The Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys have a lot to play for on Thanksgiving. First off, these are two historic franchises that have grown into one of the biggest rivalries in the NFL. As if that wasn’t enough, they’ll also be fighting for first place in the NFC East.
Prior to Week 11, the Redskins were in control of the division after starting the season 6-3. That was until a 23-21 home loss to the Houston Texans created a small window of opportunity for Dallas.
The Cowboys capitalized in the final moments of their matchup against the Atlanta Falcons. With the game tied at 19 and only three seconds left, kicker Brett Maher nailed a 42-yard field goal attempt to send Dallas home with a .500 record. It also puts them in position to take over first place of the division, should they get the win on Thanksgiving.
Washington at Dallas
Kickoff: Thursday, Nov. 22 at 4:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Dallas -7.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Colt McCoy’s first start of the season
The season-ending leg injury to Alex Smith was unfortunate. You never want to see someone suffer that sort of brutal injury – or any injury, for that matter. With that said, we also can’t forget how poorly the 34-year-old had played up to that point.
In 10 games, the former No. 1 overall pick was only averaging 218 yards and a touchdown through the air. His 6.6 yards per attempt was reminiscent of his early days with the 49ers when he struggled to get anything going consistently.
In other words, Smith had reverted back to being a game manager with little-to-no upside. The question is going to be whether the Redskins are going to be better off with 32-year-old McCoy running the offense.
The good news is there were some glimpses against Houston. McCoy’s first pass of the regular season was a nine-yard touchdown strike to tight end Jordan Reed. So, what’s the bad news? Well, he only completed five of his other 11 attempts (45.5 percent) for 45 yards (4.1 yards per attempt) while also taking two sacks.
It wouldn’t be a surprise to see the team try to get McCoy on the move more (five rushes for 35 yards last week).
2. Can the Redskins slow down Ezekiel Elliott?
Elliott and the rest of the Dallas running game went toe-to-toe with the Redskins’ defensive front back in Week 7. Sadly, things didn’t go too well for the former No. 4 overall pick.
Washington’s defense held Elliott to his worst statistical performance of the season. The third-year running back only managed 42 yards (33 rushing, 9 receiving) on 17 touches – good for just 2.5 yards per touch.
It’s been a completely different story over the last two weeks, though.
Elliott has put up up 388 total yards (273 rushing, 115 receiving) and three total touchdowns on 55 touches during that span. Granted, it was against the Falcons and Eagles, but it’s still impressive nonetheless.
3. Potential bounce back from Amari Cooper
It looks like the Cowboys have finally found a long-term replacement for Dez Bryant. The team sent over its first-round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft in order to secure Dak Prescott’s new No. 1 receiver, Cooper.
Since that trade, Cooper has been a steady contributor. He’s brought in 14 receptions for 169 yards and one touchdown through three games.
Cooper’s most recent performance was his least productive, however.
The Alabama product only hauled in three of his five targets for 36 yards and no touchdowns in Sunday's win over Atlanta. Considering the Falcons have one of the worst pass defenses in the NFL, Cooper’s performance was a disappointment.
The hope is that he’ll be able to bounce back on Thursday against a Washington defense that ranks 24th in the league against the pass (261.2 ypg).
Here’s the bottom line: there are way too many injury concerns for Washington right now. Sure, Colt McCoy is capable of leading the offense to some points, but the Cowboys are finding ways to win.
The Redskins will need to once again lean on Adrian Peterson, who totaled 107 yards on 25 touches against the Cowboys in Week 7. If they can get that sort of production from the future Hall of Famer, they might have a chance to keep things close.
In the end, Dallas scores a late touchdown to put things out of reach and move into first place in the NFC East.
Prediction: Dallas 26, Washington 17
— Written by Clint Lamb, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @ClintRLamb.