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Sports Fans Spend Thanksgiving The Traditional Way: Watching Football

LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

It's Thanksgiving, and for many Americans, the traditional holiday meal will be served with a hefty side order of football. The NFL has three games on the menu today, including the undefeated Carolina Panthers against the Dallas Cowboys, who finally have a ray of hope now that starting quarterback Tony Romo is back after an injury. ESPN's Jane McManus joins us to talk football. Jane, welcome.

JANE MCMANUS: Thanks for having me.

WERTHEIMER: So there are two undefeated teams left in the NFL, the reigning Super Bowl champs, the Patriots - no surprise there. But what is going on with Carolina?

MCMANUS: I think you've seen a season where Cam Newton, the quarterback for the Panthers, has really emerged as someone who could take over and be one of the next era of great quarterbacks in the league. He had five touchdown passes last week against Washington. And he could be poised to do something similar against Dallas, which is having a bit of a down year, lost seven straight without Romo. And even with Romo back, I think you have to give the Panthers a heavy edge in this game.

WERTHEIMER: Do you think that the Dallas Cowboys can possibly salvage the season? They have Romo back, but, you know, you've got to always be afraid that the very next guy that tackles him is going to ruin him again.

MCMANUS: You know, I think it would be very difficult for Dallas to salvage this season. They have had a lot of struggles on the field. And then off the field, they've been really dealing with controversy for having Greg Hardy and hiring him to be their defensive end. And he has been trouble from the moment he got there. Latest reports - he missed a meeting; he knocked a clipboard out of an assistant coach's hand. So this has been a bad season on the field and off the field for the Cowboys.

WERTHEIMER: The big NFL game of the weekend was supposed to be New England versus Denver - or to put it properly, Peyton Manning versus Tom Brady, two of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history. But Peyton Manning is now out with an injury. Any chance that Denver could possibly defeat New England without him?

MCMANUS: The game is in Denver, which always adds a bit of an edge for the team, just given where it's located and the atmosphere there. But this really is the Patriots game to win. And of course, as you mentioned, notable by who's not playing. Peyton could sit this week and then an additional week with the plantar fascia injury. And it - you know, these two quarterbacks - Peyton's 39, Tom Brady's 38 and they really do look, you know, very different at this point as a result of that. Tom Brady's having one of his very-best seasons. And Peyton Manning - I think you have to ask whether or not he's going to be playing much longer.

WERTHEIMER: So if the NFL games don't do it for you, this is a big weekend for college football. What do you think is worth watching?

MCMANUS: What I think would be great to watch this weekend - and it's an amazing weekend just for the sheer number of top-25 ranked teams that are going to be matched up against one another - but I think you've got to watch some of those bubble teams, like No. 8 Ohio State at No. 10 Michigan. And that could be a great game. Both of these teams would like to somehow slip into that College Football Playoff. The top four teams will be in a playoff for the second year again. And that's going to be a great game. And then you have - you know, Notre Dame's playing. Iowa is at Nebraska. That could be an interesting game. And No. 7 Baylor is at No. 19 TCU. There are teams - Baylor, Iowa - they have a lot to play for. And I think you're going to see some really good rivalries.

WERTHEIMER: Jane McManus of ESPN, thank you very much.

MCMANUS: Any time. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.