Carolina Panthers (-1, 46 o/u) at Dallas Cowboys
A 10-0 team taking on a 3-7 squad that’s languishing at the bottom of the second-worst division in the NFL doesn’t sound like a marquee matchup at first glance. But with the return of quarterback Tony Romo, the desperate Dallas Cowboys (3-7, 1-4 Home) look poised to make a run in the NFC East. On Thanksgiving, they’ll host the still unbeaten Carolina Panthers (10-0, 4-0 Away) at Cowboys Stadium (4:30 PM Eastern), hoping to inch one step closer to a miracle comeback.
After downing the Dolphins in Romo’s return (24-14), Dallas is now 2.5 games behind the Giants in the division race. The win moved the team to 3-0 with Romo under center. (You can probably do the math yourself, but just in case, that means they went 0-7 without him.)
Romo wasn’t perfect in his return, but made the Dallas offense light-years better than either of his replacements (Brandon Weeden and Matt Cassel) could manage. The 35-year-old completed 18 of 28 passes for 227 yards, two touchdowns, and two interceptions. But overall he was pleased with his own progress and just happy to get the win.
“Winning is going to put a little more pep in everyone’s step. I got more comfortable as the game went on,” Romo told the Associated Press.
If Dallas can get by the Panthers on Thanksgiving, they have a decent chance at making a real playoff push. Their final slate of games comes against the Redskins (twice), Packers, Jets, and Bills.
Of course, getting by the Panthers is something that no team has been able to do this season. The 10-0 squad holds a two-game lead in the NFC (over the Cardinals) and look like a virtual lock to get homefield advantage throughout the conference playoffs.
After two nail-biting victories over the Colts (29-26 in OT) and Packers (37-29), the Panthers have come back with dominant, statement wins over the Titans (27-10) and Redskins (44-16) the past two weeks.
The Panthers are top-five in the NFL in rushing and third best in scoring, averaging 29.9 points per game. Thanks to a serious deficiency at receiver, they are only 28th in passing. But quarterback Cam Newton – a serious MVP candidate – still tossed 246 yards and five touchdowns against Washington.
“I have labelled myself as a pocket passer with the ability to run,” Newton said to the Associated Press after the win against Washington.
Dallas is 9-1 SU in its last ten games against Carolina and 4-1 ATS in the last five.
The Cowboys have a lot to figure out with the return of Romo, but their confidence has to be high, their defense has been playing great (17.5 PPG over the last four), and Carolina is due for a letdown. Roll with the Cowboys on Thanksgiving.
Pick: Cowboys +1.
(Photo credit: Bigcats lair at en.wikipedia [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], from Wikimedia Commons.)