Cowboys: Are Carolina Panthers About To Get Burnt?


The Dallas Cowboys play the undefeated Carolina Panthers on Thanksgiving Day, but how good are the leaders of the NFC South?

Fresh off a badly needed 24-14 win over the Miami Dolphins on Sunday, the 3-7 Dallas Cowboys have absolutely no time at all to gloat, celebrate or relax. This would be true no matter what the 2015 schedule offered up next, but in this case it’s the dreaded quick turnaround that always comes during the week of Thanksgiving Day.

The Cowboys will be unveiling their new Nike Color Rush jerseys at AT&T Stadium when the Carolina Panthers come to visit for a 3:30pm CT kickoff. Yes, they’re rather sharp, but nothing you haven’t seen before.

But will new shirts be enough?

This game may not look like much in the standings, but the return of previously injured Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo changes the whole complexion of this meeting, regardless of what each team’s record is.

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Yes, fifth-year Panthers quarterback Cam Newton is finally showing signs of being that ‘face-of-the-franchise’ quarterback that Carolina had waited on for many years. Newton’s been on the rise for a few season’s now, but it’s looking more and more like these Panthers may finally have the perfect balance of talent and experience to remain a legitimate contender in ’15.

See, Carolina is 10-0.

But the only undefeated football team from the Carolinas that’s actually poised for a season-ending championship resides at Clemson, where the Tigers are 11-0 – no paper tigers in those parts.

The Panthers may not be made of paper either, but let’s call it sturdy cardboard, which happens to be highly combustible.

Carolina is clearly fueled by a running game that ranks fifth in the NFL as it grinds through defenses for just under 140 yards per game. These Panthers, aided by the legs of Newton, run for about 15 more yards per game than Dallas does.

However, nobody should confuse this team with other great teams that went undefeated this deep into a given regular season.

The 1990 New York Giants and San Francisco 49ers started that season 10-0 before both lost just a week prior to facing each other in a huge Monday night football game. They met again at Candlestick Park in the NFC Championship game. The 49ers had won the two previous Super Bowls while the Giants went on to win that season’s championship.

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The 1991 Washington Redskins started off 11-0 before losing to the Cowboys – after having knocked quarterback Troy Aikman out of the contest – and eventually winning the Super Bowl.

The 1985 Chicago Bears started 12-0 before waxing the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl.

The 1998 Denver Broncos were 13-0 before winning a second-straight Super Bowl with John Elway still playing quarterback.

Now, comparing eras makes little sense in the NFL, what with yesterday’s teams being far more complete, much more disciplined and definitely more hardened in a league that was definitely better, competitively speaking.

Nonetheless, they were among the very best at what they did and history still remembers those teams quite well, and for more reasons than just the simple fact that they won championships or played for one.

Even those New Orleans Saints of 2009 started off 13-0 before finally losing a game against – wait for it – the Cowboys down in the Crescent City.

I have no clue as to whether or not the Panthers are destined to win the NFL’s ‘golden anniversary’ Super Bowl early next year in Northern California. I will say that Thanksgiving Day will say a whole lot about those prospects.

Are these Panther for real?

I’m not so sure.

That running game, again aided by Newton, is good enough to beat anybody in the NFL.

But what about the passing game?

Is Newton on the same level as Romo?

Not a chance.

For all Newton does that is unique to his skill set, it still seems like running the ball is a frequent  choice for this 6’5” and 250 pound passer. Newton has a gun of an arm if there ever was one, but is that arm all that dangerous against an offense that can jack up points in a hurry and build a lead?

Consider the following opponents beaten so far this season by Carolina: Jacksonville Jaguars (4-6), Houston Texans (5-5), New Orleans Saints (4-6), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-5), Seattle Seahawks (5-5), Philadelphia Eagles (4-6), Indianapolis Colts (5-5), Green Bay Packers (7-3), Tennessee Titans (2-8) and the Washington Redskins (4-6).

For what it’s worth, Carolina’s average opponent has a record of just 4.5 – 5.5.

Yes, that’s a pancake schedule if I ever saw one and this team is supposed to be the best the NFC has to offer, at least up to this point. Just one victory over a plus-500 team – that one coming at home – this deep into the season says very little about how good these Panthers really are.

Now, here come the Cowboys with their own record that’s well below mediocre, but there’s a little twist in this case: Romo.

You saw what Romo did to Miami’s secondary in his first football game in two months? If not, ask Cowboys wide receivers Dez Bryant and Terrance Williams exactly what went down, they were both a big part of it.

You realize that Newton has only been a game’s leading passer just five times this season? Opposing quarterbacks that have bested Newton include the likes of Blake Bortles of Jacksonville, Ryan Mallett of Houston and Sam Bradford of Philly.

In fact, the only top-notch quarterback Newton has outperformed this year, head-to-head, is Andrew Luck of the Colts.

Even in a losing effort, Aaron Rodgers of the Packers torched the Carolina secondary for 369 yards – Green Bay lost 37-29 in Charlotte.

I see Romo having that type of game in Arlington against an opposing passer in Newton that’s only passed for 300-plus yards once in 2015. In fact, Carolina hasn’t had a leading pass catcher that actually played wide receiver at all this season. Greg Olson, who’s clearly Newton’s favorite target, has held this modest honor following just four Panthers wins in 2015, and he plays tight end.

Don’t get me wrong, Carolina can definitely run the football and this will be the game plan against a Cowboys offense that’s badly underrated mainly because of injuries this season. Newton and running back Jonathan Stewart are a formidable rushing duo that will absolutely test the Dallas linebackers and a relatively thin group of defensive tackles, but Carolina head coach Ron Rivera knows that his team can’t get into a shootout with this Cowboys offense on the road.

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However, if Romo lights up the scoreboard at AT&T Stadium on Thursday, I’d bet more than a pumpkin pie that Newton and the Panthers end up stuffed turkeys on national television.

This is not to say that the Panthers cannot beat the Cowboys – but I don’t think they will.