It’s an annual tradition across the country on Thanksgiving. Turkey. Pumpkin Pie. The Dallas Cowboys.
While past editions of the NFL's Turkey Day games have featured some mediocre (at best) squads, this year’s matchups figure to be some of the best they’ve ever been and that’s highlighted by the Dallas Cowboys hosting the Washington Redskins in a meeting between two of the hottest teams in the NFC. Each squad is currently in the running for a top seed in the playoffs and the contest has serious divisional implications down the road.
The Cowboys are of course led by their budding MVP candidates in rookie quarterback Dak Prescott and No. 4 overall pick Ezekiel Elliott. The backfield tandem has played a huge part in the team running off a franchise-record nine wins in a row and the offensive line has simply worn down opponents over four quarters on a consistent basis. The Dallas defense also has made huge strides in 2016 and is hoping to limit an opponent to 17 or fewer points for the seventh time this season.
On the other sidelines, Washington has lost just once since falling at home to the Cowboys back in mid-September. While the team’s defense has steadily improved as the year has gone on, it’s the offense and quarterback Kirk Cousins that have exploded to the point where they’re second in the NFL entering the week. While it’s a short week, they routed the Packers on Sunday night and have plenty of confidence and momentum heading into Thanksgiving.
This will be the 114th meeting between the two bitter rivals that have combined for eight Super Bowl titles. The Cowboys own the series edge 67-44-2 and have won five of the last seven. However the Redskins have won three of four in Dallas, including a 34-23 thumping at AT&T Stadium back in January and a seven-point win back when the two last met on Thanksgiving.
Washington at Dallas
Kickoff: Thursday, Nov. 24 at 4:30 p.m. ET
TV Chanel: FOX
Spread: Cowboys -6.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Limiting the Cowboys’ Backfield
The Cowboys have progressed from a nice story with Tony Romo out of the lineup to full-on Super Bowl contenders out of the NFC East thanks to the play of their rookie backfield. There’s no question that the team’s mammoth offensive line has played the starring role in that resurgence but Ezekiel Elliott has been able to rack up yards between the tackles and in the open field like the best back in football right now. Dak Prescott has slowly added more to his plate at quarterback and it’s paying off as the passing game has become much more potent down the field. Washington is in the bottom half of the league in terms of stopping the run and has already given up 13 rushing touchdowns this season. The front seven has started to come on lately but the bottom line is this game will come down to the Redskins slowing down the Dallas rookies.
2. The Kirk Cousins Show
“How do you like me now?” Pretty good as it turns out. The Washington quarterback is coming off one of his best outings of the season (375 yards, three touchdowns) and has gone over the 300-yard mark five times this year. The talk is already heating up about the franchise ponying up and dropping a big contract offer on the table for the signal-caller and you can bet that a win over the Cowboys would help negotiations even more for the fifth-year veteran. Dallas’ defense has not been quite as good as others at pressuring opponents in the pocket but has made up for it on the back end in limiting some of the better QBs in the league in recent weeks. The last meeting between the two teams saw Cousins throw a costly interception and you can bet he’ll be gunning for some revenge on Thursday with another aerial show.
3. Tryptophan Effect
While fans may long for a short cat nap at halftime after a bunch of turkey and stuffing, you wonder if each team might be in for a bit of a slow start given the short week each faces. This has been a particularly rough stretch for Washington, which flew back from London at the beginning of the month and then concluded a two-game home stretch with a late Sunday night win. Now the Redskins have to head to Texas with little practice time and needing to go through a crash course to install a new game plan. The Cowboys, meanwhile, have played three straight against the rough AFC North and also have to regroup after the short week. Thanksgiving Day games have their fair share of strange plays, mistakes and turnovers so it could be a little more of the same for these two.
The best and most interesting division in football this season has surprisingly been the NFC East and things are about to shift into a high gear as we enter the home stretch. The first of the big divisional showdowns starts on Thursday and it pits two of the hottest teams in the league who have lost just once since late September. Not just that, but the contrast in styles — Washington winning through the air, Dallas on the ground — makes this meeting a must-watch on your slate of things to do on Thanksgiving.
Quarterback Kirk Cousins has plenty riding on a big win and can continue his stellar play of the last few weeks by picking apart a thin secondary. The Redskins also have received contributions from unexpected places like tailback Robert Kelly and wide receiver Jamison Crowder to turn into a playoff contender once again and a potential roadblock in Dallas’ dream season. It won’t be easy, but Jay Gruden’s team has all of the weapons to pull off a big upset and is playing much better than it was in the first meeting between the two franchises.
But these Redskins will be running into a freight train heading downhill however, and in more ways than one. The Cowboys are not only winners of nine straight but they’re rolling over opponents in unexpected ways. Their rookie backfield sliced and diced one of the league’s best defenses on Sunday and is aiming to keep things going with a big win on Thanksgiving.
This has all the makings of a close contest that comes down to protecting the football, something Dallas does a bit better than its opponent. Playing at home in front of a turkey-fueled crowd will be enough to keep the win streak going but it won’t be easy in this NFC East tussle.
Prediction: Cowboys 28, Redskins 24
— Written by Bryan Fischer, an award-winning college football columnist and member of the Athlon Contributor Network. You can follow him from coast-to-coast on Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat at @BryanDFischer.