NFL Power Rankings Week 12: 1-32 poll, plus each team's most memorable Thanksgiving game

ByNFL Nation ESPN logo
Tuesday, November 23, 2021

It's Feast Week for the NFL Power Rankings, as Thanksgiving is upon us. Along with being a national holiday, Thanksgiving is also a celebration of football, as three games will be on the docket Thursday (Chicago Bears at Detroit Lions, 12:30 p.m. ET, Fox; Las Vegas Raiders at Dallas Cowboys, 4:30 p.m. ET, CBS; and Buffalo Bills at New Orleans Saints, 8:20 p.m. ET, NBC).

That got us thinking -- what is the most notable Thanksgiving memory for each team? So as we get ready for turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and all the fixings, we asked our NFL Nation writers to share their franchise's most notable Turkey Day moment. With 31 of the 32 teams having played at least once on Thanksgiving Day (sorry, Jacksonville Jaguars), we have a wide assortment of memories, from virtuoso performances from Hall of Fame players to errant coin tosses to ice-storm gaffes. One memory was even used twice (you can probably guess it, but here's a hint if you can't: It rhymes with Putt Stumble).

How we rank our Power Rankings: Our power panel -- a group of more than 80 writers, editors and TV personalities -- evaluates how teams stack up throughout the season.

Previous rankings: 11 | 10 | 9 |8|7 | 6 | 5 | 4 |3 |2 |Preseason

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1. Arizona Cardinals (9-2)

Previous ranking: 3

Most memorable Thanksgiving game: Beating the Lions 28-14 on Nov. 25, 1948

This was the Cardinals' last win on Thanksgiving, and it helped the then-Chicago Cardinals continue a dominating season a year after winning the NFL title, which happens to be the most recent in franchise history. They lost a repeat bid in the 1948 championship game. Since beating the Lions in 1948, they've lost eight in a row on Thanksgiving but have played in only one game (2008) on the holiday since 1985 after being regular participants in the pre-merger days. -- Josh Weinfuss

2. Green Bay Packers (8-3)

Previous ranking: 1

Most memorable Thanksgiving game: Losing 26-14 to the Lions on Nov. 22, 1962

How can a loss be so significant? Perhaps it was just what the 10-0 Packers needed at that time. They wouldn't lose another game that season on the way to beating the Giants in the NFL championship. What's more, it helped open up Thanksgiving for other teams because a year later, after the Packers and Lions tied on Turkey Day, coach Vince Lombardi -- who opposed playing on such a short turnaround -- got the NFL to end what had been an annual Thanksgiving series between the Packers and Lions dating to 1951. The Packers did not play in Detroit on Thanksgiving again until 1984 and played only one Thanksgiving game between 1964 and 1983 -- 1970 in Dallas. -- Rob Demovsky

3. Tennessee Titans (8-3)

Previous ranking: 2

Most memorable Thanksgiving game: Blew out the Lions 47-10 on Nov. 22, 2008

The Titans wanted to atone for their first loss of the season after starting the year with a 10-game winning streak. Tennessee's dual backfield of Chris Johnson (16 carries, 125 yards, two touchdowns) and LenDale White (23 carries, 106 yards, two touchdowns) was on full display in the blowout win. Johnson scored on a 6-yard run and later showcased his elite speed on a 58-yard touchdown scamper. Meanwhile, White powered through the Detroit defense for two short touchdown runs of his own. Both backs finished with over 100 yards rushing, and as a team, the Titans rushed for 292 yards.-- Turron Davenport

4. Los Angeles Rams (7-3)

Previous ranking: 5

Most memorable Thanksgiving game: Shutting out the Lions 20-0 on Nov. 27, 1975

The Rams have played only four games on Thanksgiving, three against the Lions and one against the Cowboys, and their last Turkey Day appearance was in 1975. Maybe the most exciting game was a 28-21 loss to the Cowboys in 1971, when the teams entered the fourth quarter tied, but that ended in a loss for L.A., something to hardly be grateful for. So we're going with the 1975 shutout over the Lions played at the Pontiac Silverdome. Quarterback James Harris thew for 157 yards and completed three touchdown passes, while safeties Dave Elmendorf and Bill Simpson each intercepted passes from Lions quarterback Joe Reed. -- Lindsey Thiry

