There’s nothing quite like the tradition of Thanksgiving Day football. The tradition started 87 years ago, and while there was one brief stoppage of it during World War II, it has become a staple of the American holiday.
The NFL is entering its 16th season of scheduling three games for Thanksgiving Day. Only two games were played last year. The night game between the Steelers and Ravens was postponed because of COVID-19 concerns, but the Lions and Cowboys continued their decades-long streak of playing on the holiday.
The Lions were the team that began the Thanksgiving Day tradition. Owner George A. Richards designed the game in 1934 to boost attendance, and it worked. The Cowboys began playing on the holiday in 1966. Save for one brief stoppage imposed by the NFL, they have continued to do so.
In 2021, the tradition will continue once again. The Lions will face the Bears, the Cowboys will do battle with the Raiders and the Bills will get a chance to square off with the Saints as the night game returns.
Below is all you need to know about the teams playing on Thanksgiving this year, plus the TV channels for the games and more.
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What teams are playing on Thanksgiving 2021?
|Game||Kickoff time||TV channel|
|Bears at Lions||12:30 p.m. ET||Fox, fuboTV|
|Raiders at Cowboys||4:30 p.m. ET||Fox, fuboTV|
|Bills at Saints||8:20 p.m. ET||NBC, fuboTV|
The Lions are hosting their 82nd Thanksgiving game in 2021 and entering Week 11, they were still looking to get Dan Campbell his first win. Could it come against the Bears? The Lions lost 24-14 against the Bears earlier in the season but if they can slow Justin Fields and the Bears offense down, they could grind out a gritty win. They will be motivated to win on Thanksgiving, after all.
The Cowboys will play their 53rd Thanksgiving game and will get a chance to play their second AFC West team in as many games. The Raiders figure to be an easier matchup for the Cowboys than the Chiefs, as Las Vegas has fallen apart in recent weeks after the Henry Ruggs III and Damon Arnette releases. The Dallas offense is playing well, so as long as they’re healthy, they’ll be solid favorites in this one.
The night game for 2021 should be interesting. There wasn’t one last season — the Ravens-Steelers game was postponed due to COVID issues — but it will be making its return this year. The Bills have a strong-looking offense led by Josh Allen and a great defense as well. The Saints have the league’s best run defense and could challenge some of the Bills’ receivers.
This one may come down to quarterback play, but maybe Trevor Siemian can play well enough to win. Having Alvin Kamara healthy and available would certainly help his cause.
What channel is Thanksgiving football on?
Lions vs. Bears TV channel
(12:30 p.m. ET kickoff)
- TV channel: Fox
- Live stream: fuboTV
Fox’s No. 1 broadcast team — Joe Buck and Troy Aikman — tends to call the Thanksgiving game for the network. They may not be showing the Cowboys this year, but you can still expect them to be on the call for the Lions-Bears game, as they usually broadcast “Thursday Night Football” anyway.
Erin Andrews and Kristina Pink have served as a tag-team duo as sideline reporters this year, and they will likely continue to do this for Fox’s stand-alone Thanksgiving game.
Mike Pereira serves as Fox’s broadcast’s rules analyst.
Cowboys vs. Raiders TV channel
(4:30 p.m. ET kickoff)
- TV channel: CBS
- Live stream: fuboTV
It looks like Jim Nantz and Tony Romo will have the call for CBS in the Cowboys-Raiders game. That means viewers will get to watch Romo break down his former team and the starter that replaced him.
Tracy Wolfson is the sideline reporter for Nantz and Romo’s crew while former NFL referee Gene Steratore will be CBS’ rules analyst for the game.
Saints vs. Bills TV channel
(8:20 p.m. ET kickoff)
- TV channel: NBC
- Live stream: fuboTV
The NBC broadcast seems likely to get a change-up from its usual Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth duo on Thanksgiving. Michaels usually gets Thanksgiving off and is replaced by Mike Tirico. This year, it seems that Collinsworth will move out of the booth to take the holiday while Drew Brees will break down his former Saints team in the booth.
Michele Tafoya will serve as the sideline reporter in this game while Terry McAulay, a recently-retired official, will be the NFL rules analyst for the broadcast.
MORE: Why the Lions play on Thanksgiving, explained
What football teams always play on Thanksgiving?
The Detroit Lions are set to play their 82nd game on Thanksgiving. The tradition began in 1934 with their only stoppage of the Thanksgiving games coming from 1939 to 1944 during the height of World War II.
The Dallas Cowboys joined the fray in 1966 and hosted some Thanksgiving Day games in the early years of their franchise’s history. They stopped for a bit from 1975 to 1977, as the NFL wanted the St. Louis Cardinals to play on Thanksgiving to boost their popularity, they are set to play at home for the 43rd consecutive year.
The Lions have a career record of 37-42-2 on Thanksgiving. They haven’t won a game since 2016 against the Vikings. The Cowboys are 31-21-1 on Thanksgiving with their last win coming over Washington in 2018.
MORE: Why the Cowboys play on Thanksgiving, explained
What teams have never played on Thanksgiving?
There is only one team that has never played on Thanksgiving Day. That’s the Jaguars.
The Jaguars have only been around since 1995 and are one of the smaller-market teams in the NFL. As such, it makes sense that they have yet to play on Thanksgiving, especially when you look at their production over the years. Jacksonville has routinely been one of the NFL’s worst teams, so it makes sense that the NFL has avoided scheduling the team in a marquee spot, like Thanksgiving Day.
Perhaps if Trevor Lawrence improves in future seasons, the Jaguars will get that nod. For now though, they are the lone team without a Thanksgiving appearance. Three other teams — the Buccaneers, Bengals and Panthers — have played just once on Thanksgiving Day.
Below is a list of NFL teams in order by number of Thanksgiving game appearances, not including 2021’s games.
|Green Bay Packers||36|
|New York Giants||15|
|Kansas City Chiefs||10|
|New York Jets||8|
|Tennessee Titans/Houston Oilers||7|
|San Francisco 49ers||5|
|New England Patriots||5|
|Los Angeles Chargers||5|
|Los Angeles Rams||5|
|New Orleans Saints||3|
|Tampa Bay Buccaneers||1|
Do people watch football on Thanksgiving?
The NFL’s Thanksgiving Day games have routinely been among the most-watched NFL regular-season broadcasts in recent years. In 2019, the Bills-Cowboys Thanksgiving game averaged 32.53 million viewers, which made it the most-watched game since the 2019 Super Bowl between the Patriots and Rams.
In 2020, the trend of the Cowboys being a big draw continued. They averaged 30.3 million viewers for their 41-16 loss at the hands of the Washington Football Team. It didn’t quite compare to the previous season’s numbers, but it was still impressive considering the ongoing COVID pandemic and rise of streaming alternatives.
The Lions-Texans game in 2020 drew 23.2 million viewers on average during the game. Neither team had playoff chances, so that broadcast did well, all things considered. The Steelers-Ravens game was, unfortunately, postponed because of some COVID positives, so these two games are the ones we have data on.
Long story shot, yes. People do watch football on Thanksgiving. It continues to be a tradition for many families across America.