NFL Thanksgiving Day games: Betting, eating and winning
Thanksgiving Day and American football are two of the United States’ grandest, most internationally-known cultural symbols. When you mix them together with a little betting – NFLbets traditionally (get it?) covers one team and the over/under in each game – well, damn, Thanksgiving is awesome.
A brief run-through of a few historic factoids follow. As always, NFLbets reminds NFL bettors that most (most, not all) historical precedent in football bears no relation whatsoever to or on future events. In terms of the Thanksgiving Day NFL games, however, there are a couple noteworthy stats.
• Thanksgiving Day games were first played in the inaugural season of the NFL. The rogue AAFC and AFL also scheduled such games as a matter of course on their schedule, and the USFL might’ve, too, had it miraculously survived Donald Trump’s sending that league into a graveyard spiral.
• The Detroit Lions began hosting the annual game in 1945; for 13 consecutive years beginning in ’51, the Green Bay Packers came to Detroit. The Dallas Cowboys began hosting a Thanksgiving Day game annually in ’66.
• These are just two of five teams to have played more than 20 Thanksgiving Day games.
• The Cowboys are the most successful of any franchise which has played in nine or more Thanksgiving day games, going a healthy 30-19-1 SU (a winning percentage of .622) from 1966 through 2017, as compared to their overall regular-season mark of 477-321-6 (.593).
• The only other team to have a winning record in nine or more Thanksgiving Day games are the Decatur/Chicago Staleys/Bears at 17-15-2 between 1920 and 2015. Note that about half of these games were played against the Lions in Detroit, a series which is knotted 8-8 going into 2018’s holiday matchup.
• The Lions are 37-39-2 all-time, which includes an 1-11 beginning in 2001, surely not at all coincidentally the first season Matt Millen was the club’s general manager. Take out this plateau-within-a-plateau and Detroit is instead a respectable 36-28-2 (.545) on Thanksgiving.
• The Green Bay Packers have frequently appeared in Thanksgiving Day games as both a huge draw nationally and a division mate of the Lions. The Pack is just 14-20-2 in these games but let’s put an asterisk on this one as well, courtesy those Lions: Between 1951 and ’63, Green Bay was a weak 4-9 at Detroit in Thanksgiving games. Right around then, the Lions went into possibly interminable decline while the Packers were becoming a team of legend, and Packers at Detroit on Thanksgiving Day wouldn’t happen again until 1984. Since then, Green Bay is up 6-2 SU.
• Finally, by dint of sheer longevity, the Chicago/St. Louis/Phoenix/Arizona Cardinals have played in 23 Thanksgiving Day games from 1920 to 2008. In traditional Cardinals fashion, the team is a terrible 6-15-2 (.261 – well worse than even the overall franchise winning percentage of .399 over these years).
Betting Thanksgiving NFL games
Can this history teach us anything? In the case one of the perennial hosts, sure! While winning or losing on Thanksgiving in a certain year says nothing about doing so afterward, the superior records of these teams on the holiday would seem to indicate an institutional knowledge of how things are done for this particular game: The frequently-losing Lions become at least an average home team for Thanksgiving, i.e. figure them 3 to 6 points more than typical. And despite NFLbets’ cynicism about the historical record, we believe the Lions’ current 5-1 ATS run *is* meaningful.
Meanwhile, the home turf (literally) advantage Dallas gets on Thanksgiving has disappeared at some point during this decade – or perhaps it’s just the Cowboys Effect, which tends to overrate the ’Pokes. The Cowboys haven’t won ATS on Thanksgiving since 2010, going 0-7 ATS since then, with a mere 3-4 SU to show for it. Maybe the institutional memory is failing in Dallas, after all…
FAQs on Thanksgiving Day betting
Of all the NFL games to bet on every year, the Thanksgiving Day games are second only to the Super Bowl in popularity. And thanks to certain traditions, these games represent one of the few instances in which long-term history is of use to the NFL bettor. Below run some FAQs on that most hallowed of all Thanksgiving traditions – betting on football!
