While the Cowboys knew there would be some tough games on the schedule down the stretch, no one could've predicted the Bills would head into Thursday's Thanksgiving Day game with an 8-3 record.
But Buffalo has been one of the NFL's biggest surprise teams. They come down to face the Cowboys for the first time ever on Thanksgiving, looking for their ninth win. The Cowboys are trying to stay atop the NFC East race with a 6-5 record.
Here are some key storylines for each team.
- The Bills are 8-3. Let that sink in because Buffalo fans are still trying to believe it as well. This team has just cranked out win after win this year and have quietly put together an 8-3 record for the first time in 23 years. Not since 1996 have the Bills gotten off to this good of a start. That year they went to 9-3 before finishing 10-6 and losing in their first game of the playoffs. Still, after going 6-10 last season, head coach Sean McDermott has his team playing better than anyone could've predicted.
- The Bills picked up their eighth win on Sunday after beating Denver 20-3, thanks to a second-half surge. But if there is some skepticism about the Bills, it would still be their schedule. Give them credit for winning the games in front of them, but after 11 games, Buffalo has just one win against a team with a winning record – a road victory over 6-5 Tennessee. Overall, their opponents have a winning percentage of .333 (40-81 combined record).
- Former Cowboys receiver Cole Beasley, a native of nearby Little Elm, Texas, is coming home for Thanksgiving. But he'll be wearing the Blue and Red of the Bills in his first season since signing a free-agent deal with Buffalo. So far this year, Beasley has 49 catches with at least two receptions in every game. He ranks second on the team in all receiving categories, including yards (525) and touchdown catches (4).
- The NFL recently released its finalists for the NFL 100 All-Time team and had 12 running backs listed. One player that didn't make the cut was Frank Gore. While he doesn't get the recognition of being one of the best backs of all-time, he has the stats to back up his case. This past week, Gore surpassed Barry Sanders for third on the NFL's all-time rushing list with 15,289 yards. He is now only behind Walter Payton (16,726) and Emmitt Smith (18,355).
- The Bills are winning because of their defense. They rank third in total defense, allowing 288.6 yards per game and third in points allowed at 15.7. The Cowboys rank sixth in both categories. Surprisingly enough, the Bills aren't one of the top teams in terms of takeaways. Buffalo is even in turnover differential, giving the ball up and taking it away 13 times. The Cowboys are a minus-2 in turnovers (12 takeaways, 14 turnovers).
- Once again, head coach Jason Garrett appears to be on the hot seat after yet another tough loss in which play-calling, coaching decisions and strategy were again questioned. This time, it was owner Jerry Jones that expressed his frustration. He not only said Sunday's loss was a huge setback, but he voiced his disappointment in some of the earlier losses this year, stating that hoping to win at New England to fix the overall problems was a bad place to be. "You should be able to come in here and lose a game and not have it be a statement game about one way or the other, about your team," Jones said. "We've managed to get ourselves in a position to where playing this game was a statement game about us."
- The month of November has been treacherous for the special teams. Not that it has been great the rest of the year, but things have soured quickly in the last four games. It started against the Giants on Nov. 4 when they allowed two kickoff returns over 50 yards. The next week, a miscommunication at the end of the game cost the team valuable yards on a potential big punt return when Tavon Austin signaled for a fair catch with seemingly plenty of room to run. At Detroit, the Cowboys allowed a big return and had issues fielding kickoffs, which again was a problem in New England, where the Cowboys also missed a field goal and had a punt blocked that led to the Patriots' only touchdown. And if that's not enough, Jones did not hold back when asked about the unit, saying that special teams is a true reflection of coaching. He didn't hide his displeasure with the kicking game.
- OK, so the Cowboys won't be facing the NFL's No. 1 defense again, and certainly won't be doing it in the cold and rain. But it won't be an easy time for the offense as they take on a Bills defense that ranks third in both yards allowed and points allowed. The Bills are the fourth team ranked in the top 10 on defense the Cowboys have seen this year. So far, they are 0-3 in those games, losing to the Patriots, Jets and Saints, albeit by a combined eight points.
- The Cowboys can't figure out the slow starts. Last week against the Patriots, just when it seemed like they were going to get rid of this ugly trend, they get a punt blocked and then allow a touchdown to go down 7-0 late in the first quarter. An interception on the next series led to a field goal and the Cowboys found themselves down 10-0. That proved to be enough of a lead for the Patriots to cling to. So far this year, the Cowboys have been outscored 69-40 in the first quarter this year, but have a 255-151 edge in the final three quarters.
- On the injury front, getting things turned around in four days is an annual challenge on Thanksgiving. Even guys that haven't been on the injury report will have a tough time getting ready to play on Thursday. As for the guys who have been banged up, Leighton Vander Esch (neck) is not expected to play against the Bills. Antwaun Woods will be out as well with an MCL sprain, which could also keep him sidelined a few more games into December.