5. Dallas Cowboys (7-3)

Previous ranking: 4

Most memorable Thanksgiving game: Backup QB Clint Longley leads Cowboys to 24-23 win over Washington on Nov. 28, 1974

There are plenty to choose from, but "best" memory stood out, so that ruled out Randy Moss' dominant showing in 1998 and Leon Lett's ill-timed trek in the ice in 1993. The choice came down to backup quarterbacks, Longley and Jason Garrett. In 1994, Garrett outdueled Brett Favre to beat the Packers, but Longley's comeback vs. Washington came out of nowhere. With Roger Staubach knocked out in the third quarter, the Cowboys were trailing 23-17 with less than 30 seconds to play when Longley, known as the Mad Bomber, hit Drew Pearson for a 50-yard touchdown to defeat their most heated rivals. -- Todd Archer

6. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-3)

Previous ranking: 7

Most memorable Thanksgiving game: Losing 38-10 to the Cowboys on Nov. 23, 2006

The most memorable Thanksgiving Day game for the Buccaneers was a loss? Yep, because it's the only one. That day, the Bucs surrendered five touchdown passes to Tony Romo, who was making his fifth NFL start. Then-Bucs coach Jon Gruden said after the game, "I thought it was Aikman out there." Romo's fifth TD went to Terrell Owens, who tossed the ball into the Salvation Army red kettle. "That's my donation," Owens said. "I hope it's as much as the fine." The one positive that day for Tampa Bay -- Pro Football Hall of Famer Derrick Brooks overtook offensive tackle Paul Gruber for most career starts with 184. -- Jenna Laine

7. Kansas City Chiefs (7-4)

Previous ranking:8

Most memorable Thanksgiving game: Beating the Broncos 19-10 in the first-ever Thanksgiving night game on Nov. 23, 2006

Franchise founder Lamar Hunt pushed for years to get the Chiefs a spot as a host team for a Thanksgiving Day game, but the NFL wouldn't pull a game out of Detroit or Dallas. The league finally rewarded Hunt for his diligence in 2006 when it expanded its Thanksgiving lineup to include a prime-time game. The Chiefs beat a division rival towin the first Thanksgiving night game and the only Thanksgiving game ever played at Arrowhead Stadium. Hunt died three weeks later at the age of 74. -- Adam Teicher

8. Baltimore Ravens (7-3)

Previous ranking: 9

Most memorable Thanksgiving game: Ravens overcome creative interference to beat Steelers 22-20 on Nov. 28, 2013

One of the most memorable -- and debated -- moments in the Ravens-Steelers rivalry occurred when Steelers coach Mike Tomlin interfered with a potential Jacoby Jones kickoff return for a touchdown. Just 38 yards from the end zone, Tomlin stood in a restricted area that separates the sideline from the playing field, with his back turned to the action and his right foot squarely in the field of play. Tomlin hopped to his left at the last second, but Jones had to swerve to his right to avoid hitting him. That slight adjustment to his path allowed Jones to get caught from behind by Steelers cornerback Cortez Allen. "I don't blame him. I still love him," Jones told ESPN last year. "I'd do the same thing to me." -- Jamison Hensley

9. New England Patriots (7-4)

Previous ranking: 10

Most memorable Thanksgiving game: Scoring on the "Butt Fumble" in a 49-19 rout of the Jets on Nov. 22, 2012

The Butt Fumble. Does any more need to be said? A dominant performance at the Meadowlands was highlighted by a single play -- Jets QB Mark Sanchez losing the football after running into the butt of his own offensive lineman who had been thrust back and the Patriots scoring on the recovery -- that remains famous to this day. -- Mike Reiss

10. Indianapolis Colts (6-5)

Previous ranking: 16

Most memorable Thanksgiving game: Peyton Manning goes off in 41-9 rout of Lions on Nov. 25, 2004