Do the Cowboys and Washington always play on Thanksgiving?:
NFLbets isn’t exactly sure how this myth remains so pervasive. Though the Dallas Cowboys have played on every Thanksgiving Day since 1996 and typically play a division rival, it’s not always the case that Washington draws the Dallas game on the second-favorite day for NFL betting. Of note: The Cowboys are 9-1 SU vs Washington on Thanksgiving and are 6-2 ATS in this matchup since 1990.
What teams are playing on Thanksgiving?
The only teams guaranteed to play on Thanksgiving are the Dallas Cowboys and Detroit Lions. Since 1977, the Lions have played 23 of 45 Turkey Day games against an NFC North rival – the Green Bay Packers, Chicago Bears and Minnesota Vikings.
What is the Detroit Lions record on Thanksgiving Day?
For much of the post-merger period, the Lions have been mired in mediocrity, running up a 317-439-4 SU record from 1970 to 2018, a winning percentage of just .371. In this respect, the Lions are far more successful in Thanksgiving Day games, at 22-27 SU (or .449). And though Vegas lines rarely set the Lions as favorites on Thanksgiving Day despite institutional memory as well as any real or perceived homefield advantage, the Lions are a good bet on T-giving: They’re 25-24 ATS since 1970 in this game.
How many times have the Bears played the Lions on Thanksgiving?
Bears at Lions is the second -most commonly-played Thanksgiving Day matchup – after Packers at Lions. Since 1945, Chicago has a 7-5 advantage in this game. Of note: Since the last realignment of divisions in the NFL, the Lions are 4-5 SU and ATS against their three NFC North division mates.
How many Thanksgiving Day games has each NFL team won?
In terms of straight-up wins, Detroit is the all-time leader in Thanksgiving Day wins with 37. However, their cumulative win-loss record of 37-40-2 through 2018 ranks them just 20th overall. Only nine teams have played at least 10 games, and incredibly the Cowboys are tops at 31-19-1 (.618), followed by the New York Giants at 7-5-3 (.567) and Chicago Bears (18-15-2 or .543).
Worst in the NFL are Washington at 3-9 (.273) and the Chicago/St. Louis/Arizona Cardinals at 6-15-2 (.304). Only the Cincinnati Bengals (at 0-1), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-1) and Cleveland Browns (0-3) have gone winless on Thanksgiving Day; the Baltimore Ravens (2-0), New Orleans Saints (2-0), Carolina Panthers (1-0), Houston Texans (1-0) are the only undefeated sides; and only the Jacksonville Jaguars have never played on the holiday.
Are the Cowboys a good bet?
Maybe if you bet them on the money line (ML) – because as good as the so-called “America’s Team” is on Thanksgving for the fans, the Cowboys are just 20-19-1 ATS from 1978 to 2018.
Are there any football games on Christmas Day to bet?
It is said that NFL betting is 24/7/365, but what can you bet on in the NFL on Christmas Day? That was a rhetorical question. Let’s put it this way: If Christmas Day falls on a Sunday, you can bet NFL games online, in Las Vegas and other “real life” sportsbooks which happen to be open. Otherwise, you can always bet on college football bowl games. If you’re into that kind of thing.
Thursday, 22 November 2018 11:51 EST
Happy Thanksgiving! Now let’s get down to business.
True, this year’s Thanksgiving Day offerings aren’t overly enthusing fans, but NFL bettors’ interest is surely piqued. Quite serendipitous it is in this year of legalized sports betting in the US that three of the NFL’s top four teams ATS are playing on Thanksgiving Day. Topping the ATS standings board going into week 12 are the New Orleans Saints (8-2), Kansas City Chiefs (7-2-2), Chicago Bears (7-3) and Washington (7-3).
