The home stretch begins with a battle in Big D.

boykinanddezFor the first time since 1989, the Philadelphia Eagles will duel with their wretched rivals, the Dallas Cowboys, on Thanksgiving. The Bounty Bowl, as it’s become known over time, further fueled a century’s worth of hate between these two bitter nemesis. Tomorrow, that storied battle will continue, with new faces joining familiar ones on both sides of the war.

Tony Romo is back. As is DeMarco Murray (the NFL’s leading rusher), Dez Bryant, and head coach Jason Garrett. But, it’s newcomers like OG Zach Martin that have propelled Dallas to a tie atop the NFC East. For the Cowboys, the season’s final 5 games aren’t about merely making the playoffs. It’s about ushering out two decades worth of failure. Since 1997, Dallas has won just one postseason game. That level of mediocrity, especially for America’s Team, has left a sour taste in the mouths of owner Jerry Jones and the Dallas fanbase.

Against Philadelphia, the Cowboys may face their stiffest test all season long. That’s because the much maligned defensive unit has not had the opportunity to do battle with an offense as dynamic as the Eagles’ can be.The best offense the Cowboys have faced this year might be New Orleans, and even that is stretching it considering the Saints’ performance this year. The Cowboys’ wins all come at the expense of teams with bottom 15 passing games. Something that they won’t have the luxury of facing on Thursday.

romo2It’s not as though Dallas can rely on home field advantage getting them by, either. All three of Dallas’ defeats this season have come at AT&T Stadium, including losses in their last two games. The Cowboys may have put up 30+ points six times this year. But, 2/3 of those performances came away from The Lone Star State. For some reason, the Cowboys are being painted by the media as a true contender. Despite the fact that their futility at home has been clear. Upcoming home games against playoff contenders Philadelphia and Indianapolis will do little to remedy the problem.

On the other side, you have the Eagles. Philadelphia’s road woes have been well documented. The Eagles’ last road effort (if you can even call it that), resulted in a blowout defeat at the hands of the Packers. All three of Chip Kelly’s losses this season have come away from The City of Brotherly Love. Granted, two of those three losses came by four or fewer points.

Offensively, the Eagles will rely on the three-headed monster of McCoy, Sproles, and Polk to set up the play action pass for Mark Sanchez. The former New York Jets QB has been efficient for the Eagles. Even if his turnover ratio continues to be consistently disappointing, the Eagles have proven throughout 2014 that they can still escape thanks to a takeaway hungry defense and the best special teams in the NFL. I’d expect a few “Romo Specials” against a hungry Philly D and some fireworks from the special teams, as well. After all, Dallas has some of the worst return and coverage units in the NFL.

All in all, it’s an exciting time at the top of the NFC East and the winner of Thursday’s affair will have a leg up on the loser for the division crown and a home playoff game. For Philadelphia, a victory on Thanksgiving would put them one game up and 3-0 in the division with a home battle against Dallas looming in two weeks. It’s not a must win for either. But, tomorrow’s action will have a large role in the eventual fate of both teams.

Line: Cowboys by 3.5
Prediction: Eagles, 27-23

And now to the rest of Thursday’s action:

Last Week: 7-8
2014 Season: 78-78

Chicago Bears (5-6) AT Detroit Lions (7-4) – Lions by 7

Matthew+Stafford+Chicago+Bears+v+Detroit+Lions+obgu7EAHgmRlPrediction: Lions, 20-14. The spread’s a little large for my liking considering that Detroit hasn’t scored a touchdown in three weeks. It’s a must win game for both, really. Chicago will be virtually eliminated if they lose again. Meanwhile, Detroit returns home after going through the gauntlet of facing the best teams in each conference in back-to-back weeks (Arizona and New England) on road. Matt Stafford’s inconsistency will continue to show. But, it’s the Lions who will escape Ford Field with a much-needed win.

Seattle Seahawks (7-4) AT San Francisco 49ers (7-4) – 49ers by 1

Prediction: 49ers, 17-14. The first rematch of last year’s NFC Championship Game pits two Western Division opponents battling for their playoff lives. Each of these teams would love a split in their home-and-home series. But, even that might not be enough to get both into the playoffs in a crowded NFC. Seattle on the road is a much different animal than at home (2-3 record). The 49ers’ defense, meanwhile, is now healthy. I reckon they’re on a similar level to Seattle’s at this point. If Colin Kaepernick can exercise the demons that have haunted him since last January, he and the 49ers will be inching their way back to the playoffs soon enough.

NFL: San Francisco 49ers at Seattle Seahawks

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