Manning threw six touchdown passes in less than three quarters to give him 41 on the season in just 11 games. That was only the start of an impressive afternoon for the future Hall of Famer. It was the fifth straight game that Manning threw for at least four touchdowns, breaking the previous record set by Dan Marino. "He's the best that's ever played this game as far as quarterbacks are concerned," receiver Brandon Stokley said after the game. "When he's retired, they'll compare everybody to Peyton Manning, without a doubt." -- Mike Wells

11. Los Angeles Chargers (6-4)

Previous ranking: 12

Most memorable Thanksgiving game: Chargers beat Cowboys 28-6 on Nov. 23, 2017

The Chargers defeated a beat-up Dallas team in their first Thanksgiving game in 48 years. Philip Rivers threw for 434 yards on 27-of-33 passing, and Keenan Allen caught 11 passes for 172 yards and a touchdown. They bested a Cowboys team without several key players, including running back Ezekiel Elliott, who was sidelined because of a six-game suspension stemming from a domestic violence investigation. Before that, the most recent time the Chargers played on Thanksgiving was in 1969, when they beat the Oilers in the Astrodome 21-17. -- Shelley Smith

12. Buffalo Bills (6-4)

Previous ranking: 6

Most memorable Thanksgiving game: Bills topple Cowboys 26-15 on Nov. 28, 2019

O.J. Simpson had a record-breaking performance on Thanksgiving Day in 1976, rushing for 273 yards on 29 carries and finishing with two scores. But that game ended with a loss to the Lions during a 2-12 season for Buffalo. Instead, some recency bias is leaking in, and it's the last Bills game on Thanksgiving that gets the nod. It was the team's first game on the holiday in 25 years. The win over the Cowboys was a coming-out statement for the Bills and quarterback Josh Allenand helped put them on the national radar, with high expectations remaining ever since.-- Alaina Getzenberg

13. Cincinnati Bengals (6-4)

Previous ranking: 13

Most memorable Thanksgiving game: Lost to the Jets 26-10 on Nov. 25, 2010

It's easy for a game to be memorable when it's the only one of its kind. Cincinnati has played in just one Thanksgiving Day game -- a blowout loss to Mark Sanchez and the New York Jets in 2010. Cincinnati's lowlights included a kickoff return allowed for a touchdown and QB Carson Palmer sacked in the end zone for a safety. The Bengals gained a measly 163 total yards, which was fitting for a rough season that ended with a 4-12 record. But things turned around the next year. The Bengals drafted QB Andy Dalton and WR A.J. Green and made the playoffs for the next five seasons. -- Ben Baby

14. San Francisco 49ers (5-5)

Previous ranking: 21

Most vibrant Thanksgiving memory: 49ers throttle the Cowboys 31-10 on Nov. 23, 1972

The 49ers have played on Thanksgiving only five times, but any win over the Cowboys in such convincing fashion leaves a lasting memory. It was especially memorable for a young quarterback named Steve Spurrier, who had stepped in for an injured John Brodie the week before in a win at Chicago and then followed by helming a victory against rival Dallas. "We went down there and practiced at some high school somewhere, and we actually beat the Cowboys on Thanksgiving Day," Spurrier said. "That was a good road trip for the 49ers." The Niners went on to win the division, but the Cowboys got their revenge with a 30-28 victory in the NFC divisional round. -- Nick Wagoner

15. Cleveland Browns (6-5)

Previous ranking: 14

Most memorable Thanksgiving game: Browns fall to the Lions 13-10 on Nov. 23, 1989

The Browns have never won on Thanksgiving Day -- and haven't played on the holiday since 1989. That Thanksgiving, the Browns gave up 145 rushing yards to a rookie running back named Barry Sanders. Despite that, they had a chance to tie the game late, yet missed a field goal. Still, Cleveland rebounded from the defeat to capture its division title, win a playoff game and reach the AFC Championship Game for the third time in four seasons. -- Jake Trotter

16. Minnesota Vikings (5-5)

Previous ranking: 19

Most memorable Thanksgiving game: Randy Moss dazzles in 46-36 win over Cowboys on Nov. 26, 1998

