It's the Cowboys' 50th game on Thanksgiving Day, and Thursday's latest installment will mark their first game against the L.A. Chargers on the annual holiday.
The Chargers (4-6) enter the game with momentum after blowing out the Buffalo Bills, 54-24 in Week 11. The Cowboys (5-5) lost their second game in a row last Sunday and will look to get back on track, particularly in the second half, where Atlanta and Philadelphia shut them out.
Which team will prevail? The DallasCowboys.com staff gives their gut feelings for the Thanksgiving matchup:
There's something about the Thanksgiving Day game that was always brings out some kind of surprise. One team on a roll either comes out flat and struggles, or plays much better than expected. So I'm trying to factor that into my decision here. I bet I haven't picked the Cowboys to lose four straight games before when they've had a .500 record or better. I've picked against them three straight times, starting with Kansas City. But I think it has to end here. While I see the Chargers playing well, I think the Cowboys will turn the tables. Having Tyron Smith back – if he plays – will be huge, especially against the pass rushers of the Chargers. Yes, Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram are tough, and yes Philip Rivers is a Hall of Fame type of quarterback, but let's not forget they are 4-6. They lose games, too. And they can't stop the run very well so I think Alfred Morris has a big game running the ball, topping 100 yards. I see a defensive touchdown – maybe even to win the game – but the Cowboys will win in overtime, 29-23.
The matchup that stands out here for both teams is the running game. The Chargers rank last defending the run, though they've been much better the last few weeks, and the Cowboys gave up a season-high 215 rushing yards to the Eagles last Sunday (180 in the second half). But for the Cowboys' offense to break out of this mini-slump without suspended running back Ezekiel Elliott – the group has one touchdown in two games – they've got to get the ball down the field. Prescott saw some plays he missed in the Eagles game, and if Tyron Smith can return at left tackle, I think the offense will be better suited to strike that balance between run and pass. Defensively, the Cowboys are capable of putting together a more complete performance at home, even without Sean Lee in this game. Gut feeling: They get to 6-5 with a much more efficient game from Dak.
Judging from the last two weeks, this team has given me almost no reason to feel comfortable picking them to win a game. Yet, that's exactly what I'm about to do. I'm going to have faith that a little bit of good health can help these guys. I think Tyron Smith is going to play, and that's going to help the Dallas offense resemble its former self. With more time to throw, I have to believe Prescott will look better throwing the ball. With the full offensive line back on the field, I also think Morris should have plenty of success against the worst run defense in the NFL. I think Morris runs for two touchdowns, in fact. On the other side of the ball, it's still not going to be pretty without Lee. But Anthony Hitchens should play, and I think that will help the Cowboys limit the damage caused by Melvin Gordon and Austin Ekeler. Rivers is a great quarterback, but I just don't think the Chargers are equipped to keep pace if the Cowboys are able to find a rhythm offensively. I'm guessing this is going to be a fairly ugly game, but style points don't matter in the NFL. Prescott's seventh rushing touchdown will put the Cowboys up, 21-16, with less than six minutes to play. The Cowboys will hang on for a gutsy win.
In the next four weeks, the Cowboys face four winnable games. The Chargers come to town after smashing the Buffalo Bills, but on a short week but will they be able to duplicate what they were able to do to the Bills? Until last week they had trouble scoring points and their defense had held them in games. Prescott didn't play his best game last week against the Eagles, not from a physical standpoint but a mental one. The Chargers have struggled on run defense, so look for the Cowboys to try and go with that early and get Prescott going with the play-action game. Prescott makes better choices with the ball and the Cowboys find a way to crack the Chargers' red zone defense with a 24-20 victory.