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Big Game in Big D

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The Redskins and Cowboys renew their Thanksgiving rivalry in a game that has the potential to be Washington’s biggest in a generation.

Dallas Cowboys v Washington Redskins Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

We’ve been waiting for this for a long time.

The Washington Redskins find themselves on the eve of not just an important game, not just a game that will go a long way toward determining if they’ll make the playoffs, but a game that could position the Redskins as a legitimate threat to go to the Super Bowl.

I said it.

This is it, fans. No delusion or hyperbole or unfounded optimism necessary.

Washington has had other big regular-season games, even in recent years. The runs to the postseason in 2012 and 2016 both had pivotal moments that saw the Redskins triumph.

This year feels different.

Sure, the defense still struggles against the run at times, but the pass rush is effective (and will need to be excellent tomorrow), and they have a penchant for making the big play when they absolutely need it. Su’a Cravens is having a strong first season, Trent Murphy is much-improved, and Josh Norman is a revelation.

Most importantly, the Redskins are as deep at several positions as they’ve been in at least a decade. That’s a testament to Scot McCloughan.

Missed games by DeSean Jackson, Jordan Reed, and even Trent Williams, as good as those players are, haven’t created a drop-off crisis like we would have seen in years’ past. If I had told you on opening weekend that Matt Jones would be a total non-factor by mid-season, you probably would have been thinking the Redskins were headed for a losing year.

I’ll say it again: This year feels different.

Then there’s Kirk Cousins. Personally, I’m not quite ready to back up the Brink’s truck just yet (check back with me tomorrow night around 7:30), but there’s no doubt he’s played well overall. His production is pretty remarkable, as he has already thrown for 3,091 yards, which is more than any quarterback has piled up in 10 games in the history of the NFC East. He has the highest passer rating of any active QB in his last 20 starts. He’s helped the Redskins post the #2 total offense in the NFC, behind only New Orleans.

And they’re trending upward. Washington is 6-1-1 over its last eight games, and should be 7-1. The Redskins are one bad end-of-game sequence against Detroit from being undefeated during the past two months. Washington’s record over the last 16 regular-season games is 11-4-1, which is the team’s best stretch since 1992, the final year of Joe Gibbs’ first tenure. That 11-4-1 mark is also the third-best in the entire NFL over that same span, behind only Seattle (12-3-1) and Kansas City (13-3).

Bottom line: Nobody in the NFC has looked better than Washington since late September.

Except for the Redskins’ opponent on Thursday.

The Dallas Cowboys have won a franchise-record nine games in a row, a streak that began with a close win at FedEx. There’s no question the Cowboys have been extremely impressive, with rookies Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott shining. Dallas even sidestepped a potential quarterback controversy thanks to Tony Romo’s magnanimity. The Cowboys have a two-game lead in the very competitive NFC East, and they are positioned to wrap up home-field by mid-December if they keep rolling.

Dallas is firing on all cylinders, but what should particularly scare Redskins fans is how dominant the ‘Boys have been on the ground.

Washington has an edge in total offense, but the Cowboys’ running game is light years ahead of the rest of the NFC.

Dallas has rushed for 1,567 yards to date behind that outstanding offensive line. The next-closest NFC team is (somehow!) San Francisco, which has 1,198. The Cowboys also average 4.7 yards per carry, the best in the conference, just ahead of the Redskins’ 4.6 YPC.

That looks like a Dallas strength that matches up well with one of Washington’s weaknesses.

I’m not buying it.

Elliott will get his yards, but I don’t think that will be enough to out-pace a red-hot Washington offense.

NFL teams eventually regress to the mean. It’s the nature of a league built on parity.

Put simply, Dallas is due for a stinker.

I’m not saying the Cowboys aren’t a good team. Far from it. After all, I’m the only writer at Hogs Haven who picked Dallas to win the division, much to the chagrin of some of our readers.

But I don’t think they’re quite this good.

More pressingly, the Redskins are better than I expected. I figured Washington to be an eight-or-nine-win team. Improved over 2015 and moving in the right direction, but still in the middle of a multi-year build and facing tougher competition.

As it turns out, the Redskins are ahead of schedule.

I thought McCloughan would have them in contention to go to a Super Bowl by the 2018 season, but the development of the offensive line and the singular abilities of Norman have accelerated the timetable.

Here it is, then: If Washington can beat Dallas, I think it will be entirely fair for the Redskins to claim that they are currently the best team in the NFC.

Not the Seahawks.

Not the Giants.

Not the Cowboys.

The Redskins.

The Redskins!

They’ll still have serious work to do to catch Dallas for the divisional title, which will be key if Washington wants to get deep into the postseason, but a Thanksgiving win would be a huge first step in that direction.

I think they’ll take it. And I don’t think it will be all that close.

The Redskins win by two scores tomorrow.

No equivocation. No hedging. Washington leaves Big D with a double-digit margin of victory and a legitimate claim to being the class of the NFC.

Happy Thanksgiving.

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If you’d like to hear the tale of another big Dallas / Washington game, check out the most recent installment of “Something Special,” a storytelling podcast about the 1991 World Champion Washington Redskins.