The Cowboys have faced Washington many times on Thanksgiving Day, including three of the last five years. But this one will feel different, mainly because of the emotions the Cowboys have experienced this week, with the tragic loss of strength coach Markus Paul.
How will the Cowboys respond against Washington, a team that handled them rather easily the first time around last month.
The DallasCowboys.com staff gives their 'gut feeling' for this Turkey Day matchup:
Rob Phillips: It's just difficult to talk about this game like it's a normal game, to be honest. My heart goes out to Coach Paul's family, and I'm sure the Cowboys will do their best to play their best and honor him. Looking at Thursday's matchup, I do think the team is in position to win consecutive games for the first time this season. I expect the defense to play tighter after giving up over 200 rushing yards the first time around. I believe the pass protection will hold up better with Zack Martin in the lineup this time around. And I just can't imagine Amari Cooper being the only wide receiver with a catch for Dallas this time around. Washington has allowed close to five yards a carry their last two games, so perhaps Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard can keep things rolling in the run game (152.3 Cowboys rushing yards the last three games). I've got the Cowboys tying up the season series and getting to 4-7.
David Helman: It's hard to be confident about anything this team does, but I'm convinced we're going to see a much better effort than we saw at FedEx Field. I'm not trying to be a jerk, but that 25-3 loss back on Oct. 25 might have been the most pathetic game I've seen the Cowboys play in my eight seasons covering them. This time around, I expect a fast and physical performance from this defense. I also expect Andy Dalton to have much more time to throw behind this re-shuffled offensive line. Don't get it twisted, though: I'll be surprised if this is an easy win. Chase Young & Co. are going to make moving the ball difficult, and Alex Smith has always been a better player than people give him credit for. I'm guessing this game will be a bit ugly, but I'm counting on 85 tough yards and a touchdown from Ezekiel Elliott, and a late field goal from Greg Zuerlein to lift the Cowboys to a 17-16 win.
Nick Eatman: The signs are not pointing towards the Cowboys here. Yes, they won last week at Minnesota, but so did Washington. And that team got a full practice in and isn't going through the emotional distress of losing an assistant coach. Plus, Washington actually dominated the first meeting between these two teams, 25-3. So everything suggests the Cowboys will lose ... but they won't. Just not gonna happen on Thanksgiving Day at AT&T Stadium. Not this year. The Cowboys may or may not be the better team, who knows. And who cares really? The Cowboys just need to figure out a way to grind out a win on Thursday and that's what I think they'll do. The team will be inspired, they'll fly around the ball and they will probably jump out to a lead once again. But it won't be easy because of that Washington D-line. But the return of Zack Martin and Joe Looney to the lineup will help. The passing game will be better, mainly because of the O-line and the weather this time around. The defense will get turnovers and I think the Cowboys ride the emotional roller coaster to a 26-16 win to take the lead in the NFC East.
Kyle Youmans: Last week I went out on a limb and picked the Cowboys to shock the world by taking down the Vikings, even after I'd vowed to never fall into that trap again. Well here we are, a week later and I'm right back on the prediction train. In order for Dallas to get a win this week, they have to get the best game out of an offensive line that is still pretty suspect overall. Having a short week and missing practice time doesn't necessarily bode well from a game planning standpoint, but this game is going to be about emotions and physicality. If Dallas can harness the emotions from this past week into a physical brand of football and one that is fundamentally sound as well, I still think they're the better team than Washington. Give me the Cowboys 30-21 in a Thanksgiving Classic.
Mickey Spagnola: This has been a tough emotional week for the Cowboys, along with losing one of the three practices they would have had this short week when strength and conditioning coach Markus Paul was rushed to the hospital Tuesday morning with a medical emergency. This isn't easy, but maybe the biggest key for the Cowboys Thanksgiving Day will be their ability to focus on the task at hand. As difficult as it may be, they just can't come in flat against a Washington team with an identical 3-7 record and knowing a win means first place in the NFC East. The Cowboys must be mentally sharp to win a game they sorely need to win.