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X Factors

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X Factors: 10 key players for Cowboys & Panthers


FRISCO, Texas – The first meeting was a 40-0 blowout by the Cowboys in Week 1. But let's see how things have changed for each team as the Giants come to AT&T Stadium on Sunday for a rematch.

Since the Super Bowl is always the goal for every team, we decided to rank the Top 10 X-factors for the Cowboys and Panthers, using roman numerals, since 10 = X.

Here we go, these 10 guys will likely be big difference-makers one way or another.

X – Jaycee Horn – The Panthers are hopeful Horn can come back and play this week. He's been on IR since Week 1 with a hamstring injury but has been designated for return this week. That means he has 21 days to return to action but it's a possibility that he's ready now. That would be a huge lift for the Panthers defense that currently starts C.J. Henderson and Donte Jackson at corner. Carolina will face a Cowboys offense that had two receivers over 150 yards last week in CeeDee Lamb and Brandin Cooks.

IX – Bryce Young The No. 1 overall pick in the draft has had a tough start to his career as the Panthers just don't have enough weapons around Young right now. Young is 29th in the NFL in QB rating at 75.9. He ranks 32nd in the league among starting QBs in average gain at just 5.38 yards a reception, proof that he's quick to rely on the short passes and isn't taking many shots down the field.

VIII – Adam Thielen In his first season in Carolina, the veteran wide receiver has been the Panthers' most consistent offensive weapon. After spending his first nine seasons in Minnesota, Thielen has 68 receptions so far. Thielen, who also leads the Panthers this year with four touchdowns, will be asked to help move the chains this week and keep the Cowboys' high-powered offense off the field.

VII – Brian Burns Easily one of the Panthers' best players and arguably one of the NFL's most underrated pass-rushers, Burns has 5.0 sacks already this year. He's closing in on beginning his career with 7.5 sacks in each of his first five seasons, something only 16 players in NFL history have ever accomplished. He's also recorded a sack in every other game and didn't get one last Sunday, meaning he's likely due for another this weekend.

VI - DaRon Bland Second-year cornerback DaRon Bland hauled in his fifth interception of the season against the Giants as he continues to prove his value as one of the top corners not only in Dallas, but in the entire league. Entering the matchup against Carolina, Bland will look to limit a sneaky talented receiving corps headlined by Adam Thielen who is having a bit of a career resurgence in his new uniform in Charlotte. If Bland can keep it going, the job only gets more difficult for Bryce Young.

V - Brandin Cooks – Cooks' performance against the Giants (9 receptions for 173 yards and 1 TD) served as his coming-out party in the Texas Coast offense, and another opportunity awaits in Carolina for the 10-year veteran to keep the momentum going. Against another inexperienced, struggling secondary, chances to stretch the field will be there for Cooks and Dak Prescott. The more that those two can hone in on their connection, the more confidence that can be built in the offense as a whole before entering a tough stretch of defenses later in the season.

IV - Tony Pollard The running game has picked up a lot of attention in recent weeks with the lack of production from Tony Pollard, but an opportunity exists in Carolina to take advantage of a weak interior defensive line with the newly explored one-two punch of Pollard and Rico Dowdle. However, Pollard getting going would be the catalyst the Dallas offense is looking for in creating a dangerous running game going into the second half of the season.

III - Dak Prescott He's playing at an MVP level heading into Week 11 and the Cowboys will need this to continue going forward, because if Dallas wants to be in position to potentially swap spots with the Eagles in the December rematch, they need to string together wins. Having dispatched with the Giants fairly easily, the Panthers will present a different challenge via a very capable secondary. Prescott needs to make sure he continues to filter the passing attack through CeeDee Lamb and let the rest sort itself out as the game rolls along.

II - CeeDee Lamb He's now set and NFL record as the only player in history to register three games in a season with 10 catches and at least 150 yards, and he didn't allow any space between each of the games in which he did it. Lamb has ascended as one of (arguably the) best wideout in the league right now, and it's helped the Cowboys' offense right the ship following the loss in Week 5 to the 49ers. Keep scheming him open and challenge the Panthers to do what others haven't been able to recently, and then look for Brandin Cooks to eat hearty … again.

I - Micah Parsons – The lion always eats but, against the Giants, it was his compatriots doing all of the dining while his presence helped set them up to do so. It feels like Parsons is starved now, though, and Bryce Young probably looks like a young gazelle walking through the savanna. I wouldn't be surprised if Parsons death crawls all over Charlotte on multiple occasions on Sunday, because he's probably going to play like a man possessed to ensure his belly is full.

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