After the close call last week there is no telling what type of game we can expect this week. But there is no doubt that this is a must-win game if the Cowboys expect to make the playoffs and/or win the division. The Raiders have shown the ability to beat some of the better teams in the league but also the ability to lose to some of the bad teams as well. They are definitely due for a let down after their huge upset of the Bengals last week, but you could also argue that they will be playing with a new confidence after winning last week.
Bruce Gradkowski is certainly not anyone to fear, but he is an infinitely better quarterback than Jamarcus Russell. I was hoping Russell would survive as the starter through the Thanksgiving game, but he was so bad the Raiders finally pulled the plug last week. That makes things a little tougher for the defense because the Raider quarterback can actually hit a wide open receiver down the field. He wasn't great last week but he was able to make enough plays in the passing game to pull out a victory for the Raiders.
So the defense is actually going to have to show up this week once again although you would hope that this will be the week that the offense gets back on track. I fully expect the offense to put up more than 20 points in this game, so that should ensure a victory since the Raiders have not scored over 20 points in any game this season. The Cowboys defense is now the 5th rated defense in the NFL in terms of points allowed so they should be able to shut down the Raider attack.
Injuries are going to play into the gameplan for the Cowboys in a big way. Jason Witten is a game time decision with a sprained foot and Tony Romo will be playing with a sore back. Doug Free hasn't played enough to be fully trusted yet in place of Marc Columbo. And Alan Ball will have his hands full with the vertical threat that the Raider offense poses.
The wild card in the game is the big play threat that many of the Raiders players pose. Darren McFadden hasn't been great this year but he can score on any play when he gets the ball. Darrius Heyward-Bey has terrible hands but he can get behind the defense with his speed. And Johnnie Lee Higgens has big play potential as well.
The Raider defense has been pretty good all year long. But it is a base 4-3 which Tony Romo usually handles pretty well. They have allowed 365 yards per game on defense which ranks 24th in the NFL and they have allowed 23.4 points per game which ranks 22nd in the NFL. While that doesn't sound great you have to look at how many close games the Raiders have lost. Most of the games they have lost were by less than 10 points, so they usually have stayed close in every game. There are some exceptions (New York Giants, New York Jets, and Houston Texans), but those big losses were all week 7 or earlier. They seem to be an improved team over the last 3 games. And Nnamdi Asomugha is probably the best cornerback in the league.
As long as the Cowboys don't lay an egg they will make it a happy Thanksgiving for all of the Dallas Cowboys fans. Tony Romo usually shines on Thanksgiving and I expect the same thing this year. I predict a 27-9 victory for the Cowboys.