In 2016, it’s become en vogue to criticize the NFL. Coaches complain about the officials. Players rail against league rules and calls they don’t like. Fans blast players for performances that cripple their fantasy teams. Analysts point to all the reasons why TV ratings are on the decline. And social media gripes about… EVERYTHING! It’s popular to object to the NFL each weekend; all the cool kids are doing it. But with Thanksgiving upon us, let’s accentuate the positive. Football gives us much for which to be grateful.
With Week 11 in the rear view mirror, the NFL sails full-speed ahead into the stretch run. While it’s still too early to hand out playoff seeds, we can definitely smell fresh blood. The league’s best record belongs to the Dallas Cowboys. Sure, they answer to the nickname “America’s Team,” but they own just two playoff wins since 1996. In fact, they’ve only reached the playoffs twice in the last eight seasons. No wonder Cowboys nation is beyond giddy. And make way for another iconic franchise. The Oakland Raiders, with a win on Monday in Mexico City, grabbed first place in the AFC, ahead of New England. Long-suffering fans know all too well the Raiders haven’t tasted the postseason since the 2002 campaign.
The New York Giants hope to put a recent arc of mediocrity behind them with their first playoff bid since their 2011 Super Bowl title. After sinking to the basement of the AFC East, the Miami Dolphins are now riding the wave of five straight wins. The Fins faithful haven’t seen their team in a tournament game since 2008 and only once in 15 years. From the NFC North, the Detroit Lions are chasing their first playoff victory since 1991. Trace their history even farther back, and ’91 is the only positive blip on the radar for decades. Incredibly, they have one lonesome postseason W since 1957! Fresh blood indeed.
With the league boasting fantastic parity, how can we not be extremely thankful for a pair of wild cards in each conference? More than half the teams in the NFL, 18 of 32, sit within two games of .500 which sets up a dramatic fight to the finish. Very few clashes over the next month and a half won’t have some bearing on the playoff picture. Will the AFC West and NFC East each catapult three members into January? Which dark horses will crash the party? Because the NFL is thick around the middle, the possibilities are endless. Rarely does a season stick to the script, so we can anticipate the upcoming chaos and accompanying mood swings.
The late-season push begins with a Thanksgiving Day triple-header. As if we needed more side dishes to go along with our turkeys, all three contests feature frontrunners. In the Motor City, the Lions grapple with the Vikings for the top spot in the NFC North. We dare not turn away early since Detroit is the only team in NFL history with SIX 4th quarter comebacks in the first 10 games of a season. Every single Lions victory has come by way of the late rally, thrilling fans while giving them heart palpitations! Up next, the Redskins try to snap the longest win streak in Dallas franchise history and bring the Cowboys back to the pack. The final action of the day kicks off about the time we start scrounging for leftovers. The Steelers can take over sole possession of first place in the AFC North, while the Colts (who may be without Andrew Luck) can pull into a tie with the Texans in the South. Bring on the food and the football!
Even as we buckle up for the rest of this year, we can be thankful the future of the NFL is in good hands. A bright crop of rookies is taking the league by storm. Chief among them is the new Cowboys tandem. Quarterback Dak Prescott has captured the hearts of fans across the country with his poise under pressure and ability to extend plays. He’s thrown for 17 touchdowns versus just two interceptions. His running mate, Ezekiel Elliott, has already eclipsed the franchise rookie rushing record with 1,102 yards in 10 games. Elliott also leads the NFL in total rushing yards and yards per game.
The Dallas duo deserves all the attention it gets, but we can’t overlook the others tearing it up in their inaugural seasons. Kansas City wideout Tyreek Hill leads his team in receiving touchdowns and high-speed chases. Sterling Shepard of the Giants offers Eli Manning another target to the tune of 426 yards receiving so far. Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz is well over 2,300 yards passing with a 63.2% completion rate. Despite missing some time with injuries, offensive lineman Laremy Tunsil is a force on the Dolphins offensive line. And on defense, Bears linebacker Leonard Floyd is a bright spot for Chicago with his explosive pass rush and five sacks, tops among rookies.
It may be trendy to blast the NFL in 2016, but this week feels like the perfect time to buck the trend and count our football blessings. Happy Thanksgiving!
A well-traveled veteran and pioneer of sports radio and television, Amy Lawrence is the host of CBS Sports Radio’s late-night program ‘After Hours with Amy Lawrence.’ The show can be heard weekdays from 2-6am ET on the nation’s largest 24/7 major-market radio network. Follow her on Twitter @.