The NFL’s Thanksgiving History and Tradition

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It began in 1934, after the owner of WJR Radio in Detroit bought the Portsmouth Spartans for $8,000 and moved them to Detroit.

The newly named Detroit Lions, because owner G.A. Richards said they would be “kings of the NFL”, were trying to fit in with the Michigan Wolverines (national champions in 1933) and the Detroit Tigers (World Series champions in 1934). Because he was competing directly with the University of Michigan and being compared to the Tigers, he decided the Lions needed their own special thing to drum up support. That thing became Thanksgiving football.

From 1934 until today, only pausing during World War II, the Lions have always hosted a Thanksgiving Day game. 

In Detroit, the Lions game is as much a tradition as America’s Thanksgiving Parade, which began in downtown Detroit in 1924. Across the country, it is as much a tradition as canned cranberry jelly, being relegated to the kids table even though you are in high school, and fighting over the wishbone.

And betting on football on Thanksgiving also has its roots in tradition. Gambling in America traces its origins back to colonial times and a lottery first held to raise funds for Jamestown. And it was there, in that Virginia settlement, that the first Thanksgiving is believed to have been held. The Pilgrims in Massachusetts had their first Thanksgiving two years later.

Green Bay Packers at Detroit Lions (-7.5)

So we have turkey, family, football, and football betting on this most American of holidays. And this year, our annual stop in Detroit features a Lions team that is one of the best in the NFL.

The Lions have been underdogs in 11 of their previous 15 games on Thanksgiving, but they are more than a touchdown favorite this week at

Since 2000, the Lions are 11-12 against the spread on Thanksgiving, and just 6-17 straight up. But these are not our previous Thanksgiving Day Lions. They failed to cover on Sunday against the Bears, but regular NFL bettors in 2023 know that they are tied for an NFL-best 7-3 record against the spread this season. 

Michigan retail sportsbooks have seen a huge increase in handle this football season, but a drop in revenue because of an increased win rate for bettors.

Washington Commanders at Dallas Cowboys (-10.5)

The Dallas Cowboys played their first home game on Thanksgiving Day in 1966. The NFL gave the game to the St. Louis Cardinals in 1975 and 1977, but other than those two years, the Cowboys have hosted a game on the holiday since they beat the Cleveland Browns in 1966, 26-14.

The Cowboys are 32-22-1 all-time on Thanksgiving, and this year’s opponent, the Washington Commanders, are just 4-8 on the holiday. The last time Washington was in Dallas on Thanksgiving was 2020, when they won, 41-16. has the Cowboys as 10.5-point favorites, and when the Cowboys are favored by at least double-digits on Thanksgiving, they are 7-4 against the spread.

This is the fourth time this season Dallas is favored by at least 10 points, and they are 2-1 ATS in the previous three.

San Francisco 49ers (-7) at Seattle Seahawks

The first prime time Thanksgiving Day game was played in 2006, and we’ve had one since. The San Francisco 49ers, making their sixth Thanksgiving appearance, are at the Seattle Seahawks, who are playing in their fifth all-time Thanksgiving Day game. The last time both teams played on Thanksgiving was against each other in 2014, with Seattle winning, 19-3.

The 49ers are a game ahead of the Seahawks in the NFC West, and has them as touchdown favorites on the road.

Since 1984, all Thanksgiving favorites are 57-36 against the spread, and 68-25 straight up.

Black Friday – Miami Dolphins (-7.5) at New York Jets

After you wake up at 4 a.m. on the Friday after Thanksgiving to buy a $25 television, be sure to save time to log on to your favorite football online sportsbook. For the first time, the NFL is featuring a Black Friday game, with the New York Jets hosting the Miami Dolphins at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. has the Dolphins at -7.5, and when Miami has been that big of a favorite this season, they are 3-1 against the spread.

New Jersey online sportsbooks have been the most profitable in the United States since they became legal in 2018.

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