In a tradition almost as old as the game itself, the (5-5) Dallas Cowboys are headed for their 51st Thanksgiving game this year to take on their NFC East rival (6-4) Washington Redskins today (4.30pm ET Thursday).
It is a showdown that will determine which of these two teams head into week 13 with the divisional lead.
For the bulk of the season, the Redskins have been on top of the NFC East standings and have looked every bit the part of a team that could win this division, especially given how wide open things are. The Redskins picked up big wins early, defeating the Green Bay Packers, Carolina Panthers and then taking care of business in the division with back-to-back wins over Dallas and the New York Giants. This helped Washington create a bit of a buffer between themselves and the Philadelphia Eagles, who remained in second up until a few weeks ago.
The Cowboys spent their early season teetering back and forth along the .500 mark. For every loss, Dallas would follow it up with a win, always keeping themselves at arms-length and never fully out of the race. A loss to the Tennessee Titans in week 9 seemed to spell the end of Dallas’ season however as they headed into week 10 with a 3-5 record and playoff hopes slipping away. Then one of their biggest and most important wins of the season occurred as the Cowboys took down the defending Super Bowl champion Eagles on Philly’s own home turf. The win essentially flipped things as for the first time this season. The Eagles fell to third place in the division and the Cowboys moved up to second. Last week, Dallas won their second game in a row for the first time this season to bring us to today’s Thursday game. A win would put them in the driver’s seat to take the division from Washington.
It is not that that the Redskins have regressed, but the Cowboys have found their groove as of late. Ezekiel Elliot is running like a mad man and the addition of Amari Cooper as a weapon for Dak Prescott is paying off in spades. Washington just had a huge blow dealt to their playoff chances as QB Alex Smith went down in last week’s loss to a devastating, season-ending injury. That doesn’t mean the Redskins are out of it but their journey to the postseason just got a lot more difficult. Dallas’, by extension, may have just become a little bit easier.
Will Colt McCoy Find Success as a Starter?
Last year, in the midst of a potential MVP season, Carson Wentz went down with a nasty injury leaving the Philadelphia Eagles to rely on the services of their backup and former starter Nick Foles. In that postseason, Foles found magic and led the Eagles to their first Super Bowl in franchise history.
There is certainly recent precedent to teams succeeding without their starter but it is there that the similarities between Foles and Colt McCoy end. The Eagles had already locked up the division and the conference when Wentz went down to injury in week 13, which is a different situation to the one McCoy faces. The NFC East is still winnable by three of the division’s four teams meaning that Washington’s hold is tentative at best. McCoy will need to play better than he has his entire career to make things happen for the Redskins.
That being said, there is another huge difference between Foles and McCoy. Foles had spent time as Philadelphia’s starter and when he left the Eagles, found a starting job with the Los Angeles Rams before becoming a back-up with the Kansas City Chiefs. Okay, so there is one more similarity between Foles and McCoy – both backed up Alex Smith. Unlike McCoy, Foles had a decent amount of snaps as lead signal caller and some modicum of success. McCoy’s time as the starter for the Cleveland Browns went a little differently.
In his first season as a starter, McCoy lost six of eight games and threw more interceptions than touchdowns (9 INT, 6 TD). His second season wasn’t much better as he went 4-9 with just 14 touchdowns in 13 games and 11 interceptions. The thing about McCoy is that he is good in spurts but he has yet to show he can sustain any level of consistent success as a starter. He will have six games to prove that but it won’t be easy. With Cleveland, McCoy was almost expected to fail given the slew of Browns’ QBs before him who were highly sought-after in college only to meet the same miserable fate. This is a whole different ball game. McCoy has never been a starter in a division race, especially one so close as the NFC East is. The Eagles are still in it, as mentioned, and McCoy will have to play them twice down the stretch.
A lot of what the Redskins can do this season is contingent on how McCoy plays and we will get our first full taste of that this afternoon.
Can Ezekiel Elliot Be Stopped?
The last time we previewed the Cowboys it was for that game against Philadelphia that began to turn the tides in the NFC East. Like then, we are going to talk about Ezekiel Elliott because you can’t talk about Dallas’ success without mentioning their running back.
I want to take everyone back to a line from that article first though: “Even good running backs have bad days and bad matchups such as the one Elliot will be facing this Sunday.”
Philly’s run defense was ranked second in the NFL entering that game, allowing just 83.8 rushing yards per game. Two weeks later, and two 100+ yard rushers later, that number is now 101.4 yards, which is just 12th best in the league. That all started with Elliott, who absolutely torched the Eagles for 151 yards, which was just one yard off his season-high of 152 which he recorded in week 4 against the Detroit Lions.
So why bring this up? Because entering this game, the Redskins rank sixth in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per game at just 95.7. As I just showed, the last time Elliott had a bad matchup he absolutely destroyed it. Moral of the story, there is no such thing as a bad matchup for the guy who leads the NFL in rushing yards per game (95.3) and who is second in total rushing yards (953).
Our Preview’s Washington Redskins at Dallas Cowboys Picks & Betting Predictions
With Smith out and McCoy in, Dallas opened as seven point home favorites. Their Thanksgiving track record is not the best (0-7 ATS), but this is a new team from those past years. It is even a new team from the first few weeks of the season. This is a Cowboys unit capable of covering especially with McCoy under center for Washington. The Washington Redskins at Dallas Cowboys predictions for this betting preview are:
- Having studied the betting lines on offer from the USA online sportsbooks, look for the Cowboys to cover the seven points en route to their third straight victory. Bet on Dallas -7pts @ best odds of -101 with Bookmaker or BetOnline.
- As for the second of our picks, for the total points likely to be scored in this Thanksgiving NFL game, take the over on the modest 41 points @ best odds of -110 with Intertops.