Thanksgiving is a great time to stop and reflect, take stock of the landscape and be grateful for our many blessings. As football fans, we revel in a Turkey Day triple-header to go along with our holiday meals. As we kick back with full stomachs and happy hearts, let’s count down the top 10 blessings of this NFL season to date.
10. Only Patriots fans and league attorneys still talk about Deflategate. The incessant debate about Tom Brady’s guilt or innocence, whether air was secretly removed from New England game balls, the science to support and the science to discredit, dozens of conspiracy theories, the alleged NFL witch hunt, court hearings and transcripts, destroyed phones and text messages, suspensions and appeals… it’s all but forgotten. After months of nothing but Deflategate, the football world has moved on to more pertinent matters.
9. We still have a pair of undefeated teams to kick off week 12. By topping the Bills Monday night, the Patriots reach double-figure wins for an astounding 13th straight season. Unlike New England, with its four Super Bowl titles since 2001, the Panthers have never won a ring. They did reach the Super Bowl after the ’03 season and lost to New England.
8. Even though the NFL is a young man’s game, we still have some old “geezers” dazzling us each weekend. The 38-year-old Brady is an MVP candidate once again. The oldest player in the league, Adam Vinatieri, is still going strong at 42, booting the game-winning field goal to lift the Colts over the Falcons Sunday. Indy’s backup quarterback Matt Hasselbeck is 3-0 filling in for Andrew Luck this year, despite being over the hill at 40. A trio of 30-somethings spearheads the Cardinals offense: Carson Palmer, Larry Fitzgerald and Chris Johnson. The 39-year-old cornerback Charles Woodson is tied for the league lead with five interceptions, while 35-year-old linebacker Julius Peppers has 6.5 sacks for the Packers.
7. Another crop of rookies is flexing its muscles. The top two draft picks, Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota, are proving they are more than capable of quarterbacking in this league. With a half-dozen touchdowns and 775 rushing yards already, Todd Gurley of the Rams is must-see TV. Raiders wide receiver Amari Cooper looks like he’s been playing in the NFL for years, and Vikings wide-out Stefon Diggs is flashy and dynamic. On the defensive side of the ball, Buccaneers linebacker Kwon Alexander and Chiefs cornerback Marcus Peters stand out, even as beginners.
6. Despite lingering criticism, the NFL is making strides in the way it handles domestic violence. Is it enough? Not yet. But the league did try to suspend Greg Hardy 10 games for assaulting and threatening to kill an ex-girlfriend. Other players and coaches who’ve been charged or arrested in domestic cases are no longer employed. And the NFL followed through on its promise to build a council of experts that advises the commissioner and investigates issues when they arise.
5. Tony Romo is finally back at the helm for the Cowboys. After two months to recover from a broken collarbone, he returned to the field last Sunday to lift his whole team. Not only did Dallas snap its seven-game losing skid, it’s still in contention in the wide-open NFC East, where no team is above .500. A team has never made the playoffs after dropping seven straight, but Romo’s Cowboys could make history.
4. Cam Newton is still dancing in the end zone like a giant kid, flashing that wide smile. Rex Ryan is still yapping and cracking jokes about the Patriots. Aaron Rodgers is still sporting a mustache.
3. While the scrutiny and uproar is warranted after Rams’ medical personnel and an independent spotter failed to pull a woozy, unsteady Case Keenum off the field, the NFL is committed to making the game safer, especially when it comes to head injuries. There is absolutely no excuse for allowing Keenum to stay in the game after his helmet slammed onto the turf in Baltimore. He put both hands to his head, lost his balance on all fours, and had to be lifted upright by a teammate. The league should deal harshly with any who ignored Keenum’s plight. But in years past, we wouldn’t even be talking about it. There is a heightened level of awareness. Team trainers and spotters can stop games to check on athletes. Strict concussion protocols must be followed before they’re allowed back in action. A bright light now exposes the danger of concussions with real concern for players’ long-term health.
2. With a month and a half left in the regular season, 18 teams ride the line of mediocrity with either four, five or six wins. That means there will be scratching and clawing for playoff spots and a mad dash to the finish line!
And the NFL storyline that most reminds us what truly matters this Thanksgiving week:
1. A mere four months after beating cancer, Chiefs safety Eric Berry finally looks like his Pro Bowl self again. He logged a season-high eight tackles against the Chargers on Sunday. He’s picked off two passes in the last month, and he’s flying all over the field. Every triumph is worth celebrating because he can’t forget those days during chemo when completing five pushups was his only goal. Happy Thanksgiving indeed!
A well-traveled veteran and pioneer of sports radio and television, Amy Lawrence is the host of CBS Sports Radio’s late-night program ‘After Hours with Amy Lawrence.’ The show can be heard weekdays from 2-6am ET on the nation’s largest 24/7 major-market radio network. Follow her on Twitter @.