Through the decades, when the Cowboys and Redskins met, it often was for the division lead. On Sunday, the archrivals go at it for the 115th time. At stake: second place in the NFC East behind the high-flying Eagles.
While the Eagles host the winless 49ers already owning a 2 1/2-game edge in the division, the winner at FedEx Field at least can remain in sight of Philly.
So even though neither Dallas nor Washington, both 3-3, will have reached the halfway mark of the schedule, this is a critical matchup.
For Washington, the challenge is heightened because it lost on Monday night at Philadelphia, though coach Jay Gruden didn’t see the short week as too much of a problem.
“Yeah, I think that the one thing that I’m pretty decent at is trying to get a gauge for how our team is feeling, physically, No. 1,” he says.
“The majority of these guys will run through a brick wall for the Washington Redskins, that’s for sure, that’s why I love this group. But I also have to be smart and make sure I understand that this is a long year and I’ve got to make sure that these guys are healthy.
“And there are some things we can do as far as more walkthroughs are concerned, more meeting time, and less pounding and running and physical contact, which, really about Week 6 or 7 it isn’t the end of the world.”
Cowboys fans were having anxiety attacks with their team under .500, but a romp at the 49ers brightened the outlook.
“We are definitely going into the direction that we want to go,” quarterback Dak Prescott says. “We are playing up to our standards and expectations of the way we expect to move the ball, the way we expect to get points. And it’s been going well.
“It’s hard to say there is one thing that has changed. If anything we have continued to keep faith and keep confidence in ourselves and continue with the same game plan we have been doing early in the season. We are getting into a groove.”
The weekend began with the Baltimore Raves running over the visiting Miami Dolphins 40-0 Thursday night.
Joe Flacco threw a touchdown pass before being knocked from the game with a concussion, and the Ravens frustrated quarterback Matt Moore and the Dolphins (4-3), who had won three straight.
Alex Collins ran for a career-high 113 yards, and Baltimore (4-4) returned two interceptions for touchdowns in the most lopsided shutout in franchise history.
In the midst of one of his best performances of the season, Flacco was struck in the helmet by Miami linebacker Kiko Alonso while sliding at the end of an impromptu run. Flacco’s helmet flew off his head, and the 10-year quarterback appeared dazed as he struggled to his feet. The play occurred with 3 minutes left in the second quarter.
Flacco was initially placed in concussion protocol, and by halftime was ruled out. He went 10 for 15 for 101 yards, including a 34-yard touchdown pass to Jeremy Maclin.
Off this week are the Rams (5-2), Cardinals (3-4), Giants (1-6), Jaguars (4-3), Titans (4-3) and Packers (4-3).
San Francisco (0-7) at Philadelphia (6-1)
Carson Wentz made such a strong impression on Monday night that he’s surged in MVP talk. Yes, it’s just seven weeks, but the Eagles do have the NFL’s best record. And Wentz has been superb.
He leads the league with 17 touchdown passes, including 11 in the past three games. And the way he uses his running skills has Redskins cornerback Josh Norman comparing Wentz to Houdini.
A key element here: Philadelphia is one of the NFL’s best with the ball on third downs. San Francisco is one of the worst defending third downs.
Pittsburgh (5-2) at Detroit (3-3)
The Steelers have won four straight in this series. In addition to the three-pronged attack of Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell, Pittsburgh is tied for second in the NFL with 24 sacks. Detroit has allowed 23.
Fortunately for the Lions, they come off a bye, allowing Matthew Stafford to heal up a bit before facing that emerging defense.
Pittsburgh has had the distraction of receiver Martavis Bryant, who was suspended for last season, complaining publicly about his role. Coach Mike Tomlin has said there are no plans to trade Bryant, who noted during the week that he was being benched for Sunday’s game.
Denver (3-3) at Kansas City (5-2), Monday night
Like Cowboys-Redskins, this is another classic rivalry.
Both teams have lost two in a row. Denver’s offense has disappeared; the Broncos scored 42 points over the past four games and were shut out by the Chargers last week.
One player who would love to have an impact on Denver’s offense is Jamaal Charles. The long-time star running back for KC is now a Bronco and needs 44 yards from scrimmage to reach 10,000.
His replacement in Kansas City, Kareem Hunt, is the only player in NFL history to start his career with seven straight 100-yard scrimmage games. Hunt leads the NFL in rushing and is second in yards per carry.
Minnesota (5-2) vs. Cleveland (0-7) at London
It would be no surprise if Browns coach Hue Jackson, 1-22 so far, gets fired if Cleveland loses at Twickenham Stadium. The Browns are off next week, which would allow for more time to adjust to a new boss.
Cleveland is making its first regular-season international trip and doing so without the face of the franchise. Tackle Joe Thomas underwent surgery for a torn triceps that sidelined him in last week’s overtime loss to Tennessee. Thomas participated in 10,363 consecutive plays since being drafted in the first round in 2007.
