NEW YORK (Reuters) - The National Football League is as much a part of the Thanksgiving tradition in the United States as roasted Turkey and cranberry sauce.
With hundreds of millions of people at home for the annual feast, American football has been played on the holiday for their captive audience since the 1890s.
For this year’s Thanksgiving, on Thursday, the NFL has offered up three blockbuster games, collectively known as the Thanksgiving Classic, in Detroit, Dallas and New Jersey.
Detroit began hosting games on Thanksgiving in 1934. The Lions’ opponents this time are the Houston Texans, who boast the equal best record in the NFL this season.
In Dallas, which has been hosting Thanksgiving Day games since 1966, the Cowboys will entertain their NFC East divisional rivals, the Washington Redskins.
The third and final Thanksgiving Day game, which has no traditional fixed team, is an AFC East divisional clash between the New York Jets and visiting New England Patriots.
The Lions have not won on Thanksgiving Day for nine years and face a tough task ending their drought this time.
They have lost their last two games to fall to 4-6 at the bottom of the NFC North standings while Houston (9-1) are on a four-game winning streak and closing in on a berth in the playoffs.
Last week, the Texans survived a scare to beat Jacksonville in overtime with quarterback Matt Schaub throwing for five touchdowns and 527 yards, the equal second most number of yards for a single game in NFL history.
“To go out and play on Thanksgiving Day, that’s a pretty cool deal,” said Schaub.
“Everyone growing up on Thanksgiving that’s what you did. You watched football and you ate turkey. That’s kind of what it was all about.”
The Cowboys and Redskins both desperately need to win to keep in touch with their divisional leaders, the New York Giants.
The Cowboys (5-5) have won their last two games to closing within one of the Giants while the Redskins (4-6), led by rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III, snapped a three game losing streak by beating the Philadelphia Eagles last week.
“(The Redskins) are certainly playing different offensive football than they’ve played in the past because of RG3 being their quarterback,” Cowboys head coach Garrett said.
“We certainly have to do our best to get on top of what they’re trying to get done.”
The Patriots (7-3) have opened up a three game lead over all their rivals in the AFC East division after winning their past four games but face a potentially tough night against the Jets (4-6).
The Pats will be without tight end Rob Gronkowski, who broke his arm against the Indianapolis Colts last weekend, while the underperforming Jets got their season back on track with an impressive win over the St. Louis Rams.
“Right now, we have so much work to do, all we can do is focus on ourselves,” Jets coach Rex Ryan said.
“We know we have to get better. We know the challenge that’s in front of us, but we’re just trying to punch our way out.”
Editing by Simon Evans