The 25 Most Thrilling NFL Thanksgiving Games

Lions Thanksgiving 560x420Thanksgiving Day is all about family, food, and football. The tradition of inviting family members over for turkey, stuffing, sweet potato pie, and watching NFL games started many years ago, right around the time television sets became a part of the living room decor.

The NFL has used this tradition to their advantage and recently started scheduling a third game, on Thanksgiving night. Before that, it was a steady diet of the Green Bay Packers, or Chicago Bears, facing the Detroit Lions in Michigan followed by the Dallas Cowboys hosting a variety of different teams. If you ever wondered how the Dallas Cowboys turned into America’s Team, it was Thanksgiving which helped them reach out to a larger market of NFL fans.

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Since most of the Thanksgiving Day games are scheduled around the traditional rivalries that have been built up since the late 1930’s, not all of the games are fun to watch. In fact, there have been a lot of blowouts over the years like in 2015 when the Detroit Lions beat the Philadelphia Eagles 45-14. Or the Lions 55-20 beat-down of the Chicago Bears in 1997.

Blowouts are fun while you are watching them but they get old after the fact. The games that are memorable are the close ones, the ones we remember for years to come. The close games are the ones we are here to showcase today. So let’s take a few minutes to rank the best Thanksgiving Day games, ever.

25) 2016: Cowboys vs. Redskins

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  • Date: 11/24/2016
  • Final Score (Winner): 31-26 (Dallas)

24) 2001: Packers @ Lions

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  • Date: 11/22/2001
  • Final Score (Winner): 29-27 (Green Bay)

23) 2001: Broncos @ Cowboys

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  • Date: 11/22/2001
  • Final Score (Winner): 26-24 (Denver)

22) 2016: Lions vs. Vikings

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  • Date: 11/24/2016
  • Final Score (Winner): 16-13 (Detroit)

21) 2013: Ravens vs. Steelers

  • Date: 11/28/2013
  • Final Score (Winner): 22-20 (Baltimore)

20) 1986: Packers @ Lions

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  • Date: 11/27/1986
  • Final Score (Winner): 44-40 (Green Bay)

19) 1995: Lions vs. Vikings

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  • Date: 11/23/1995
  • Final Score (Winner): 44-38 (Detroit)

18) 2015: Packers vs. Bears

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  • Date: 11/26/2015
  • Final Score (Winner): 17-13 (Chicago)

17) 2011: Cowboys vs. Dolphins

  • Date: 11/24/2011
  • Final Score (Winner): 20-19 (Dallas)

16) 1998: Lions vs. Steelers

  • Date: 11/26/1998
  • Final Score (Winner): 19-16 OT (Detroit)

15) 2010: Saints @ Cowboys

  • Date: 11/25/2010
  • Final Score (Winner): 30-27 (New Orleans)

14) 1980: Bears @ Lions

  • Date: 11/27/1980
  • Final Score (Winner): 23-17 OT (Chicago)

13) 1987: Vikings @ Cowboys

  • Date: 11/26/1987
  • Final Score (Winner): 44-38 OT (Minnesota)

12) 1979: Oilers @ Cowboys

  • Date: 11/22/1979
  • Final Score (Winner): 30-24 (Houston)

11) 1998: Vikings @ Cowboys

  • Date: 11/26/1998
  • Final Score (Winner): 46-36 (Minnesota)

10) 1984: Cowboys vs. Patriots

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  • Date: 11/22/1984
  • Final Score (Winner): 20-17 (Dallas)
  • Spotlight Moment: Although the Cowboys would eventually kick a field goal to secure the win, the Patriots were more impressive, coming from 14 down in the 4th quarter to tie it up at 17 a piece. Not bad for their Thanksgiving Day debut.

9) 1993: Bears @ Lions

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  • Date: 11/25/1993
  • Final Score (Winner): 10-6 (Chicago)
  • Spotlight Moment: If you love defense, than you had a wonderful Thanksgiving Day back in 1993. The Bears and Lions spent 60 minutes beating the hell out of each other until the Bears emerged as the winner thanks to a 42-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter.

8) 1976: Lions vs. Bills

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  • Date: 11/25/1976
  • Final Score (Winner): 27-14 (Detroit)
  • Spotlight Moment: Even after trailing 20-0, the Buffalo Bills failed to surrender to the Lions on Thanksgiving Day thanks to O.J. Simpson’s incredible 273 yard rushing performance. He was literally the only thing going good for the Bills that day.

7) 1978: Lions vs. Broncos

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  • Date: 11/23/1978
  • Final Score (Winner): 17-14 (Detroit)
  • Spotlight Moment: Denver was the big time favorite in 1978 but they ran into a defensive line that was more than ready for them. Doug English had four unofficial sacks and the Lions went on to upset the Broncos.

6) 1981: Cowboys vs. Bears

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  • Date: 11/26/1981
  • Final Score (Winner): 10-9 (Dallas)
  • Spotlight Moment: At 9-3, the Dallas Cowboys were ready to destroy the 3-9 Bears on Thanksgiving Day. However, it was a defensive struggle through the first three quarters, tied 3-3. After Chicago scored and made it 9-3, it started to feel as if the upset was inevitable. The Cowboys scored a won but the Bears showed off their defensive skills, which would eventually lead to a Super Bowl title a few years later.

5) 1996: Chiefs @ Lions

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  • Date: 11/28/1996
  • Final Score (Winner): 28-24 (Kansas City)
  • Spotlight Moment: Marcus Allen rushed for two scores and broke Walter Payton’s career touchdown scoring record of 110, helping the Chiefs to the win and giving the fans something to enjoy while eating turkey at the dinner table.

4) 2005: Broncos @ Cowboys

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  • Date: 11/24/2005
  • Final Score (Winner): 24-21 OT (Denver)
  • Spotlight Moment: This game was all about a former Heisman trophy winner that had busted out of the NFL long before joining the Broncos. He broke out for a 55-yard epic run to lead the Broncos to the win in overtime.

3) 1974: Cowboys vs. Redskins

  • Date: 11/28/1974
  • Final Score (Winner): 24-23 (Dallas)
  • Spotlight Moment: If you know who Clint Longley is, than you remember how he replaced a legend on Thanksgiving Day and shocked the world by leading the Cowboys to a victory following a game-winning 50 yard touchdown pass at the end of the game.

2) 2012: Texans @ Lions

  • Date: 11/22/2012
  • Final Score (Winner): 34-31 OT (Houston)
  • Spotlight Moment: The rules are constantly being changed and during this amazing matchup, Jim Schwartz taught us all about another one. He threw a challenge flag on a scoring play, which is automatically reviewed, and was given a 15-yard penalty for throwing the challenge flag, revoking the booth’s chance to review the play.

1) 1993: Dolphins @ Cowboys

  • Date: 11/25/1993
  • Final Score (Winner): 16-14 (Miami)
  • Spotlight Moment: Leon Lett is a three-time Super Bowl champion and two-time Pro Bowler but the one play he is forever remembered for was on Thanksgiving Day in 1993. The Dolphins needed a Field Goal to win but it was blocked and while the ball was spinning in the snow, Leon Lett tripped and fell, making the ball live and it was recovered by the Dolphins, who then got another chance to kick a field goal, this time making it and winning the game. Yes, that is the same Leon Lett that fumbled the ball in the end zone during the Super Bowl.