This holiday season is going to have plenty for football fans. In addition to its usual Thanksgiving triple-header, the NFL announced a trio of games slated for Christmas Day. While we have seen games on December 25 for the last three seasons, this is the first year the league will blow it out with two afternoon games and a primetime contest.
Thanksgiving games have been a tradition since the Great Depression. The Detroit Lions started hosting turkey day contests in 1934. The Dallas Cowboys began hosting a Thanksgiving game in 1966, and the league added a third primetime game in 2006.
The NFL has had success with Christmas Day games, so it’s no surprise that they’re anxious to expand the league’s footprint on that holiday. Last year, the Packers-Browns game turned out to be the third-most watched game of the 2021 regular season with more than 28 million viewers. A contest between the Colts and Cardinals, broadcast on the NFL Network, had some 12.6 million viewers, making it the second-most-watched game in the history of the league’s cable network.
Of course, another professional sport has previously claimed ownership of television on Christmas Day. The NBA has made a tradition out of playing on December 25, similar to what the NFL has done with Thanksgiving, since 1947. Pro basketball saw its ratings for Christmas Day games take a dip last year to the lowest totals since 2008, thanks in part to competition with the NFL. While there’s probably enough appetite for both sports that day, it’s clear the NFL is intent on staking its own claim to the holiday.
As far as the games on tap this year, it looks like a solid slate for both days. An NFC East showdown between the Giants and Cowboys on Thanksgiving could turn into a pretty good contest, as division rivalries have a tendency to do.
The Christmas slate is heavy on expectations. The Dolphins, Broncos and Cardinals all spent big to push their way into the upper echelon of teams this season, By the time Week 16 rolls around, we’ll have a good idea of whether or not those effort paid dividends.
Thanksgiving games will be part of Week 12, and Christmas games will be part of Week 16.
All times listed are Eastern.
Bills vs. Lions, 12:30 p.m., CBS
Giants vs. Cowboys, 4:30 p.m., FOX
Patriots vs. Vikings, 8:20 p.m., NBC
Packers vs. Dolphins, 1:00 p.m. ET, FOX
Broncos vs. Rams, 4:30 p.m. ET, CBS/Nickelodeon
Bucs vs. Cardinals, 8:20 p.m. ET, NBC