Naturally, NFLebts will be looking for the case *against* the Saints, Bears and Washington, working from the classic regression-to-the-mean premise.
(Addendum: In actuality, yours truly abandoned the bit of the original article focused on the Bears-Lions game after news of Mitch Trubisky’s benching broke; our adapted take and betting tips on that game may be found here.)
Washington +7 at Dallas Cowboys, over/under 41½ points
NFLbets must admit that this one does feel a bit like a push. The regression-to-the-mean argument isn’t extremely strong here, as the Cowboys have played right to the point spread this season to go 5-5 ATS entering this game. Strictly on the field, though, the acquisition of Amari Cooper has been a revelation.
To wit: In three of the past four games, Dak Prescott has thrown for over 200 yards; hardly an eye-popping stat but the QB managed just one such game in the first six weeks of the season! Cooper – as well as the still-refining Dallas D – has additionally opened up the possibilities for Ezekiel Elliott and the gang. In the past two weeks, the Cowboys have scored 49 points, with *not 1 coming on a pass play* while Elliott has run up four TDs.
The sole chink in the Cowboys’ defensive armor in 2018 has been in turnovers. Dallas enters the game just 24th in generating TOs, while Washington and the notoriously stingy (meant in the positive sense) Alex Smith have an outstanding +12 differential, bettered only by Chicago. On the other hand, the Cowboys D – at top-10 unit in most other statistical categories – extracted two TOs in the past two games against the zero surrendered by the offense.
Is this one Achilles heel enough to give the game to Washington or even help them cover the spread? NFLbets would guess not, but we’re also thinking that these tendencies have oddsmakers believing this game will have the NFC East rivals slugging it out in the trenches, as evidenced by the extremely low over/under. We’ll second those thoughts. Take the Dallas Cowboys -7 (or bump that to -6½ so as to dodge the potential push) and take the under on an O/U of 41½ points.
Atlanta Falcons -11½ at New Orleans Saints
A few words about the departed 2018 Atlanta Falcons, just two years removed from a Super Bowl overtime loss, gone before their time…
Or were they? The Falcons’ 4-6 SU (3-7 ATS) mark has generated head-scratching among many apparently ungraced with the burden of medium-term memory. Kyle Shanahan, offensive coordinator of a relentless attacking offense so loved today, split town about 15 minutes after Tom Brady hoisted another Lombardi to take an attractive-looking job in San Francisco. Those similarly befuddled by the performance of the 2018 Philadelphia Eagles (currently 4-6 SU/3-7 ATS) would do well to recall that the ’17 Eagles OC Frank Reich bolted to the Colts for this season, and that team could certainly well compete for a spot in Super Bowl LIV.
(Hardly shocking to note, then, that these Falcons and Eagles have sunk to the depths of a five-way tie at the bottom of the ATS standing board with fellow disasters and/or tragedies in the New York Jets, 49ers and Raiders.)
With the Falcons left for dead, what case may be made for these dead birds even with a handicap of 11½ points? Going back to 2010, Matt Ryan’s teams have gone just 6-11 ATS against New Orleans – though to be fair, no Falcons-Saints game has seen a double-digit point spread since Ryan took over at QB in Atlanta. And the Falcons have only lost by 10 points or more three times in Ryan’s career.
On the other hand, NFLbets dares say (write?) that things have literally never been more hopeless for the Falcons, saddled with aging players at key positions and outdated coaches who won’t be replaced until season’s end. We can’t imagine a Saints offense playing at half-speed scoring fewer than 21 – their lowest total of the year; in the last three games, they’re averaging forty f*#&*#*&ing eight! – against the hapless Falcons.
On top of this, we have the wider trends of Thursday Night Football games (and this is essentially a TNF game in terms of scheduling and such) which are heavily skewed to the favorite regardless of spread size: Since 2016, favorites on Thursday night are at 25-12-3 ATS, a winning percentage of over 67%; compare this to the average of 55% by favorites ATS on Sundays and Mondays.
