By Andrew Kahn
The Cowboys are 8-4, but if the season ended today they would not be in the playoffs. After Thursday’s visit to Chicago, they go to Philadelphia, host Indianapolis, and finish at Washington. numberFire.com gives them a 45 percent chance of reaching the postseason, but they are unbeaten on the road this season, which bodes well for them down the stretch. Chicago’s playoff hopes are all but extinguished after a loss to Detroit on Thanksgiving dropped the Bears to 5-7.
When Dallas has the ball:
If Tony Romo is healthy—and it’s probably unfair to judge him on his performance on Thursday afternoon coming off a Sunday night game—this offense is potent. Dallas is third in the league in both passing and rushing yards per attempt. Only two players in the league have more touchdown catches than Dez Bryant and none have more rushing yards than DeMarco Murray. So how will the Cowboys attack the Bears?
Well, Chicago is second to last in the NFL in yards per pass attempt allowed. Bryant is the brightest star, but Jason Witten is still a capable pass-catching tight end. Terrance Williams, however, has been very quiet after a hot start. He grabbed six touchdowns in the first seven games and looked like a nice complement to Bryant, but has critically low production since, including no touchdowns. “People make it seem like I’ve disappeared, but I haven’t. We’ve just been spreading the ball around well,” Williams told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. That’s a good attitude, but the numbers don’t back it up. Dallas needs Williams to return to early season form and provide another big play threat. Of course, the Boys won’t forget about the NFL’s leading rusher. If Murray delivers another strong performance, Dallas should have no problem scoring early and often.
When Chicago has the ball:
The Bears offense, with all its weapons, has been disappointing. Matt Forte leads all running backs in receptions (78) and his yards from scrimmage are second in the NFC to Murray. Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, and Martellus Bennett are difficult matchups for opposing secondaries. Jay Cutler is an above-average quarterback. And yet, the Bears are in the bottom half of the league in yards and points per game. It’s as if the whole is less than the sum of its parts, a strange paradox considering second-year head coach Marc Trestman’s reputation as an offensive whiz (and Chicago’s success on that side of the ball last year).
There is reason to believe the Bears can light up the scoreboard against a weak Dallas defense, but there was reason to believe it would happen on Thanksgiving, yet Chicago sputtered after a strong first quarter. Running back LeSean McCoy and the rest of the Eagles torched Dallas last week, and Chicago would be wise to get the ball in Forte’s hands as often as possible. Will it be enough against a Dallas team that appears extra focused away from home and is fighting for a postseason spot?
Prediction: Chicago 31, Dallas 30
Andrew Kahn is a regular contributor to CBS Local who also writes for Newsday and The Wall Street Journal. He writes about the NFL and other sports at AndrewJKahn.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @AndrewKahn.
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