Two of the NFL teams playing on Thanksgiving in 2019 are the NFL teams that always play on Thanksgiving. At this point, the annual questions to ask are: Who are the Lions and Cowboys playing against on Thanksgiving, and who is playing in the game on Thanksgiving night?
For the 14th consecutive season, the NFL has three games scheduled on Thanksgiving. The tripleheader begins with the traditional Detroit game, with the Lions this year hosting the division-rival Bears. Also a tradition, Dallas will host the late afternoon game on Thanksgiving, with the Cowboys this year playing the Bills. The Thanksgiving night game this year is Saints at Falcons.
As for the TV channels for the three Thanksgiving games in 2019, Lions vs. Bears will be presented on Fox. Cowboys vs. Bills will get the Tony Romo treatment with a national broadcast on CBS. The night cap, Falcons vs. Saints, will feature the "Sunday Night Football" broadcast crew on NBC.
Though the Bears, Bills, Saints and Falcons don't always play on Thanksgiving, they are no strangers to this holiday stage. Including last year, the Bears have appeared on Thanksgiving 33 times. The Saints and Falcons, who are playing in the Thanksgiving night game for the second consecutive year, are playing on Thanksgiving for the third and fourth times, respectively. The Bills have played on Thanksgiving eight times dating back to the 1960s.
Below is all you need to know about the teams playing on Thanksgiving this year, plus the TV channels for the games and more.
What teams are playing on Thanksgiving 2019?
Bears at Lions
12:30 p.m. ET
Bills at Cowboys
4:30 p.m. ET
Saints at Falcons
8:20 p.m. ET
The Lions, 3-7-1 and limping through a lost season, will play their 80th Thanksgiving game dating back to 1934. Their opponent, the 5-6 Bears, are desperate to stay alive in the NFC playoff picture in what has been a disappointing season following last year's playoff run. This matchup marks the 18th Thanksgiving day meeting between the Bears and the Lions.
When the 6-5 Cowboys play against the 8-3 Bills, it will mark just the 11th regular-season meeting between Dallas and Buffalo. The Cowboys have a 6-4 edge in the all-time series, not including their two Super Bowl victories over the Bills in 1993 and 1994. The Cowboys, playing in their 52nd Thanksgiving game since 1966, have played host on the holiday for 41 years in a row.
The Saints, 9-2 and running away with the NFC South, are looking for revenge against the 3-8 Falcons a few weeks after Atlanta inexplicably pulled off an upset in New Orleans.
What channel is Thanksgiving football on?
Bears vs. Lions TV channel
(12:30 p.m. ET kickoff)
The broadcast team for Bears vs. Lions on Thanksgiving has not yet been announced, but there's no reason to believe anybody but Fox's No. 1 crew will be on the call for this game.
That means Joe Buck will call the play-by-play action of Bears vs. Lions, and Troy Aikman will provide analysis. Erin Andrews and Kristina Pink are the sideline reporters on Fox's No. 1 broadcast crew. Former NFL vice president of officiating Mike Pereira serves as the broadcast's rules analyst.
Cowboys vs. Bills TV channel
(3:30 p.m. ET kickoff)
As is the case in the early game, the broadcast team for Cowboys vs. Bills has not yet been announced. But there's no chance CBS won't feature its No. 1 crew again on Thanksgiving.
Jim Nantz will call the play-by-play action for Cowboys vs. Bills, and Tony Romo will provide analysis. Tracy Wolfson will report from the sidelines, and recently retired NFL referee Gene Steratore will serve as CBS' rules analyst.
Saints vs. Falcons TV channel
(8:30 p.m. ET kickoff)
New Orleans: WDSU
We already know who will be on the call for Saints vs. Falcons on Thanksgiving since NBC, carriers of "Sunday Night Football," has just one broadcast crew. And, in our estimation, it happens to be the best announcer team NFL broadcasts have to offer.
Al Michaels will call the play-by-play action of Saints vs. Falcons, and Cris Collinsworth will provide analysis. Michele Tafoya will serve as NBC's sideline reporter, and recently retired NFL referee Terry McAulay will discuss officiating calls as the network's NFL rules analyst.
What football teams always play on Thanksgiving?
Yes, the Cowboys have hosted a Thanksgiving game for 41 consecutive years, but Dallas is still far off from Detroit in terms of being a Thanksgiving mainstay. With the exception of a six-season gap from 1939 to 1944, the Lions this season are playing their 80th straight Thanksgiving game, a streak that begain in 1934.