Minnesota’s balance has been impressive. Sitting atop the NFC North, the Vikings are getting solid contributions from third-string (albeit veteran) QB Case Keenum, wideout Adam Thielen, RBs Jerick McKinnon and Latavius Murray, and a staunch defense led by end Everson Griffen. He stands third in the NFL with nine sacks and has at least one in each game.
Los Angeles Chargers (3-4) at New England (5-2)
Both clubs have won three in a row, with the Patriots looking more like the Patriots, the Chargers perhaps having saved their season.
Gillette Stadium, whether around Halloween or any other time, is a house of horrors for Chargers QB Philip Rivers. He is 1-6 against the Patriots (1-4 regular season, 0-2 in postseason), including 0-3 at Foxborough. He journeys there this time with a good complement in RB Melvin Gordon, and a defense that gets after passers.
So Tom Brady must be cognizant of DEs Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram. Bosa has five sacks and two forced fumbles in the past three games and 7½ sacks in total. He and Ingram (8½ sacks) can become the fifth pair of teammates to each get at least nine sacks in their team’s first eight games of a season since sacks became an official statistic in 1982.
Houston (3-3) at Seattle (4-2)
How cool might this matchup of energetic, versatile and mobile quarterbacks Russell Wilson and Deshaun Watson be? Even if there aren’t a ton of points — Seattle remains a defense-first team and doesn’t light up the scoreboard — this ought to be entertaining.
Houston comes off a bye. Before that, Watson was sensational. Watson has the Texans at No. 3 in scoring offense at 29.5 points per game. They have scored at least 33 points in each of the past four. He has 12 TDs and two INTs and a 118.3 rating in his past three games and is the first rookie QB in league history with three straight games of three or more TD passes.
But no AFC team has won in Seattle since Week 8 of 2011. The Seahawks are tied with Jacksonville for stinginess, yielding 15.7 points per game. Seattle’s D has not allowed any first-quarter points.
Oakland (3-4) at Buffalo (4-2)
The Raiders edged the Chiefs a week ago with no time remaining after a wild sequence of penalties. The Bills beat the Bucs on Stephen Hauschka’s 30-yard field goal with 14 seconds left.
This is a homecoming for 2016 Defensive Player of the Year Khalil Mack. The Raiders defensive end played four seasons at the University at Buffalo before being selected by Oakland with the fifth pick in the 2014 draft. Mack has 12 tackles, two sacks, a forced fumble and fumble recovery in two career games against the Bills.
Buffalo RB LeSean McCoy had 91 yards rushing, his most since 110 in the season opener, and scored twice last week to snap a six-game TD drought.
Carolina (4-3) at Tampa Bay (2-4)
Carolina is damaging itself by allowing big plays. It allowed two long defensive TDs to Chicago safety Eddie Jackson last Sunday, and that was the difference as the Panthers couldn’t find the end zone.
Cam Newton really struggled at Soldier Field, but this is an opponent he enjoys seeing: In nine meetings, Newton has thrown for 2,068 yards, 15 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He also has eight rushing TDs.
Tampa Bay figures to move the ball through the air with Jameis Winston connecting with star wideout Mike Evans and tight ends Cameron Brate and rookie O.J. Howard. Brate has 12 TD receptions since the start of last season, the most by a tight end over that span. Howard comes off a breakout game against the Bills with six receptions for 98 yards and two TDs.
Chicago (3-4) at New Orleans (4-2)
The Saints have soared to the top of the NFC South with four consecutive wins. Their defense has been stout and the running game with Mark Ingram and rookie Alvin Kamara is complementing Drew Brees’ passing.
By comparison, Chicago must make huge defensive plays, as Jackson did last week (76-yard INT TD and 75-yard fumble return TD), to compete. Rookie QB Mitchell Trubisky has thrown only 23 passes in the past two games. That’s combined. He hit on 12 with one TD, no INTs.
Atlanta (3-3) at New York Jets (3-4)
A loss here will stoke up the “What’s wrong with the Falcons” mantra. They certainly looked discombobulated at New England last Sunday night, nearly getting blanked.
This one concludes a weird scheduling string for Atlanta: Buffalo, Miami and New England, all losses, preceded the trip to MetLife Stadium. Did someone err by thinking the Falcons were an AFC East franchise?
The Jets blew a 14-point lead in the final quarter at Miami. Their offense has been far better than projected; their defense has not been as good as expected.
Indianapolis (2-5) at Cincinnati (2-4)
Not much we can say to promote interest in this one.
Well, there is this: Indy RB Frank Gore needs four carries to pass Barry Sanders (3,062) for sixth on the career list. Gore will become the first NFL back to start 100 consecutive games since Curtis Martin started 119 in a row from 1998-2005. And Gore needs one 100-yard rushing game to tie O.J. Simpson for 16th with 42 for his career.
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