Scheduling bias- Lions and Cowboys on Thanksgiving

This is for everyone that thinks bias against the Lions is all in our heads.

Everyone knows the Lions started pro football on Thanksgiving. The Cowboys joined the Lions in 1966, but did not play in 1975 nor 1977. So both franchises (together) have continuously hosted a turkey day game since 1978, this will be the 44th straight year.

Shortly after I joined the board (2003?), I saw an article about the Lions getting the short end of the stick on Thanksgiving, because the league sent them on a road game the week before Thanksgiving…making Monday a short prep day (if at all). You say, OK, well the road team has to travel too, so that’s leveling the playing field (although its actually reducing home field advantage). But the league did not routinely do that to the Cowboys, the article said, so the league was giving Dallas an extra day to prepare. The article and some similar ones, made the rounds back then… and after the article, the league finally started giving the Lions home games the week before Thanksgiving, but still gave Dallas those as well.

I decided to look at this in more depth. From 1978 through 2021, for the week before Thanksgiving, the Lions have played 10 home games and 34 away games. During that same time, the Cowboys have played 23 home games and 21 away games.

But it gets much more interesting than that. From 1978 through 2006 (about the time the above article came out), the Lions played ONE home game (1997) and TWENTY-EIGHT road games the week before Thanksgiving. During the same time, the Cowboys played 16 home games and 13 road games the week before Thanksgiving. If the schedule was totally random, there would be an 8/15 (.533) chance of a road game in any given week. If the process were totally random (and fair), the probability of 28 of 29 games being on the road is about 2 in 100 million (I’ll spare you the calculations).

Interestingly, when the league was caught red-handed, the Lions started getting a few “make-up” calls. In 2007-09 we had home games the week before, same for 2011-2013. However, the last three years we’ve been on the road, but overall, since the article came out, we’ve had six away games and nine home games the week before Thanksgiving.

I also noticed another more recent trend however. Another way to give a team an advantage for the turkey day game is to give them an even longer rest - give them say a Thursday night game the week before Thanksgiving. Since 2006, the Cowboys have had seven Thursday games the week before Thanksgiving, including five out of the last six years. Over that same period, the Lions have had one Thursday game the week before, allowing them an extra few days. Maybe the league thinks no one will notice.

In a court of law, any semi-competent lawyer gets a conviction against the NFL for…cheating. So, to those that say, the bias is really in your head, there’s no willfull intent by the league to bias things… what say you?


It’s more interesting when you look at the opponents we’ve been scheduled against. For years we’ve drawn often the best or one of the best teams in the nfl to play against on thanksgiving. Meanwhile the Cowboys are scheduled a mediocre or poor team. We’ll have to play the colts with Manning, the Saints with brees, the Patriots with Brady……meanwhile the Cowboys are playing the Raiders or Washington.


For as much as the league doesn’t care at all about equity… its not always about screwing one market more than another. Its about maximizing profit. The reason the lions always have a tough game usually with less rest is because we aren’t a good draw. The league wants to see peyton manning or Tom Brady at his best, not on a short week. So, since nobody wants to watch the lions, we get a highly marketed team to go against. The Cowboys are a highly marketed team already… so they can play whoever makes the most sense for the schedule, and they will still hit their mark as far as ratings.


Fair enough, I get the profit motive. That may explain opponents, thoughI haven’t looked into that, and frankly, don’t think its true. But I’m not sure what a short rest time for the Lions has to do with maximizing profit. I can’t see someone saying “I’ll tune in because the Lions are less rested”

Hopefully the new owner realizes this and won’t let the league get away with any more delay of game penalties

I wonder if the previous owners ever even noticed the trend when they collected their revenue sharing check from the most popular teams in the league who drove the league’s popularity and growth ?

In a nationally televised game trying to draw ratings , the cowboys can be the draw.
When thinking of the Lions , where most casual fans don’t hate , love or care about the Lions , it could be the schedule makers are trying their best to not end up with a game like this year
With two teams few want to watch

You’ll see on the National games of the week or the prime time match ups
The league often promotes the teams
With big followings or that are seen as good / popular

well it’s no secret the NFL doesn’t want detroit to have thanksgiving anymore. IIRC they threatened to take the game away and Ford said he’d pull his advertising.

But honestly, I’m all about tradition but good lord we’ve looked completely inept the last 10 years on thanksgiving, if not longer.

I understand that but in the same sense you also want the games to be competitive. Watching drew brees or Manning blow out the lions by 40 also isn’t going to draw ratings.


But the nfl if stuck with featuring the lions
And the lions can’t get it together to be counted on to feature a competitive team
What can the schedule makers do ?

This season they’re relying on historical rivalry on two teams that looked like they would be questionable coming into the season

And this year’s ratings could actually lead to the other owners pushing to change the tradition that the lions should be guaranteed this game.

Advertisers want a big audience and compelling game as do the networks which leads to the money coming into the league
And even helping to get the lions their cut even if they’re 0-9-1

Every way I look at it points an arrow points to the lions who can go to bat to fight their poor treatment ( see the trends posted above ) or take the money

The league is made up of the owners of which the lions are part of the ownership so they’re either signing off or fighting to change it.

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I noticed a few years ago that Dallas kept getting the Thursday night game AFTER hosting the Thanksgiving game. There are several big things that annoy me about this pattern.

#1 - Dallas gets 7 days of rest from Turkey day until the next game… while their opponent has 4 days rest.