Moss scored every time he caught the ball in the Vikings' Thanksgiving Day demolition of the Cowboys' defense during the receiver's rookie season. All three of Moss' touchdowns were caught on deep balls of 51, 56 and 56 yards (he totaled three receptions for 163 yards and three TDs), and he helped Minnesota extend its winning streak to four games. The Vikings went on to score a then-NFL-record 556 points and finished the year with a 15-1 record. Their season came to an end against Atlanta in the NFC Championship Game. -- Courtney Cronin

17. Pittsburgh Steelers (5-4-1)

Previous ranking: 15

Most memorable Thanksgiving game: Referee Phil Luckett flubs Jerome Bettis' coin toss call in overtime loss to Lions on Nov. 26, 1998

Thanksgiving Day games haven't been kind to the Steelers. The franchise is 1-7 on Thanksgiving Day, including the 2013 matchup against the Ravens in which Mike Tomlin stepped on the field and interfered with Jacoby Jones' would-be kickoff-return touchdown. That one cost Tomlin a $100,000 fine. But perhaps even most costly was the coin flip fiasco with Bettis and Luckett in the Steelers-Lions overtime period in 1998. As the captain of the away team, Bettis said he called tails. Luckett heard heads. The coin landed on tails. In replays, it sounds like Bettis quickly said head-tails, and Luckett went with the first call he heard. Despite Bettis' protests, the Lions got the ball, kicked a field goal and won the game. -- Brooke Pryor

18. New Orleans Saints (5-5)

Previous ranking: 11

Most memorable Thanksgiving game: Saints defeat Falcons 31-17 on Nov. 22, 2018

The Saints actually have three good options here, because they're 3-0 all time on Thanksgiving -- including Malcolm Jenkins' forced fumble at Dallas in 2010 and Cameron Jordan's four sacks and Shy Tuttle's stiff-arm at Atlanta in 2019. But I'll go with their only home victory on Thanksgiving night, when they got to feast in front of the home crowd against their biggest rivals. This game capped a 10-game win streak for New Orleans at the time, and Drew Brees became the first QB in NFL history to throw touchdown passes to four different undrafted players. -- Mike Triplett

19. Carolina Panthers (5-6)

Previous ranking: 17

Most memorable Thanksgiving game: Panthers stay undefeated with 33-14 win over Cowboys on Nov. 26, 2015

In their first and only Thanksgiving Day game, the Panthers made the most of it by returning two of Tony Romo's three interceptions for touchdowns and improved their record to 11-0. They also knocked Romo out of the game with a collarbone injury that already had forced him to miss seven games. Cam Newton, en route to the NFL MVP, didn't do much in this one outside of 12 rushes for 45 yards and a touchdown. It was the defense led by Luke Kuechly that carried the day. As Newton said, the defense brought its "A-game.'' -- David Newton

20. Las Vegas Raiders (5-5)

Previous ranking: 18

Most memorable Thanksgiving game: Raiders defeat defending AFL champion Chiefs 44-22 on Nov. 23, 1967

The Raiders have played only seven times on Thanksgiving. They have a 3-4 record and are riding a three-game losing streak on Turkey Day. But on Nov. 23, 1967, the Raiders blew out the Chiefs in Kansas City, a sixth straight victory en route to the AFL Championship Game. Willie Brown and Warren Powers each picked off Len Dawson twice, both had a pick-six and Daryle Lamonica hit Fred Biletnikoff, who had six catches for 158 yards, for a touchdown. The Raiders eventually fell to the Packers in Super Bowl II to end that season. -- Paul Gutierrez

21. Philadelphia Eagles (5-6)

Previous ranking: 22

Most memorable Thanksgiving game: Eagles rout Cardinals 48-20 on Nov. 27, 2008

The Eagles entered with a 5-5-1 record and with their offense in a rut, having scored 20 points total in their previous two games. It was so bad that coach Andy Reid decided to bench quarterback Donovan McNabb at halftime during a loss to the Ravens the previous week. McNabb bounced back in a big way on Thanksgiving, tossing four touchdowns, while Brian Westbrook racked up 130 total yards and four scores in a Philadelphia romp. The Eagles won four of five to close the regular season, and advanced all the way to the NFC Championship Game ... where they eventually fell to this same Cardinals team. -- Tim McManus