And now we’re down to blind mathematics. Will the balancing act of the sportsbook drag the Saints down to a more fathomable 8-3 mark ATS and haul the Falcons out of bottom-feeder territory to 4-7? Perhaps Atlanta isn’t as bad as their last two games have shown, but only New Orleans can prevent this from getting ugly. NFLbets will take the New Orleans Saints -11½ vs Atlanta and guess that next week (at Dallas) will be the shocker for the Saints.
Thursday, 22 November 2018 09:19 EST
NFLbets was just about halfway through a column on all three Thanksgiving Day games before the news hit ESPN Wednesday afternoon: Mitchell Trubisky is highly doubtful to play in the holiday game against the Detroit Lions.
Great! So now the Thanksgiving Day games column might be rewritten – good thing we have our bets in, heh heh. And NFLbets is devoting a brief bit of space here to exhorting NFL bettors on this first Thanksgiving Day game.
Chicago Bears -3 at Detroit Lions, over/under 43½ points
Beyond the absence of Trubisky, the argument for covering Detroit leans heavily you want to argue Detroit's case here, the Lions naturally have the homefield advantage and the Bears are playing on the shortest of all possible weeks currently allowed under NFL policy: Namely, a Sunday prime-time game chased by the 1pm ET slot on a Thursday.
(Damn, no wonder the Bears want to sit Trubisky this week, with the Los Angeles Rams on the horizon and a nice grip on the NFC North division lead. If Matt Nagy thought sitting every single first-stringer would give his guys an edge against the Rams, he’d certainly do so.)
Historically speaking, Decatur/Chicago Staleys/Bears, at 17-15-2 between 1920 and 2015, are one of just two teams with a winning record on Thanksgiving. Note that about half of these games were played against the Lions in Detroit, a series which is knotted 8-8 going into 2018.
The Lions are meanwhile 37-39-2 all-time on the holiday, which includes an 1-11 beginning in 2001, surely not at all coincidentally the first season Matt Millen was the club’s general manager. Take out this plateau-within-a-plateau and Detroit is instead a respectable 36-28-2 (.545) on Thanksgiving.
Interesting stuff to be sure, but we’re talking about the present-day Bears and Lions here, so let’s talk some turkey (so to speak) about this low-watt Lions offense. In the last four games (vs Seattle, at Minnesota, at Chicago, vs Carolina), the Lions are 1-3 SU/ATS, managing an average of 15.1 points against these defenses ranking anywhere from above average to top 10.
Thus is the Bears defense presented with its toughest task of the season thus far. Despite all the kvetching many have done about Trubisky, the truth is that the defense will seemingly have to carry the Bears in this one. Except NFLbets believes that short break for Chicago is a potential game-opener. By the 40-minute mark, these guys may be utterly shagged out.
Plus, there’s that X-factor in Chase Daniel. How many times have we seen a new quarterback step in and wow the world with a headline-style game? It almost feels as though, unless that team is the Cleveland Browns or Oakland/Las Vegas Raiders, a substitute QB is bound to succeed. Daniel will certainly be helped by a heavy diet of Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen, at least one of which should be a nice DFS play today. (Which one? Who can tell? Daily fantasy football is gambling!)
Daniel might have reason to feel confident anyway against a weak pass rush amid a defense ranked 30th in defensive efficiency thus far, per Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric.
Finally, the bookmarkers themselves are showing incredible under-confidence in the Lions this Thanksgiving: Consider that homefireld advantage typically earns from 3 to 4½ points in the spread and this game translates as a “pick ’em” on a neutral field – and this line’s gone down 1 point at some sportsbooks since the news on Trubisky came out.
In the final analysis then, NFLbets will dodge the point spread altogether and advise bettors to take the over on an O/U line of 43½ points. This figure is far too low for a tuckered-out D against a terrible playing in a dome.