The Lions, who have a 37-40-2 record in Thanksgiving games, started the tradition during their first year in Detroit. George A. Richards, who had just purchased the team, figured a game on Thanksgiving would help his team steal attention from the more popular Detroit Tigers. Sure enough, tickets for the Lions game against the Bears in 1934 sold out two weeks ahead of time, and according to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, another 25,000 tickets could have been sold had University of Detroit Stadium seated more than 26,000.
The successful turnout meant a Thanksgiving tradition was born. And another one joined some 30 years later.
The Cowboys, who have a 31-19-1 record in Thanksgiving games, started their Thanksgiving game tradition in 1966, when then-general manager Tex Schramm signed up for the holiday game in an effort to boost the franchise's popularity. It worked. The Cowboys that Thanksgiving broke what was then their attendance record, as 80,259 fans watched the team beat the Browns at the Cotton Bowl.
The Cowboys have played on Thanksgiving every year since except two. In 1975 and 1977, the NFL awarded Thanksgiving games to the St. Louis Cardinals, instead, in an attempt to boost that franchise's national exposure. The Cardinals lost both games, and the Cowboys reclaimed the tradition in 1978.
What teams have never played on Thanksgiving?
The Jaguars have to be looking at the Lions and their 79 appearances on Thanksgiving and thinking: Come on, can't we just get one game?
Jacksonville, which along with Carolina entered the NFL as an expansion franchise in 1995, is the only one of the 32 current NFL teams that has never played a game on Thanksgiving. The Panthers joined the list of Thanksgiving participants when they beat the Cowboys in 2015.
The Buccaneers, Texans and Bengals also have just one Thanksgiving appearance apiece. The Arizona Cardinals technically have played on Thanksgiving just once, but the Cardinals franchise, which began in Chicago and spent many years in St. Louis before it moved to the desert, has appeared on Thanksgiving 23 times.
Below is a list of NFL teams in order by number of Thanksgiving game appearances.
Green Bay Packers
New York Giants
Kansas City Chiefs
Tennessee Titans/Houston Oilers
San Francisco 49ers
New England Patriots
New York Jets
Los Angeles Chargers
Los Angeles Rams
New Orleans Saints
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Do people watch football on Thanksgiving?
Um, yeah. A lot of people.
Take the numbers from last year, for example. According to the NFL, among the top 20 United States television broadcasts of the year based on Nielsen figures, two Thanksgiving NFL games — Redskins at Cowboys at No. 8 and Bears at Lions at No. 15 — cracked the list.
An absurd 30.5 million people watched last year's Cowboys game on Thanksgiving. The number for the Lions game was 26.6 million viewers.
Fifteen of the top 20 TV broadcasts in 2018 were NFL games, and that doesn't count the pre-game show for Super Bowl 52, which ranked No. 5. Below are the full rankings.
Super Bowl 52 (Eagles vs. Patriots); NBC — 103,470,966 viewers
AFC championship game (Jaguars vs. Patriots); CBS — 44,144,971 viewers
NFC championship game (Vikings vs. Eagles); Fox — 42,328,830 viewers
NFC divisional playoffs (Saints vs. Vikings); Fox — 35,657,010 viewers
Super Bowl 52 pregame show; NBC — 33,491,894 viewers
AFC divisional playoffs (Jaguars vs. Steelers); CBS —31,484,869 viewers
NFC wild-card playoffs (Panthers vs. Saints); Fox — 31,124,724 viewers
Thanksgiving game (Redskins vs. Cowboys; Fox — 30,523, 699 viewers
Winter Olympics opening ceremony; NBC — 27,856,508 viewers
College Football Playoff championship; ESPN — 27,696,227 viewers
NFC divisional playoffs (Falcons vs. Eagles); NBC — 27,081,969 viewers
This Is Us; NBC — 26,986,989 viewers
AFC divisional playoffs (Titans vs. Patriots); CBS — 26,724,795 viewers
90th Academy Awards; ABC — 26,621,234 viewers
Thanksgiving game (Bears vs. Lions); CBS — 26,610,395 viewers
College Football Playoff semifinal (Georgia vs. Oklahoma); ESPN — 26,049,302 viewers
AFC wild-card playoffs (Bills vs. Jaguars); CBS — 25,320,105 viewers
NFL Week 14 (Eagles vs. Cowboys); Fox — 25,181,749 viewers
NFL Week 15 (Patriots vs. Steelers); CBS — 24,626,101 viewers
NFL Week 16 (Steelers vs. Saints); CBS — 23,975,846 viewers