22. Denver Broncos (5-5)

Previous ranking: 20

Most memorable Thanksgiving game: Broncos beat Cowboys 24-21 in overtime on Nov. 24, 2005

Both teams were in first place at the time, and for many of the Broncos' faithful, it will always be the Ron Dayne game. Dayne didn't know he was going to play such a significant role in the game until Thanksgiving morning when running back Tatum Bell was a late scratch due to a chest injury. Dayne had carried the ball just 13 times that season before he rushed for 98 yards against the Cowboys that day -- 55 of those on the second play of overtime that set up kicker Jason Elam for the 24-yard winning field goal. The Broncos improved to 9-2 with the win and went on to win the AFC West at 13-3. -- Jeff Legwold

23. Washington Football Team (4-6)

Previous ranking: 25

Most memorable Thanksgiving game: RG III puts on a show in 38-31 win over Cowboys on Nov. 22, 2012

Electrifying rookie Robert Griffin III entertained a national audience in a 38-31 win over Dallas -- the first time Washington had defeated the Cowboys on Thanksgiving (they're now 2-8 vs. Dallas on the holiday). Griffin had shown he could run all season, but in this game it was his arm that torched Dallas. Griffin threw four touchdown passes, including three in a 28-point second quarter. With Dallas focused on the zone run reads, Griffin attacked them with play-action: He completed 6 of 9 passes for 211 yards and three touchdowns with this look. That it happened in Griffin's home state and near where he played college ball at Baylor made it all the more fun for the eventual offensive rookie of the year. -- John Keim

24. Atlanta Falcons (4-6)

Previous ranking: 24

Most memorable Thanksgiving game: Falcons beat the Lions 27-7 on Nov. 24, 2005

This is mostly by default -- Atlanta played four times on Thanksgiving, and the others were a double-digit loss to Indianapolis and two losses to the Saints. The Falcons took a 27-0 lead on Detroit, allowing Michael Vick (12-for-22, 146 passing yards, two passing TDs, one INT) to sit for part of the fourth quarter. It would be one of the high points of the season for the Falcons, who were 7-4 after the win before finishing the season at 8-8. Unfortunately for the Falcons, they missed the playoffs -- and Taylor Swift singing the national anthem in Detroit by a year, as she performed before the Dolphins-Lions Thanksgiving game the following season. -- Michael Rothstein

25. Miami Dolphins (4-7)

Previous ranking: 28

Most memorable Thanksgiving game: Dolphins get last-second 16-14 victory over Cowboys in an ice storm on Nov. 25, 1993

In one of the most improbable finishes you could ever ask for, the Dolphins' potential winning field goal was blocked in the game's waning seconds -- but Cowboys defensive lineman Leon Lett touched the ball after it was blocked, allowing the Dolphins to recover. Miami kicker Pete Stoyanovich then nailed a 19-yarder to beat Dallas -- the Dolphins doing so without quarterback Dan Marino, who tore an Achilles and was out for the season. The Dolphins wouldn't win another game that season, but the memory lives on for everyone who witnessed one of Thanksgiving Day's most unforgettable games. -- Marcel Louis-Jacques

26. New York Giants (3-7)

Previous ranking: 27

Most memorable Thanksgiving game: LT leads Giants past Lions on Nov. 25, 1982

There are not many games to choose from here. The Giants have played only four Thanksgiving Day games in the modern era. This is their only win. It was capped by a legendary Lawrence Taylor moment. He had 92-yard interception return for a touchdown despite sitting out the start of the game during this strike-shortened season. It was the only touchdown of the game and gave the Giants their first win that year. -- Jordan Raanan

27. Chicago Bears (3-7)

Previous ranking: 26

Most memorable Thanksgiving game: Bears upset Packers 17-13 at soggy Lambeau Field on Nov. 26, 2015

