For the first time all season, the Washington Football Team will be playing in a primetime game. That’s not a complaint, but simply a fact. With a young team coached by a new staff without many expectations, Washington was not deserving of primetime attention when the NFL was making the schedule this offseason, but now that their Thanksgiving game against the Dallas Cowboys is looming, we can finally get excited that the sporting world at large will be watching our squad on arguably the most-watched NFL day of the season.
Let’s just hope they don’t lay an egg.
The last time these two teams met, the Cowboys were in the midst of a quarterback change, and Washington made them pay for it, blowing Dallas out of the water with a 25-3 victory that saw Andy Dalton sidelined with a concussion, and little else working for “America’s Team.” Man, wouldn’t it be nice to do that again on a national stage like Thanksgiving afternoon?
It’s possible, but things will look quite a bit different this time around. Here are some of our biggest predictions for Thursday’s game.
Things are going to get chippy
(AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
All context from this season aside, these two teams don’t like each other. Thanks to the quality of both teams over the past decade or so, Washington vs. Dallas may not be the most heated rivalry in the NFL anymore, but it still ranks up there as one of the most historic matchups in the NFL. Now you consider that this game will decide who sits in first place in the NFC East, plus the fact that the Cowboys were publically chastised by their head coach the last time these two teams played simply because nobody came to their quarterback’s rescue after a late hit that left him motionless on the turf. Yea, it’s fair to say that tensions are going to be a bit elevated here. Whether it ends with any personal conduct penalties or ejections is yet to be seen, but I can almost guarantee you that we will see quite a bit of pushing and shoving after several plays, and in the end, no matter the outcome, there will likely be fewer post-game handshakes than we’re used to. Just like it should be when Washington and Dallas meet on the gridiron.
Terry McLaurin will have a huge day
(AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
If there’s anyone on the Washington offense who has benefited the most from the shift to Alex Smith at the quarterback position, it’s second-year WR Terry McLaurin, who is having an outstanding sophomore season. While he was great in the first seven games of the season with a mix of Dwayne Haskins and Kyle Allen at the helm, his numbers have improved over the past three weeks, averaging six catches per game for just under 100 yards. The catch-rate has increased, his yards-per-target have improved, and it gives us a glimpse of what he might be capable of with some steady QB play around him. I expect that to continue this week against a Cowboys secondary that is in the middle of the pack, allowing over 230 yards per game through the air. The last time these two teams met, McLaurin had seven catches for 90 yards and a touchdown with Allen as his QB. What will that stat line look like with Smith chucking it? We can’t say for sure, but it seems fair to predict somewhere in the realm of say… 9 catches for 115 yards and 1 TD. Terry loves to eat, and we expect him to be hungry on Thanksgiving.
Ezekiel Elliot will stupidly jump in a Salvation Army bucket
(James D. Smith via AP)
We all know the schtick. “Feed Me!” “Watch me jump into this Salvation Army donation bucket after I score!” Yea, yea. Whatever. No matter your opinion of Zeke Elliott, it’s hard to deny that he’s an extremely talented running back that has a good chance to find the endzone on Thursday. He has been a bit underwhelming so far this season, and before last week, he was averaging just 63 yards per game with only five touchdowns on the season. However, the Dallas offense as a whole seemed to get back on track last week against the Minnesota Vikings, and Zeke ran the ball 21 times for 103 yards, by far his best game of the season. Washington’s defense against the run has been mediocre this season as well, allowing over 120 yards per game on the ground, and at times struggling to keep opposing backs in check. I don’t think it’s crazy to predict that Zeke will have a solid day on his favorite stage, ending up with him hiding in a giant red bucket. Joy.
Chase Young says ‘Hello World’
(AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
The last couple of weeks have seemingly been building up to this moment for Washington rookie Chase Young. It started a couple of weeks ago against the Detroit Lions when his roughing the passer penalty in the final seconds led to a game-winning FG for the Lions. This, plus a growing dialogue about his lack of eye-popping numbers started a mounting doubt that Washington might have made the wrong pick at No. 2 back in April. However, Young answered some of those questions with a great performance last week against the Bengals, which was highlighted by his touchdown-saving tackle of Joe Burrow at the goal line, forcing a fumble and giving us a highlight worth of celebrating. https://twitter.com/espn/status/1330585001772060673 After the game, Young remarked that he is incredibly excited to play on Thanksgiving, noting that the whole world will be watching, including LeBron James. In his words, “It’s time to get that money.” With the world watching, I expect Young to have his best game yet as a rookie, and hopefully, he can start to increase those sack numbers and announce himself as one of the premiere young DE’s in the NFL.
Washington leaves Dallas with the NFC East division lead
(Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)
If you take last week’s performance by the Cowboys out of the picture, it’s a pretty easy prediction to make when picking the winner of this game. Look no further than the beatdown Washington put on Dallas a few weeks ago, and consider that they are arguably a more sound team than they were back then, with Smith now established as their QB and a leader of the team. Now we can add in the 31 points that Dallas put up on the Vikings last week and start to adjust. Yes, the Cowboys did look better than they have in weeks to beat a hot Vikings team, but consider that Minnesota has one of the worst defenses in the league, giving up on average 27.8 points per game. Andy Dalton looked better and the receivers in Dallas got going, but most teams in the NFL would be able to accomplish the same against that squad. Now also consider that Washington has a ton to play for, and a lot of pride on the line. Though their record shows a bad team, they’ve been on the edge of winning a number of these games, and there’s a real argument that they could be 6-4 right now with a few balls that bounced a different way. I am by no means arguing that they are a good team, but I do think they are better than the Cowboys. That’s why I’m picking Washington to win this week. It may be ugly, and likely chippy at times. But give me Terry McLaurin and Alex Smith eating a turkey leg on TV after the game, celebrating a victory and the No. 1 spot in the NFC East.