The Dallas Cowboys will be favored the next two games at home against Washington and Philadelphia.
Meanwhile, the suddenly slumping New York Giants, coming off a bye week, will play Green Bay next Sunday. The Giants also must still play the Saints and Falcons.
At 5-5, Dallas is in playoff contention, one game behind New York. But keep in mind the Cowboys must still play at Cincinnati and host the Steelers and Saints.
This isn’t the same Dallas team that played well enough to win in Baltimore. This isn’t the same Dallas team that played Atlanta toe to toe much of the game. This isn’t the same Dallas team that was a Dez Bryant pinky away from sweeping the season series against the Giants.
That’s why the Thanksgiving Day game with Washington is huge.
Robert Griffin III and the Redskins, coming off a strong performance in a lopsided win over Philadelphia, will provide a good test for Dallas four days after the Cowboys narrowly escaped the Browns. Cleveland outplayed Dallas much of Sunday’s game but Dallas rallied for a crazy penalty enhanced 23-20 overtime win.
Giving quarterback Tony Romo time to throw is a key subplot the remainder of the season. The Cowboys beat-up offensive line is vulnerable.
The Dallas defense, minus linebacker Sean Lee, also is more vulnerable which places more pressure on the secondary and the Cowboys’ disappearing pass rush. Fans groaned on several plays Sunday when Cleveland rookie QB Brandon Weeden had tons of time to throw.
Dallas could get a boost from running back DeMarco Murray, who has been sidelined by a severe foot injury the past seven weeks. Murray was listed as doubtful for Sunday’s crazy overtime win over Cleveland.
Murray probably won’t play Thanksgiving Day but could return the following week against Philadelphia, although Felix Jones has done a solid job filling in the past few weeks considering the lack of running lanes.
The Giants in the past have staged out-of-nowhere 180-degree turnarounds to finish strong. Maybe they will get on a role again but it appears they too have problems, including a shaky defense.
If the banged-up Cowboys find a way to win on Turkey Day, regardless of the script, you’d have to like their chances against the in-a-nosedive Eagles the following week.
If Dallas can tie the Giants for the time being they would own the tiebreaker based on NFC East records. Dallas has one division loss, the Giants two.
The defining moment would then be Romo and the Cowboys facing their December demons.
After the three-game homestand ends Dallas plays at Cincinnati, one of the league’s hottest teams, followed by home games against the always formidable Steelers, who could have Ben Roethlisberger back for the Dec. 16 game and a game at Cowboys Stadium against the resurgent, high-scoring Saints.
But that’s jumping the gun. The first big test is Thanksgiving Day against Griffin and the Redskins. If Dallas doesn’t defeat Washington, then the Redskins’ Monday night game in New York Dec. 3 against the Giants could become a little more intriguing.
Redskins-Cowboys Thanksgiving Day games have provided some memorable finishes over the years that impacted the NFC East race. The 2012 version has a weird dynamic. Still, the traditional late afternoon game will be pivotal if Dallas wants to have any kind of shot at making a late-season playoff run.