Any win over division-rival Green Bay is precious. It poured rain all day leading up to the Thanksgiving night game, but it was the Packers who ended up all wet. Heavy underdogs in former head coach John Fox's first season, the Bears somehow pulled out a victory as quarterback Jay Cutler passed for 200 yards and a touchdown. For Cutler, it was his first-ever win at Lambeau Field. What made it even sweeter for the Bears: The Packers chose that night to honor Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre at halftime. Talk about your all-time backfires. -- Jeff Dickerson

28. Seattle Seahawks (3-7)

Previous ranking: 23

Most memorable Thanksgiving game: Seahawks celebrate at midfield after 14-3 win over 49ers on Nov. 27, 2014

It was one thing for the Seahawks to hand their archrivals a 16-point loss while the whole country watched in prime time. What happened next had to make the 49ers' skin crawl: Russell Wilson and Richard Sherman chomping on turkey legs on the 49ers' logo at midfield of their new stadium, where NBC had set up a Thanksgiving spread for its postgame interview. It had to be especially tasty for Sherman given his animus toward Niners QB Colin Kaepernick -- whom he picked off twice that night -- and coach Jim Harbaugh. Dessert came next in the form of a tweet from 49ers owner Jed York, who apologized to fans for a performance that he said "wasn't acceptable." -- Brady Henderson

29. Houston Texans (2-8)

Previous ranking: 31

Most memorable Thanksgiving game: Texans whip Lions 41-25 on Nov. 26, 2020

The Texans were 4-12 last season, but one of the team's highlights came on Thanksgiving Day. In a 41-25 victory over the Detroit Lions, Deshaun Watson played his best game of the year, throwing for 318 yards and four touchdowns in front of a national audience. The Texans' other touchdown in the game came on a pick-six byJ.J. Watt. Houston has played in only two games on Thanksgiving -- both against the Lions -- and is 2-0. -- Sarah Barshop

30. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-8)

Previous ranking: 30

Most memorable Thanksgiving game: Have never played on Thanksgiving

The most likely reason for the Jaguars not having a Thanksgiving game is the NFL wants to prevent viewers from getting indigestion after a big meal. Especially over the past decade, during which the Jaguars have lost 10 or more games nine times (the only exception was 2017). Other than the obligatory Thursday night game, the Jaguars just aren't a draw for a national audience: It has been 13 years since the Jaguars played a Sunday night game (a 26-21 loss to Pittsburgh on Oct. 5, 2008) and 10 years since they played a Monday night game (a 38-14 loss to San Diego on Dec. 5, 2011), both of which are the longest active streaks in the NFL, per ESPN Stats & Information research. -- Mike DiRocco

31. New York Jets (2-8)

Previous ranking: 29

Most vibrant Thanksgiving memory: The Butt Fumble in 49-19 loss to the Patriots on Nov. 22, 2012

It's a no-brainer: The Butt Fumble -- and it goes beyond the slapstick nature of the play. The play came to symbolize a dysfunctional period in the Jets' history. A few weeks after the play, Sanchez was benched, and it effectively ended his run as the Jets' starting quarterback. After the season, also remembered for the failed Tim Tebow experiment, GM Mike Tannenbaum was fired. He was replaced by John Idzik, whose relationship with holdover coach Rex Ryan eventually turned toxic. In some ways, the franchise hasn't recovered from the Butt Fumble, the disastrous 2012 season and its fallout. -- Rich Cimini

32. Detroit Lions (0-9-1)

Previous ranking: 32

Most memorable Thanksgiving game: Lions blow out Bears 55-20 on Nov. 27, 1997

In Motown, the annual Turkey Day classic almost has a local Super Bowl-type feel to it, with the buildup, tradition and excitement among loyal fans -- which initially started in 1934. But even in the present day, it's hard to mention the Lions franchise without it being highlighted by a legendary moment from Hall of Fame running back Barry Sanders. The 1997 Thanksgiving Day game was one of those special moments at the Pontiac Silverdome, where his 167 rushing yards and three touchdowns helped the Lions beat the Chicago Bears 55-20. Sanders helped Detroit come from behind with big touchdown runs of 40, 25 and 15 yards after the Lions trailed 17-3 in the first half. -- Eric Woodyard

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