#2 - Dallas then gets their “mini bye week” after the 2nd Thursday game… which means they get the normal bye week early in season (week 5-8 typically)… and then a 2nd bye week late in the year. This is a big advantage for the final month of season.

#3 - The result of the 2 issues above is that Dallas gets 3 straight scheduling advantages over their opponents.

#4 - The advantage of having more primetime games than other teams… particluarly late in the season… is a huge advantage to recruit free agents. We all know that money and ratings drive this strategy… but it doesn’t make it any less infuriating.

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I don’t recall playing on Thursday the week before Thanksgiving and I don’t think the Cowboys have either. When you were reading the schedule I think you flipped the weeks. Meaning the Cowboys play on T-Day and then the following Thursday. Not the Thursday before T-Day and then again on T-Day.

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Good for both you @wesleysh21 and @Phunnypharm, it IS the game AFTER Thanksgiving that gives the Cowboys an advantage…they play on 7 days rest when most teams get four days, then they get 10 days rest when most teams get 7days. This has happened in 2014, 16, 17, 18, 19 and 21 for the Cowboys (while even in 2020, they got an unusual Tuesday game). Seven years of an advantage. It happened to the Lions only once - in 2015. Thanks for correcting my mistake, I did alot of this research awhile ago, and my notes, just had “Th” next to the year…I had forgotten it was the subsequent Thursday rather than the preceding Thursday. Still, the concept is the same - a more accommodating schedule for the Cowboys versus the Lions… i.e. cheating.

I’m not trying to be “that guy” but I have to say something else. The Thursday game after Thanksgiving is typically played between 2 teams that played on Thanksgiving. For instance the Cowboys play the Saints next Thursday. The Saints are playing the Bills on Thanksgiving. In 2015 the Packers played the 3rd T-Day game and we played them the following Thursday. In 2014 we played the Bears, then the Bears and Cowboys played the following Thursday. In 2016 we played the Vikings, and then the Vikings played the Cowboys the following Thursday. In 2017 the Redskins faced the Giants on T-Day, then played the Cowboys the following Thursday. In 2018 the Saints played the Falcons on T-Day, then played the Cowboys the following Thursday. In 2019 we played the Bears, then the Bears played the Cowboys the following Thursday.

I’m a card carrying Cowboys hater and I do see the pattern of giving them the easier matchup on T-Day. That’s why I laugh when the team that isn’t supposed to be good ends up good and smashing them (like the 2015 Panthers). Even as a card carrying hater, I have to say that the Cowboys end up on the short end of the stick sometimes because they are such a big draw and the networks fight over them. For instance there was one year the Cowboys had to play the Sunday Night game in New York before the T-Day game. They said the plane carrying the players didn’t even arrive back in Dallas until 5am Monday morning, and they had to play that Thursday. They got throttled by the Eagles. So thinking the Eagles were good and will play well on T-Day, the league immediately scheduled the Eagles to come to Detroit the following year…to beat us. Fucking figures. What they didn’t expect was that we kicked their ass though.


Thanks, Wes. You are not being ‘that guy’, you are adding an important observation. I actually wanted to look this up, but you beat me to it. So, let’s give the league credit where credit is due…the initial 7 day rest (Thanksgiving to the following Thursday) isn’t countered by the opponent having only a four day rest…they are also getting a 7 day rest. It basically pushes Dallas’ ‘mini-bye’ (as Phunny called it) to a week later in the season, which I guess could also be thought of as a very slight advantage. But you’re right - things are not as sinister as they first appeared to be.

The real injustice was the 28 of 29 away games they pinned on the Lions the week before T-day from 1978-2006. While Dallas got only 13 of 29 away games. It stopped only when a sports-writer drew attention to it. I sometimes wonder whether that was due to a single person in the league office. They were caught red-handed and maybe (?) now there are protocols to make sure something like that doesn’t happen again.

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The Packers get scheduling advantages thrown there way on a regular basis. There are even some scheduling hardships that most teams have to deal with because that’s life. But when it finally happens to the Packers, its historic because its something they haven’t had to do in 30 years or something odd like that.

I remember when we complained that we kept having to go to Green Bay the final game of the season. It was disproportionate. So the league FINALLY made the Packers come to us. So what did they do to still give the Packers an advantage? They had the Packers play AT HOME on Saturday the week before, and had us play ON THE ROAD in Dallas on Monday Night the week before. WTF?

Well, it looks like this man has done a more thorough analysis of scheduling bias than the examples cited above. Although he limited the time frame to the past decade.
It sort of shoots the bias against the Lions theory out of the water. In fact, we are in the top 5 of most favorable schedules. And the team with the most favorable scheduling? Wait for it…the Jacksonville Jaquars!? Of course, the Cowboys are top 5 as well.
So my explanation of this is that the NFL is still trying to make up for 1978-2006. And I’m sticking with it!

It looks to me that he placed a big emphasis on teams that get shorter rest… i.e. playing Monday and then Sunday… as a way to say teams were impacted negatively.

This would be why small market teams without tons of winning like Jags, Lions, Panthers, and Browns rank high on the benefit side… while big market and winning teams play more MNF games.

Here is a better explanation on why the Lions continue to monopolize Thanksgiving viewing. It appears that the TV executives believe that most Americans pigging out in front of their TV’s don’t really care what teams they are watching. So they might as well show the hapless Lions instead of wasting another precious time slot to show more attractive games.

Good read, so basically they are saying to not sweat it - the T-day time slot is so ironclad that any POS team will make it work. great!