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NFL's best Thanksgiving slate since 1975

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NFL's best Thanksgiving slate since 1975

From Comcast SportsNet

By Howard Fendrich, Associated Press

After so many years of bad Detroit Lions teamsand their games, no matter the week, meaning so littleall of a sudden that traditional Turkey Day contest in the Motor City is no turkey at all.

Detroit, which is 7-3, hosts the reigning Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers, who are 10-0, to open a tremendously compelling three-game NFL feast Thursday.

The always-polarizing Dallas Cowboys (6-4) host the Miami Dolphins (3-7) next in a matchup between two teams on three-game winning streaks, and the San Francisco 49ers (9-1) are at the Baltimore Ravens (7-3) at night in the Harbaugh Bowl, the first time two brothers will face each other as head coaches in the league.

A case can be made that these are the three most intriguing NFL games of the week. It certainly qualifies as the most enticing Thanksgiving Day lineup in decades.

Thats good. Good for the NFL, good for the fans, good for the people, Minnesota Vikings linebacker Erin Henderson(notes) said. Something entertaining to watch while we all stuff our faces with that good food.

Not convinced this is a special tripleheader?

Consider:

The six teams are 42-18, which translates to a .700 winning percentage. The last time the holidays NFL participants boasted that strong a combined win-loss record was 1975 (also .700).

Its the first Thanksgiving since 1998when there were only two games that each club in action won its previous game.

The Packers are the first unbeaten team to play on the fourth Thursday in November since the 1962 Packers also were 10-0, before losing to Detroit. Including the playoffs, Green Bay has won its last 16 games in a row.

San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh will match wits with his older brother, Baltimore coach John Harbaugh, in a game for family bragging rightsand with significant playoff-seeding implications.

Even the game that was shaping up as a dud, Miami at Dallas, now becomes worth watching, because the Dolphins are the only team in NFL history to go from 0-7 to 3-7 and present a real challenge to the recently resurgent Cowboys and quarterback Tony Romo(notes) (who, by the way, is 18-2 with 49 touchdown passes and 12 interceptions for his career in November).

The lineup includes four teams with at least a share of first place (Green Bay, San Francisco, Baltimore and Dallas), two who can clinch a playoff berth this week (Packers, 49ers), and one with the inside track for a wild-card berth (Detroit).

Give the Lions credit for helping boost the anticipation for this years Thanksgiving games, because they sure deserve a lot of the blame for the holidays NFL blandness of late.

Heck, there even was talk about moving that game out of DetroitI thought it was sacrilegious talkbecause Detroit hadnt been very competitive on those days on national TV. So the thinking was, Hey, lets spread it around to other cities, said NFL Network analyst Steve Mariucci, who coached the Lions from 2003-05.

And I think that talk went away, thankfully, because it needs to be in Detroit forever, he added. And theyre really competitive right now.

Only two other times in the past 50 yearsyes, 50 years!did the Lions arrive at Thanksgiving at 7-3, in 1993 and 1969, according to STATS LLC. You have to go all the way back to 1962 to find them with a better record (8-2) at this point in the season.

Each of the past two years, they were 2-8. That was an improvement from 2008, when the Lions were 0-11, on their way to 0-16.

And while Detroit has lost a franchise-record seven consecutive gamesby an average of more than 20 pointsin its annual showcase, there is reason to believe they can make things interesting this time around.

From what its been in the past to now, its different. For us to be doing as good as were doing right now, its real exciting. Then weve got Green Bay coming inthe big, 10-0 Green Bay, said Detroit defensive lineman Corey Williams(notes), who used to play for the Packers.

Its going to be fun. Its going to be like a mini-Super Bowl, I think, atmosphere-wise, Williams said.

Plus, this particular trio of games gives fans a chance to see some of the sports most dynamic players: Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers(notes), putting together one of the greatest seasons ever by a QB; Detroit receiver Calvin Johnson(notes) and defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh(notes); San Franciscos cant-be-run-on defense, led by Patrick Willis(notes) and Aldon Smith(notes).

For other NFL teams, theres work to be done Thursday, practicing and preparing for their next games. Then theyll go home and turn on the television.

I might get a little peek at John and Jim going at it. I think thatll be entertaining, St. Louis Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo said. Well certainly get the players out of here early, and the coaches as soon as we can after that, and Ill follow.

Blackhawks deal Michael Kempny to Capitals for conditional third-round pick

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USA TODAY

Blackhawks deal Michael Kempny to Capitals for conditional third-round pick

The Blackhawks dealt defenseman Michael Kempny to the Washington Capitals for a third-round pick. Kempny had seven points in 31 games this season.

Kempny, 27, recorded 15 points in 81 career games for the Blackhawks. He tallied an assist in Saturday's 7-1 victory over the Capitals.

