The Dallas Cowboys play on Thanksgiving every year, but few of those games have been as important as their 2014 holiday matchup. The Philadelphia Eagles are set to visit AT&T Stadium in a game that could determine the ultimate winner of the NFC East.
Both teams are tied atop the division at 8-3, as the New York Giants and Washington Redskins have fallen out of the race. It’s the first of two games between the rivals this season.
Neither team is in the position that they were expected to be in, when the regular season began. Following a third straight 8-8 season, the Cowboys were predicted by many to finish in last place. Philadelphia was the heavy NFC East favorite, but the year has taken an unlikely turn with Mark Sanchez starting at quarterback.
Dallas and Philadelphia have had similar seasons, taking advantage of a weak schedule and posting a losing record against winning teams. With a significant edge at the most important position on the field, however, the Cowboys have the advantage in the all-important game.
Tony Romo is in the midst of, possibly, his best season ever, and has flown under the radar as an MVP candidate. Only Aaron Rodgers has a better passer rating, and the quarterback has thrown 21 touchdowns and three interceptions, following a poor performance in the season opener. In that same span, Romo hasn’t posted a passer rating of less than 93.5. Philadelphia is 1-2 when allowing an opposing passer rating of at least 90.0.
In the eyes of many, Sanchez is not much of a downgrade from Nick Foles, leading a Philadelphia offense that ranks third in points per game. The Eagles scored 43 points and 45 points in two of three games with Sanchez at the helm, and he led the team to a 31-21 victory when playing the majority of the game. A closer look at the quarterback’s numbers, though, show that he might struggle on Thursday.
Sanchez helped the Eagles put up big offensive numbers against the Tennessee Titans and Carolina Panthers, who are both winless since Week 6. When presented with a challenge, Sanchez looked similar to the player that started for the New York Jets, committing four turnovers in a 53-20 loss.
Even in Philadelphia’s wins, Sanchez has made plenty of mistakes. He’s thrown six interceptions in four games, and it’s unlikely that Philadelphia will be able to recover from committing more turnovers than Dallas. The Cowboys are undefeated in 2014 when winning the turnover battle.
Sanchez isn’t helped in his battle with Romo by the difference in the team’s running games. While LeSean McCoy isn’t having the type of year he had for Philadelphia in 2013, Dallas’ DeMarco Murray has, easily, been the best player at his position.
Only one team has held Murray to less than 100 yards in a game this season, and the Eagles aren’t likely to keep the MVP candidate in double-digits. Philadelphia has allowed six of 11 teams to rush for over 100 yards, ranking 16th in total run defense.
Dallas is a three-point favorite at home, and neither team has won a game by less than a field goal. The over/under is 54.5 points.
PREDICTION: Dallas over Philadelphia, 30-23