With the end of the 2012-13 regular season comes the precursor to the release of the 2013-14 NFL schedule: the announcements of the opponents that all 32 teams will be facing, based on the strengths of their schedules the previous season.
I realize that Wild Card Weekend hasn't even started yet, and I'm probably going to draw dirty looks for my looking ahead to the middle of next season, when the schedule hasn't even been released yet (and likely will not be for about fifteen weeks or so - not that I'm counting down the days or anything). But I can't help but make speculations prior to the release of the schedule, usually those that make sense.
So once I saw the AFC opponents that the Dallas Cowboys will be hosting next year, and realizing that the Cowboys' Thanksgiving Classic will air on CBS (the AFC network) next year, I have but one thing to say: No way in Alameda is the NFL going to opt for the Oakland Raiders to visit the Cowboys next Turkey Day, when given the choice between the Raiders and the Denver Broncos.
When you have a choice between scheduling either the Denver Broncos, who ended the 2012 regular season - first one with Peyton Manning under center - with an unprecedented eleven-game winning streak, which not only granted them their current first-round bye in the 2012-13 playoffs which get underway on Saturday, but clinched homefield advantage for the team throughout said playoffs, and the Oakland Raiders, who just fired a quartet of coaches, including their offensive coordinator, and have not won a game on Thanksgiving since they hosted one 45 years ago in the old AFL era, the decision is so easy, even Leon Lett could make it.
The last (and only) time Manning was on the Turkey Day stage, he picked apart the Lions, throwing a half-dozen touchdowns, part of a 2004 season which saw him set a new record for most touchdowns thrown in a season (eclipsed by Tom Brady during the Patriots' near-perfect season three years later). Manning came one touchdown shy of tying (and possibly breaking) a record seven touchdown tosses in a game, shared by five other quarterbacks, most recently Joe Kapp in 1969.
The Raiders - do we even know who their starting quarterback is going to be in November, let alone in April when the 2013 NFL schedule is released?
It's a no-brainer: the Denver Broncos will be playing the Dallas Cowboys on Thanksgiving Day 2013.
And can you imagine if the Cowboys really came out on the short end of the stick (as if losing six of their last seven elimination games at the delinquent hands of Tony Romo wasn't enough) and drew the other two teams from the AFC West division, the San Diego Chargers and the Kansas City Chiefs, both of whom bid adieu to their own head coaches, and then some, back on Black Monday? CBS would be better off reverting back to the 70's and airing a Cardinals game (and Arizona has axed a bunch of people this week, as well).
While I'm at it, I'll also provide some mild speculation on which NFC opponent will face the Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving Day 2013 on Fox. Any one of the Lions' division rivals (Chicago Bears, Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings) could easily be penciled in for a showdown at Ford Field on November 28. Then again, the Lions will also be playing the teams in the NFC East in 2013 - and one of the two teams in that division that will be traveling to Detroit is the New York Giants, who despite their inability to defend their recent Super Bowl title after sliding out of playoff contention, will still draw marquee games. As we know, Fox's marquee NFL games are called by Joe Buck. As we also know, Buck has worked more than his share of Giants games. So with all that said, the Lions hosting their (turkey) leg of the 2013 Thanksgiving Day Classic with the New York Giants, who had not won on Thanksgiving since beating the Lions back in 1982 - when Eli Manning was 22 months old - is my early projection.
The other NFC East team scheduled to play the Lions in Ford Field: the Dallas Cowboys. The only way a date between these two teams on Turkey Day would happen is if the Cowboys did indeed end up getting the Chargers and Chiefs at home this season.
For the record, the sixth NFC team slated to visit Detroit is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but based on their 28-point drubbing by the Cowboys on Turkey Day 2006, I doubt they'll be considered for Thanksgiving plans for the next 28 years.
As for which teams will be playing Thanksgiving night on NBC next year, the jury is truly out. We're going from a probability factor of two to six to about 220 here. But believe it or not, one team that could be featured here is - call me crazy - the Denver Broncos.
If you've been paying attention, I have written about the possibility of both Peyton Manning and Eli Manning both playing on Thanksgiving Day in 2013. But guess what: the Broncos' opponents for 2013 have been released, and some of the matchups make Peyton Manning vs. Tony Romo look like Mark Sanchez vs. Brandon Moore's posterior: you have Denver scheduled to face the Indianapolis Colts, the team that drafted Peyton Manning; the New England Patriots, whose quarterback is Manning rival Tom Brady; and the New York Giants - nuff said.
We remember the Harbaugh Brothers Bowl from a couple of Thanksgivings ago (49ers/Ravens, the last Turkey Day game to be broadcast by NFL Network). So it's only natural to think that a game with similar family ties like the Manning brothers going at it again would get such billing on Thanksgiving night again. But here's the problem: it would mean the Oakland Raiders playing the Dallas Cowboys earlier that day. It just can't happen.
Granted, when the Denver Broncos do play the New York Giants in 2013, it's a virtual lock to be on NBC: both previous Manning Bowls (the Giants vs. Peyton's former team, the Colts) in 2006 and 2010 were broadcast on NBC. So this Broncos/Giants tilt is more than likely going to air on NBC, as well - just not on Thanksgiving. It'll probably be played in September, perhaps the opening game of the season on "Sunday Night Football." And remember, the game is in Jersey, so if the Broncos win Super Bowl XLVII, it can't be the "kickoff" game, since it would have to be played in Denver.
In the end, I would think that the game that ends up being scheduled in primetime next Thanksgiving would likely involve at least one AFC team. Not just because two NFC teams host games every year, either: since the night game was added in 2006, only one game was an all-NFC affair: the Arizona Cardinals at the Philadelphia Eagles in 2008. Incidentally, both of those teams are in the process of cleaning house - and are also scheduled to play each other in 2013. And word on the street is that former Eagles coach Andy Reid could become the new head coach in Arizona. And if former Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt ended up in Philadelphia? Could that be the Thanksgiving 2013 nightcap?
It couldn't be worse than the "buttfumble" game last Thanksgiving night.
Or Raiders vs. Cowboys.