Kempny signed a one-year extension through the end of this season back in May.

Anthony Rizzo declines role as an activist, says trip to Florida 'was the hardest thing I've ever had to do'

Anthony Rizzo declines role as an activist, says trip to Florida 'was the hardest thing I've ever had to do'

MESA, Ariz. — Anthony Rizzo’s gone above and beyond for his community in the wake of one of the worst mass shootings in United States history, when 17 people lost their lives last week at Marjory Douglas Stoneman High School in Parkland, Florida, Rizzo’s alma mater.

His actions and words have carried plenty of weight in the last week, but Rizzo’s comments upon returning to Arizona were more focused on the general need for change rather than specific actions related to the issue of gun violence in America.

The Cubs’ first baseman, who returned to spring training on Monday after spending several days being with his community in Florida, repeatedly voiced the opinion — though it’s ridiculous to think there’s a counter argument that could actually qualify as someone’s opinion — that these mass shootings need to stop happening with such an incomprehensible amount of frequency.

But he stopped short of taking a full step into the national debate on the issue, clarifying that his comments made on Twitter the day of the shooting were not referencing gun control or that specific debate at all.

“Obviously, there needs to be change,” Rizzo said. “I don’t know what that is, I don’t get paid to make those decisions. I can sit back and give opinions, but you just hope somewhere up the line of command, people are thinking are thinking the same things that a lot of innocent kids are thinking: ‘Why? Why am I scared to go to school? Why am I scared to say goodbye to my son or daughter?’ God forbid someone was in an argument with someone they loved that day, how bad — it’s a bad time right now in the country with what’s going on with all these shootings.

“My opinion is my opinion. I don’t think it’s fair to my teammates and everyone else if I come out and start going one way or the other. I think, my focus is on baseball. My focus is definitely on Parkland and the community there and supporting them and whatever direction that they go. But for me it’s hard enough to hit a baseball, and it’s definitely going to be hard enough to try to be a baseball player and a politician at the same time.”

Rizzo has no more of an obligation to be a spokesman on this issue than any other American does, and his presence at his old school last week, his words at a vigil for the victims of this tragedy were powerful. Rizzo has established himself as a remarkable member of his community in Chicago, and he won the Roberto Clemente Award last season for his charitable efforts off the field. His willingness to leave Arizona and be with members of his community was reflective of the type of person Cubs fans and Chicagoans have gotten to know.

“It was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. Just going back, you don’t what to say. There’s nothing you can say,” Rizzo said. “When people get shot, you’re grateful that they’re alive. When they pass away, you’re grateful that you knew them, to look at the bright side of things if you can. But just to see how real it is, it’s sad.

“The more I just sat and thought about it, I felt helpless here. That’s where I grew up, in Parkland. I got in trouble there, I succeeded there, I learned how to be who I am because of Parkland, because of Stoneman Douglas. So to be across the country and not be there and then to find out some very close people have lost loved ones, to be there to help them and support them was very important to me.”

Rizzo repeatedly said how proud he is of the students of Stoneman Douglas, who have been outspoken on social media, directing their comments toward the president and other members of the government and sharing their opinions that gun control is necessary for the violence to stop.

But Rizzo refrained from wading into that debate and even chastised those who mischaracterized his Twitter comments as a call for gun regulation.

“To be very clear I did not say the word ‘gun’ one time,” he said. “Anyone out there who wrote gun control, saying I called for gun control, I think is very irresponsible and I did not say that once.

“I don’t know what needs to be done, I don’t know. I don’t know enough about it. I know there are a lot of shootings. I know they are done with a specific make, but I don’t know what needs to be done. But something, some type of change needs to happen for the better because I’m sure people in here have kids. No one right now feels very comfortable on a daily basis sending their kid to school and not knowing if they’re going to see them again.”

That kind of message might not be as declarative as some would have hoped. But it remained a powerful one, showing that even if he wasn’t ready or willing to declare himself an activist, Rizzo shares the feelings of many Americans who are simultaneously numb to the news of these shootings and completely and entirely fed up with their frequency and the lack of action taken to stop them.

“As a human being, probably everyone in here when they first the initial (reports of a) shooter, I took my next golf swing, because that’s how numb this country is to it,” Rizzo said. “Until something crazy happens, when you hear ‘open shooter’ nowadays, it’s like, ‘OK,’ take your next breath and keep going. Then I found out it was at Douglas, you get a little more concerned, ‘OK, what’s going on.’ At first it’s a few people injured, then you found out it was what it was, and it’s just — it’s gut-wrenching. You just go numb.

“I stand behind my community, and I’m really proud of how everyone’s coming together. Obviously I said there needs to be change, I don’t know what the change needs to be. I’m just really proud of those kids and how they’re coming together and becoming one in Parkland. It’s really inspiring to see, and it makes me proud.”