Drew Brees one week, Tom Brady the next. That's the challenge for the undermanned Cowboys in this stretch of the season.
The defense is getting Greg Hardy and Rolando McClain back for Sunday's game at AT&T Stadium. But the offense still must find a way to outscore a Patriots offense that averaged nearly 40 points in their first three victories.
Here are the gut feelings from staff writers Bryan Broaddus, David Helman, Nick Eatman and Rob Phillips:
Bryan Broaddus: As much as we have focused on these receivers for the Patriots, my feeling is that it will be a running back that causes the biggest issue. I wrote in my Scout's Notebook that I was concerned about how they would match Dion Lewis in this game. In my opinion, with the success that backs have had these last two weeks, Lewis could be the next one in line to cause this defense problems. The Patriots like to use him in several different spots in the formation due to his ability to not only run the ball but catch it in space. Other than Sean Lee, I don't believe the Cowboys have anyone that can really match up with him. Lee is going to have other responsibilities and that should worry you. Patriots win this one, 35-17.
David Helman: When you talk about this matchup, it sure sounds like Alabama is playing Directional University. The Cowboys don't appear to have a shot at upsetting the defending champions. And that's fair. This is as steep a challenge as the Cowboys will face while Tony Romo is absent with his broken collarbone. But I still think it's worth reminding people that this is the NFL, and that all of the Cowboys' players get paid to play football, as well. It's very rare to see a Jason Garrett-coached team quit. If there's one thing that you can say about the Cowboys, it's that they fight – as corny as that might sound. I fully expect Dallas to give it their best effort, and I have a hard time imagining it getting out of hand. That said, I think the Patriots just have too much of an advantage. Tom Brady is playing at an MVP caliber, and Rob Gronkowski is on another level. Even with Greg Hardy and Rolando McClain, I don't think the Cowboys can shut them down. I also don't think Brandon Weeden and the Dallas offense will be able to keep up over four quarters. I think Brady will throw his first pick of the season against this secondary – let's say J.J. Wilcox. But it won't be enough. He'll connect with Julian Edelman for a late touchdown, and the Patriots will pull away – something like 31-20.
Nick Eatman: The irony here is that all offseason we wondered if Tom Brady would be able to play in this game, and not only does he get to play coming off a bye week, but the Cowboys are now without their two best offensive players. That seems like a really big turnaround and probably too much for the Cowboys to overcome in this game. I do think the Cowboys will have a fast start and probably take the lead and even into the second quarter but I just don't see them having enough firepower in the end. I look for Weeden to have over 300 yards passing and a big game for Terrance Williams as well. On defense I think we will see some positive signs with a couple of turnovers and some sacks, but in the end I see the Patriots having too much and winning something like 34-24.
Rob Phillips: Well, I hadn't picked against the Cowboys yet this year because no matter the injuries they still have the talent, the coaching and the will to win each of their games. This week I'm not counting them out, either; in today's NFL nothing is a lock. But as a casual observer of the Patriots program for the last 15 years, I expect them to win most games they play. Not only do they have one of the best coach/quarterback combinations we've ever seen, the entire roster buys into their system and brings it every Sunday. You can't expect gifts from New England – you must take the game from them. The Cowboys' defense is getting help and they're also due a few takeaways, but it's extremely difficult to coax mistakes from Tom Brady. I don't think New England reaches their near-40-point average, but the Cowboys have reached a level of attrition on offense that simply makes it difficult to keep pace with an opponent who's performing at an early record pace. Patriots 30, Cowboys 21 in a pretty entertaining game.