Optimism is running high in Dallas. The Dallas Cowboys are coming off of back-to-back wins for the first time this season and accomplished this feat on the road where they had previously been winless, leaving them just one game behind the division-leading Washington Redskins. Washington is coming off a tough defeat where a last-second field goal fell short against the Houston Texans, and where they lost their starting quarterback, veteran Alex Smith, for the rest of the season.

A win on Thanksgiving by Dallas over Washington would even the record of the two teams, and decidedly shift the momentum in the chase for the division title moving forward.

Are the Dallas Cowboys the NFC East Division favorite at this stage?

If Dallas loses Thursday, then that answer is an emphatic "no." If they win, then the answer isn't so clear. Colt McCoy will start for Washington. His last full start against the Cowboys in 2014 saw him complete 25 of 30 throws (83%) for 299 yards with no touchdowns and one interception in a Washington win (20-17 final score).

Despite that Washington victory, the Cowboys finished the season 12-4, and minus one horrible incompletion ruling against Dez Bryant, had a real shot at making the Super Bowl that year. Washington finished the season 4-12; proof that in these divisional rivalries you can often throw out the team records before the game starts.

Dallas had a chance to send the first meeting between these teams, five weeks ago, into overtime when a 52-yard field goal missed at the end of regulation.

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It was a competitive game then, but now Dallas has a new potent offensive threat with the acquisition of wide receiver Amari Cooper for the rematch, and combine that with Washington's loss of their starting quarterback and Dallas looks to come into this game with the upper hand and momentum on their side.

Even if Dallas wins Thursday, the title is still a long way removed

The truth is that the division is still wide open.

While Washington is having to turn to a backup quarterback, as of now, they don't actually have another winning team on their remaining schedule, including the 5-5 Cowboys. Most thought last years Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles would eventually right their ship and overtake the division crown, but an absolute drubbing by the New Orleans Saints (48-7) had many jumping quickly off that bandwagon.

However, the Saints have made many teams look silly this year, including a 43-19 win against the Redskins and a 33-18 win over the New York Giants. Dallas fans might want to wait until the Cowboys face the Saints one week after Thanksgiving before they draw too many conclusions from the losses of those divisional rivals at the hands of the Saints.

Still, the Eagles could turn it around. Four of their remaining games are against the division.

Dallas isn't the only divisional opponent hoping to exploit Washington's quarterback loss, and the Eagles still play Washington twice. Unfortunately for the Eagles, they are the only NFC East team that has to play the Los Angeles Rams, and that game is still ahead. The New York Giants look to be the only team without a realistic chance at the division title. While they only have one team left on their schedule with a winning record in the Chicago Bears, they are already in a 0-3 division hole with three divisional games left on the schedule. Aside from that, they are three games out of first with only six games left to play.

How well Colt McCoy plays is probably the deciding factor. If Washington can stay at the level of play they've established in the first ten games of the season, their soft schedule down the stretch will aid them in their title chase. Whereas, even if the Cowboys win on Thursday and draw even with Washington, they have the Saints looming large on their schedule the following week.

Dallas Cowboy predictions and over-reactions

As many as have over-reacted to Philadelphia's blowout loss to the Saints last weekend, over-reactions to Dallas' recent wins are trending the other way. Yes, Dallas has back to back wins on the road and is one game out of first place in the division, but how high or low is the bar? The Cowboys do not have a winning record, and they haven't beaten anyone with a winning record. Their five wins have come against the New York Giants (3-7), the Detroit Lions (4-6), the Jacksonville Jaguars (3-7), the Philadelphia Eagles (4-6), and the Atlanta Falcons (4-6). Should the Cowboys win the division and actually make the playoffs, every potential team they play will have a winning record. They don't do so well against teams with winning records.

Dallas still doesn't have a passing game good enough to win at the highest level. 34 quarterbacks have thrown the ball for over 275 yards in a game this season. Not one of them is named Dak Prescott. Out of every quarterback that has thrown a minimum of 100 pass attempts this season, only two rookies (Josh Rosen at 252 yards and Josh Allen at 245 yards) have failed to exceed Dak Prescott's single-game high of 273 yards. Prescott is dead last among full-time NFL starters who haven't missed a game this season. Quarterbacks like Carson Wentz and Ryan Fitzpatrick have missed multiple games and have more yards passing than Dak. As a result, Dallas has the 28th ranked passing offense in the league. The NFL is a passing league. A team is simply not going to win consistently, particularly in the playoffs, without throwing the ball well. There are currently four teams with only one or two losses this season: Los Angeles Rams (10-1), New Orleans Saints (9-1), Kansas City Chiefs (9-2), and the Pittsburg Steelers (7-2-1). The starting quarterbacks of these teams are ranked 1st (Patrick Mahomes - KC), 2nd (Jared Goff - LAR), 4th (Ben Roethlisberger - PIT), and 6th (Drew Brees - NO) in passing yards. Prescott is ranked 25th.

That just isn't going to get it done, even if Dallas makes a surprise run at the division title. Prescott has improved his numbers in the second half of the season, but he still has to get better if Dallas has any chance to be relevant. He has shown great character, leadership, and work ethic, so hopefully, that translates into a greater performance-level as he continues to learn.

Dallas Running Back Ezekiel Elliott is better than Todd Gurley this year

Despite the fact that Los Angeles Ram running back Todd Gurley is in the conversation for NFL MVP, he isn't even the best running back this year. Ezekiel Elliott operates out of the 28th rated passing offense, while Gurley runs with the 3rd best passing offense. A quick look at NFL.com next-gen stats shows that Elliott runs against eight-plus defensive fronts on 26.7 percent of his rushing attempts. Gurley faces that many defenders on only 8.57 percent of his carries. Dallas runs the ball on first down more than any team in football other than Seattle. The Rams offense is far more explosive and unpredictable, keeping defenses guessing more, and rank 19th in the league in how often they run on first down. Defenses are keying on Elliott week after week, yet despite having greater obstacles, Elliott is tied with Gurley with a 5.0 yard-per-carry average. Projecting averages, Elliott will take over the top rushing spot in the NFL when Gurley takes his bye week which Elliott has already had.

Overall, the Dallas Cowboys have one of their most talented teams in two decades. Right now, that talent isn't enough to overcome one of the worst passing offenses in the league. When Thursday's lineup of Thanksgiving Day football kicks off, Dallas has a chance to pull into a first-place tie in the NFC East title chase, but if they can't improve the passing game and fix their offensive deficiency, the NFC East title won't mean a great deal if it is followed by another first-round playoff exit.

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