7-3). Meanwhile, if the Eagles can survive the Bills this week, Philadelphia’s next two games are against SAN FRANCISCO (7-3) at home and DALLAS (7-3) on the road.

  • Buffalo head coach SEAN MCDERMOTT launched his NFL career in Philadelphia, where he helped the Eagles to the playoffs in eight of his 10 years (2001-10) with the team.
  • Philadelphia (4-0 at Lincoln Financial Field) is one of three NFL teams undefeated at home, joining MIAMI (5-0) and DALLAS (4-0). The Eagles have won seven straight home games, including the postseason, and nine of their last 10, dating to Week 12 last season. TENNESSEE (3-1) is 3-0 in home games within the U.S., having lost a designated home contest in London.
  • Philadelphia’s JALEN HURTS and Buffalo’s JOSH ALLEN lead NFL quarterbacks this season with nine and seven rushing touchdowns, respectively. Over a longer stretch, since the beginning of 2020, Hurts (35 rushing touchdowns) and Allen (28) also lead the position in that category.
  • The Eagles are the first NFL team to begin consecutive seasons 9-1 or better since the 2005-06 INDIANAPOLIS COLTS.
  • Since Buffalo acquired him in an Oct. 31 trade, cornerback RASUL DOUGLAS has four takeaways (two interceptions and two fumble recoveries), in addition to four passes defensed, in three games.

10. NEXT GEN STAT OF THE WEEK: Saints running back ALVIN KAMARA has caught 50 of his 56 targets for 305 yards in seven games this season. Among running backs, his 50 receptions lead the NFL while his 305 receiving yards ranks fifth. And among players who have been targeted a minimum of 50 times this season, Kamara has a league-high 89.3-percent catch rate.

  • This week, Kamara and NEW ORLEANS (5-5) travel to ATLANTA (4-6) for a critical NFC South contest at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Sunday (1 p.m. ET, FOX). The teams will meet twice over the season’s final seven weeks.

11. AND LAST BUT NOT LEAST: Including the postseason, Miami wide receiver TYREEK HILL has 10 games with 10-plus receptions, at least 140 receiving yards and a touchdown catch. Only two other players in NFL history have done that: Pro Football Hall of Famer JERRY RICE and ANDRE JOHNSON, who each also have 10 such games. Hill can take sole possession of first on that list when MIAMI (7-3) meets the NEW YORK JETS (4-6) at MetLife Stadium in the NFL’s first Black Friday Football game (3 p.m. ET, Prime Video).

  • Hill also has 1,222 receiving yards this season, becoming the first player in 62 years and the fifth ever with 1,200 in his team’s first 10 games of a season, joining Pro Football Hall of Famers ELROY “CRAZY LEGS” HIRSCH (1,268 in 1951), RAYMOND BERRY (1,264 in 1960) and DON HUTSON (1,204 in 1942) as well as CHARLIE HENNIGAN (1,245 in 1961).
  • Miami’s offense ranks first in the NFL with 291.0 passing yards per game. The Jets’ defense, meanwhile, ranks fifth in the league, having allowed just 178.7 passing yards per contest.
  • This week marks the 78th all-time regular-season game played on a Friday.

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