The Carolina Panthers are 10-0 yet they enter their next game as slight underdogs against a team with seven losses.
That team is the Dallas Cowboys, who are led by quarterback Tony Romo, who has not lost a regular season game since Dec. 4, 2014. Romo is riding a personal wining streak of seven games, although his team just won their first after losing seven straight. However, it is the "Romo Streak" that EVERYONE seems to be focusing on. After just his first game back from a broken clavicle, the sports world seems to think that the Cowboys will rattle off six more wins, overtake the rest of the NFC East, and storm through the rest of the NFC all the way to Super Bowl 50.
The Panthers, by now, are probably and most certainly deeply offended by the insinuation that a 3-7 team should even be compared to them, let alone thought to be able to beat them. The Panthers’ defense has played tremendously all year long, but it is their offense that has come on recently.
The Panthers will enter Thursday's game coming off a 44-point showing in last week’s win over Washington. Cam Newton seems to be settling in to a groove and will look to continue it against a Cowboy team that gives up 22 points a game. The Panthers didn't need any extra motivation for this game, but being seen as underdogs certainly has helped.
Carolina at Dallas
Kickoff: 4:30 p.m. ET (Thursday)
Spread: Dallas -2
1. Tony Romo vs. Cam Newton
All eyes will be on the quarterbacks of both teams. The Cowboys have found their pulse, winning last week against Miami, following the return of Romo. There was rust, but Romo lifted the entire Cowboy offense up, and inspired the defense with enough confidence to push through to victory. The problem with the perception of the performance is that it probably looked better than it actually was. Miami is not Carolina, and Ryan Tannehill is NOT Cam Newton. Newton has six rushing TDs alone. Newton also has thrown 20 TD passes, including five last week against the Redskins. Newton is playing at an MVP level and he has the Panthers believing that they can beat anyone. The Cowboys are rediscovering their mojo, but it will be interesting to see on a short week, how they respond against a stout defense that only gives up 19 points per game. Romo is good, but is he THAT good?
2. Defense by Offense
The Cowboys’ offense looked great in the second half against Miami and the defense played well enough to win. The Panthers’ offense looked outstanding against Washington and gave their defense the opportunity to play loose and reckless. This game may come down to which offense can play better. If the Cowboys can put together some sustainable drives, it may help their defense minimize the opportunities the Panthers get on offense. If the Panthers continue to click on offense like they have recently, it makes their defense that much tougher to overcome, as they no doubt will look to put as much pressure as possible on Romo.
3. Darren McFadden aka the Cowboys’ Entire Running Game
The x-factor for this game may be McFadden and the success he is able to have running the football against Carolina’s defense. Since taking over as the No. 1 ball carrier, the Cowboys are averaging around 100 yards per game on the ground. He is getting about 24 carries per game, and to this point hasn’t been hampered by injuries like has in the past. McFadden is running strong and has been able to do so consistently over an extended period of time. The questions regarding his durability won’t go away, but as long as he’s productive, the Cowboys’ offense should find success now that Romo is back under the center. Whether that is the case this afternoon will go a long way in deciding how this game turns out.
The Cowboys are a desperate team, and they need victories. The Panthers are a team looking for respect and, as bizarre as it may sound, beating the Cowboys may be the game that gives it to them. There is a lot at stake on Thanksgiving for both teams, and this one will come down to late-game execution.
The Panthers have been great all season in the fourth quarter. The Cowboys have given up leads in six of their last eight games, a big reason the defending NFC East champs are just 3-7 record. Tony Romo is also great in the final 15 minutes, as he showed once again against the New York Giants back in Week 1. The team that has the ball in the final seconds of this game will leave AT&T Stadium the winner.
Prediction: Cowboys 31, Panthers 30
— Written by Lloyd H. Spence, Jr., who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Spence also has written for the Dallas Morning News, Yahoo!'s Rivals.com, and ESPN Louisville. Follow him on Twitter @TalkinNOIZ.