The second game on the NFL on Thanksgiving schedule and maybe the main event of the day will be the undefeated Carolina Panthers visiting the resurgent Dallas Cowboys.
The Cowboys, at 3-7, don’t have the luxury of losing this game. They’re trying to make the playoffs following a terrible start. Well, the season actually began with two wins, but then Tony Romo got injured, and the tandem of Matt Cassel and Brandon Weeden helped bring forth seven consecutive losses. Romo got back which meant the Cowboys winning again, but it’s going to take a long run of wins (maybe just wins) to put the Cowboys in the postseason, which was the minimal expectation for them at the beginning of the season.
The Panthers? They can lose, but why should they (we’ll get to would they in a moment)? Cam Newton is suddenly mentioned as the MVP, and while he may not have classic quarterback numbers to back him up, the guy wins and looks delighted why doing it. Some over puritan mothers may not like it (and let’s hope it has nothing to do with racism but simply having something stuck up her you know what), but Newton is one of the best shows in all of sports right now, even when he doesn’t have to erase early mistakes by doing incredible stuff at the finish line.
So can the Cowboys beat the Panthers? Yes. While the Carolina offense has been efficient, it can get stuck, and has been known to make mistakes early on, even if it recovers from them so far. The same goes for the defense, which overall has been difficult to figure out for an entire game, but has its holes, especially in the secondary, and especially when it comes to covering slot receivers.
Josh Norman is going to take on Dez Bryant and see how they measure up, but using Cole Beasley might be the best thing for Romo to do. Bene’ Benwikere has allowed a 68.6% completion percentage against, 418 yards against and three touchdowns. Few cornerbacks have been targeted as much as him. The Cowboys playing with three receivers, one tight end and one running back might be the most problematic thing for the Panthers to face.
On the other side? The Cowboys have a good front seven, although it might depend on which side of the bed Greg Hardy woke up on. The run game is their weak spot, especially if the offense can’t stay on the field for too long. This means the Panthers need to get Jonathan Stewart rolling early, be it via short passes or by lowering his head and crunching yards on the ground. The Cowboys defense may be flashy when it comes to sacks, but it struggles slowing down a good, consistent running game.
Prediction: The Cowboys will look better than they did against the Dolphins because Romo has less rust on him, but he hasn’t seen this kind of defense this season, and unless he has one of those games when he’s completely composed and avoids mistakes from start to finish, it’s the Panthers game to lose.