Welcome, everyone, to one of the greatest sports days of the year: The NFL on Thanksgiving Day.
The second of three games on the schedule takes place at the “House that Jerry built” as the Dallas Cowboys take on the Oakland Raiders in a game that could wind up having huge playoff implications for one of these teams — and no, it’s not Oakland.
In an incredibly weak NFC East, the Cowboys currently sit at 6-5 and are tied for the division lead with the Philadelphia Eagles and every game is a crucial one at this point — but, for Dallas, it won’t get much easier than facing an Oakland team with a brand new starting quarterback, undrafted rookie Matt McGloin.
This is a game that will likely be on the shoulders of quarterback Tony Romo, as many games have been this season. Oakland features a run defense that’s ranked 8th in the league and giving up only 99 yards per game. The Cowboys, meanwhile, don’t even know what a rushing attack looks like and are averaging a measly 79.7 yards per game on the ground.
What does that mean for Dallas? Romo is getting a great matchup against a 25th-ranked Raiders pass defense and comes in with a rating of 97.0 on the year, having tossed 23 touchdowns versus only seven picks. Over his past four games, he’s thrown eight scores and only two interceptions. In a year where Dallas has again been mediocre, Romo has been just the opposite.
For the defensive side of the ball, Dallas is going to have to be at its best. The Cowboys rank next to last in overall defense this year and haven’t been able to stop anybody, giving up over 430 yards of offense per game — ranking dead last in all of the NFL. Regardless of the Raiders starting an undrafted rookie at quarterback and a backup running back in Rashad Jennings, these guys can’t be taken lightly, especially because the Raiders are simply out to play spoiler the rest of the year and are likely out of the playoff race.
So, why is this game a must-win for the Cowboys, especially when playing in such a winnable division?
The Cowboys’ remaining games after Thanksgiving include the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field as Jay Cutler makes his return, the Green Bay Packers at home where Aaron Rodgers will likely be back, the Washington Redskins who at that point will have nothing to lose and then they finish up against the Eagles who may or may not have control of the division by then.
The point is, here, that a win against Oakland is absolutely crucial for the Cowboys to continue their quest toward a playoff berth. At this time, a division title is the only way they will get in because the fifth seed will most likely take a good 10 or 11 wins to secure. Dallas must, must, must win on Thanksgiving or their playoff hopes might end up being thrown away very quickly.