Saturday, 17 November 2018 12:05 EST
Maybe we’re just geeked about snapping a three-game “Best Bets” losing streak by calling the Green Bay Packers-Seattle Seahawks TNF result pretty much exactly – a push on a point spread of Seattle +3 and no miracle from Aaron Rodgers thanks to some, likesay, questionable fourth-quarter decisions by Mike McCarthy to whom NFL bettors are grateful.
Maybe so, but NFLbets can’t help but see good betting opportunities all over the slate of week 11 point spreads. The proper NFL bettor absolutely must avoids the pitfall of the Sunk Cost Fallacy and takes the games week-to-week, the trends month-to-month – but he/she isn’t afraid to splurge on slates like week 11’s.
So following is a rapid-fire presentation of our four Best Bets for week 11 plus a parlay to consider. And if you think some of these picks are wacky, wait until you see our Pick of the Week bet tomorrow…
NFLbets’ Best Bets for NFL week 11
• Chicago Bears -2½ vs Minnesota Vikings
The Vikings have been beating up the bookmakers real good this season, thus far going 6-2-1 ATS. Therefore is NFLbets already expecting some regression to the mean; with the point spread in this game set under a field goal (thereby essentially making this a “pick ‘em”), we figure the only question about betting this game is “Do you believe the 2018 Chicago Bears are a playoff team?” If so, you believe they win this game SU and ATS. And we do.
• Houston Texans -3 at Washington
Like Minnesota, Washington has been defying the sportsbooks’ expectations all season long, going 6-3 ATS through 10 weeks. But who outside the D.C. locker room is confident that Washington is a playoff team at all, much less a legitimate contender for, likesay, a 10-6 SU record. Coming into the capitol is the hottest team in the NFL, as the Texans are riding a 6-0 SU (4-2 ATS) win streak by playing smart football and doing just enough to win. NFLbets is letting it ride on the Texans.
• Indianapolis Colts -1½ vs Tennessee Titans
Again, we’re taking a holistic approach to this one. If the numbers trend to middling, you’ve got to love the parity that comes with a Colts win: Depending on the result of the Bengals-Ravens game, some five AFC teams would be at 5-5 SU and bucking for the no. 6 seed in the playoffs. O, and the Titans are 6-3 ATS right now. Go Colts!
• Carolina Panthers -4½ at Detroit Lions
Combine Matt Patricia’s seemingly deliberate attempt to alienate his players with the Panthers playing indoors after a long week preceded by an embarrassing loss and what do you get? A Lions loss by more than 4½ points, NFLbets’d say.
The Pre-Thanksgiving Week Thing and one good parlay
Poring through recent stats has led NFLbets to the conclusion that, for whatever reason, NFL franchises even beyond the regular hosts in Detroit and Dallas have mastered the art of scheduling Thanksgiving games.
Going back to 2012, we found that all teams were good for a 27-8-1 SU mark the week prior to a Thanksgiving Day game; ATS, these teams were 24-11-1 – records of better than .750 and .667 winning percentages, respectively. In four of the six years considered, pre-Thanksgiving Day contestants went 5-1 SU, though in three years teams managed just a 3-3 ATS record.
So this year in the pre-Thanksgiving week, the half-dozen teams going in week 11 – and why don’t the Thanksgiving Day teams ever get a bye before, eh? – are the Atlanta Falcons, New Orleans Saints, Chicago, Detroit, Dallas and Washington. Making things simpler for the NFL bettor, the Falcons and Cowboys play in Atlanta this week.
And since we’ve already eliminated Detroit and Washington as possibilities to win SU, NFLbets is suggesting a three-team money line (ML) parlay this week: Take the Chicago Bears, Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints to win SU. As of this writing on Saturday, this parlay should pay out at about 5/2 odds. If you give the points on Chicago and Atlanta (-3 vs Dallas), those odds increase to 7/2 or so – not a bad weekend’s worth of “work,” heh heh…