While it is the Detroit Lions who are a fixture on Thanksgiving Day, the Houston Texans are primed to steal the spotlight in their debut on the holiday tradition.
The Texans look to win their fifth straight on the road for the first time in franchise history and keep the Lions winless on Thanksgiving for a ninth year in a row.
The Lions have played 23 different teams in their annual holiday game, but will face the Texans for the first time on Thanksgiving and for just the third time overall. Detroit and Houston have split their previous two meetings, with the home team winning each time.
Houston was a 28-21 winner in the most recent encounter on Oct. 19, 2008.
The Lions are 33-37-2 all-time on Thanksgiving, dating back to when the tradition of playing on the holiday began in 1934 against the Chicago Bears. However, Detroit has lost eight in a row on this day since a win over the Green Bay Packers in 2003.
Detroit was bested by Green Bay last year 27-15 in the Thursday meeting despite outgaining the Packers 409-349 as quarterback Matt Stafford was picked off three times.
Houston represents that latest challenge for 4-6 Detroit as the Texans have the best record in the AFC at 9-1 and won their fourth game in a row this past weekend.
It certainly wasn't easy as the Texans need to climb out of a 14-point hole against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Quarterback Matt Schaub completed a pair of touchdown passes to tight end Garrett Graham over the final 5:39 of the fourth quarter.
The two clubs then traded field goals in overtime before Schaub flung a screen pass to wide receiver Andre Johnson, who took the ball 48 yards for the winning score to cap a historic day for the franchise in the 43-37 decision.
Houston's 640 yards of total offense was a franchise record as were the 14 catches and 273 yards logged by Johnson. Schaub threw five touchdown passes with two interceptions and logged 527 passing yards, tied with Hall of Famer Warren Moon for the second-most in a single game in NFL history.
"I get kind of tired of defending him to the national media," said Houston running back Arian Foster of Schaub after the game. "I feel like he is one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. He throws one of the best balls in the game and he's week in and week out consistent. We like to run the ball here in Houston, a lot, but every time we ask him to pass, he does what he did today."
The Texans have won all four of their home games this season and lead the Indianapolis Colts by three games for first place in the AFC South.
Detroit's playoff chances took another big hit this past weekend thanks to a 24-20 loss to Green Bay that dropped the Lions two games under .500.
Stafford continued his struggles following an excellent 2011 campaign as he was picked off twice and lost a fumble. Detroit dropped its second game in a row and is 0-4 against the division.
Calvin Johnson continued his excellent campaign, hauling in five passes for 143 yards with a touchdown, and isn't ready to give up on the season.
"The season is not over, man. We've got six games left," noted the wideout.
While playing on Thanksgiving is certainly an event, it does leave both teams with a short week, just another obstacle to overcome.
"Put a loss behind you and move on," Stafford said of what the team will do to prepare. "(We've) got a good Houston team coming in and obviously a team we're unfamiliar with so we have to get ready."
Though the quick turnaround will be a grind, the clubs will enjoy an extra few days off following the battle.
"That's what makes it really tough," said Houston head coach Gary Kubiak. "We played five quarters of football and had 92 plays of offense. That makes it very difficult on the guys. There is a carrot at the end of the week. As hard as it is, you get a chance to give guys a break after the game and stuff. You've got a big period between then and your next game. I think that kind of gets them excited, but I've got to be smart with them and get them to Thursday right now."
Houston actually has a chance to clinch a playoff spot this week with a lot of help, starting with a win. The Texans punch their second straight ticket to the postseason with losses by Tennessee, Miami, the New York Jets, Cincinnati as well as San Diego or Pittsburgh.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
While NFL fans prepare to feast on turkey and other provisions, two of the game's best wide receivers will look to carve up their opposing secondaries.
Calvin Johnson enters the game leading the NFL with 1,117 receiving yards on 65 receptions and has scored touchdowns in back-to-back games after logging only one through the first eight games. He has gone over 1,000 yards receiving in three straight seasons and four times in his career.
"Calvin Johnson is Calvin Johnson. I don't think I have to say much about him," said Houston defensive back Kareem Jackson. "Everybody knows about him. ... We'll have to do little things to kind of mix it up and kind of keep the quarterback off balance and whenever we get a chance to double him and just try to keep the ball from going to him."
He has taken a beating physically this season, but remains Stafford's top target. Pressure will be added for this game after head coach Jim Schwartz announced on Monday that wide receiver Titus Young will be inactive for this game as a disciplinary measure.
Young was sent home on Monday according to Schwartz, one day after being benched for the final possession of the loss to Green Bay. The head coach would not comment on if Young had anything to do with a sideline argument during the game between offensive coordinator Scott Linehan and receivers coach Shawn Jefferson that was caught on television cameras.
"When you play a game like football, it's a team sport and players have obligations to the team and Titus hasn't done a very good job of fulfilling those obligations this week and recently. He'll be inactive this week and we'll plug the other guys in and go on," declared Schwartz.
The Texans have had no such issues with Andre Johnson, who is rebounding nicely after a hamstring injury held him out of nine games a season ago. The 31-year-old has logged 870 yards and three touchdowns on 60 receptions and worked his way into Houston's record books again last weekend.
Andre Johnson had a game-high 11 catches for 141 yards in the last meeting between these clubs, while Calvin Johnson made things interesting with a 96- yard touchdown catch in the second half. The two will each look to shine again on Thursday.
"It's a great opportunity, something you probably dream about as a kid, playing in a game on Thanksgiving. It will be a great opportunity for us and we're going to try to make the best of it," said Andre Johnson.
That is something Stafford is going to have to do. Despite the Lions owning the top-ranked pass attack in football and averaging 401.7 yards per game (2nd in the NFL), the Lions come in at just 15th in scoring at 23.6 points per game.
Stafford has thrown for 2,988 yards and 12 touchdowns in 10 games while getting picked off 10 times. He threw for 5,038 yards with 41 TDs and 16 picks a season ago.
"Obviously I have to play better to give us a chance to win," declared Stafford, who goes against the league's fourth-ranked defense in Houston, including seventh versus the pass.
While looking to avoid Houston defensive end J.J. Watt, Stafford may pick on Johnathan Joseph, who is dealing with a hamstring injury.
Playing on Thanksgiving is nothing new for the Lions, but they have little to be thankful for with the Texans coming to town.
As good as Houston's pass attack was last weekend, the presence of Foster in the backfield will keep Detroit's defense honest. For the Lions to have a chance, the front four, led by end Cliff Avril and tackle Ndamukong Suh, must shake off fatigue and lead the way.
"Body-wise you would prefer a couple more days, you know, physically or whatever. But that's part of the game, you've got to play," noted Avril.
It will take a monster day from that unit for the Lions to have a chance, while for the Texans it may just come down to how they handle the circus of playing on the holiday.
"I mean, you can't get caught up what happened in the previous game. You just have to keep plugging and keep moving forward," said Andre Johnson. "Every opportunity you get, you just try to make the best of it. That's what I try to do."
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Texans 27, Lions 20