Los Angeles Chargers vs. Dallas Cowboys: Prediction, preview, pick to win

By The Sports Xchange  |  Nov. 22, 2017 at 11:25 AM
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LOS ANGELES CHARGERS (4-6) AT DALLAS COWBOYS (5-5)

KICKOFF: Thursday, 4:30 p.m. ET, AT&T Stadium. TV: CBS, Jim Nantz, Tony Romo, Tracy Wolfson (field reporter).

SERIES HISTORY: 11th regular-series meeting. Cowboys lead series, 6-4. Four of those wins came in San Diego. The game should be close as six of the 10 games were decided by six points or less and the four others decided by no more than two touchdowns. The Chargers have won the last two meetings. Thursday marks the first Thanksgiving meeting between the teams.

KEYS TO THE GAME: Philip Rivers is coming off his best game of the season and has a chance to duplicate his success against a pass defense surrendering 215 yards a game -- one reason Dallas is giving up 24.2 points per game, which is 20th in the league. The Chargers can't run the ball with much luck, but what they can do -- as they proved Sunday -- is fling it around the yard.

Wide receiver Keenan Allen is well ahead of pace to notch the second 1,000-yard season of his career and the first since his rookie campaign in 2013. He has 56 receptions for 755 yards and three touchdowns through 10 games. He caught 12 passes for 159 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the Chargers' 54-24 throttling of the Bills last week.

Dallas is far behind NFC East-leading Philadelphia and is scraping for a playoff berth with a depleted team. Star running back Ezekiel Elliott, All-Pro left tackle Tyron Smith and the cornerstone of the defense, linebacker Sean Lee, are all out of the lineup.

Dallas could get its ground game going against a Chargers run defense that is dead last in the league at 139 yards a game. Alfred Morris showed signs last week that he could have a big game.

Quarterback Dak Prescott has been sacked 12 times in two games as the Cowboys have scored just 16 points. But Prescott is shifty and capable of carrying a team with his legs and his arm -- he still has reliable tight end Jason Witten and dangerous Dez Bryant.

The key will be keeping defensive ends Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram away from Prescott.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH:

--Cowboys passing attack vs. Chargers pass defense. Is the Chargers' secondary up to the task of slowing Dak Prescott (16 passing touchdowns) and Dez Bryant (541 yards and four scores)? If it's to have a chance, Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram will need to corral Peterson. That's no easy task as Peterson has rushed for five touchdowns and over 240 yards. Bryant will likely draw Casey Hayward in most coverages, and the Chargers' top active cover corner is coming off a game in which he had two interceptions.

--Chargers tackles vs. Cowboys pass rush. Defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence, who is tied for the NFL lead with 11.5 sacks, will be lining up over LT Russell Okung, who has been steady in his first year as a Charger but briefly left Sunday's game with an injury. Lawrence has a chance to make Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers' life miserable. Lawrence also will test the other side, where backup Michael Schofield likely will fill in for Joe Barksdale (foot).

PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Chargers TE Hunter Henry. Henry, who had eight scoring catches last year, was going to be a big part of the offense this year. But the coaching staff hasn't really figured out how to incorporate him into the game plan. That changed last week as Hunter was targeted early and often in the win over the Bills. His numbers weren't great, but they proved the Chargers might still plot a strategy to take advantage of Henry's talents.

FAST FACTS: Chargers QB Philip Rivers threw for two touchdowns last week and has 10 touchdowns against four interceptions in his past five road games.

He has 17 touchdowns and four interceptions in eight games on Thursdays. ... RB Melvin Gordon has 573 yards from scrimmage and six touchdowns in his last five road games. ... Rookie RB Austin Ekeler has three touchdowns in his last two games. ... WR Keenan Allen had 12 catches for 159 yards and two scores against the Bills last week. He has six games with 10 catches and 100 receiving yards, fourth most in the NFL. ... TE Antonio Gates has two touchdowns in the last two games against Dallas. ... DE Joey Bosa had a sack and a forced fumble against the Bills. He aims for a seventh straight game with a sack. ... Dallas QB Dak Prescott has 777 passing yards, six touchdowns and no interceptions in three home games against the AFC. He is 9-3 with 20 TDs and only six interceptions in his last 12 games at home. Since entering the league in 2016, he leads all quarterbacks with 11 rushing TDs. ... RB Alfred Morris rushed for 121 yards and a touchdown the only time he faced the Chargers (2013 with Washington). He is one of six running backs with more than 5,000 yards and 30 rushing touchdowns (31) since 2012. ... WR Dez Bryant has 10 receiving TDs in his past nine games at home vs. the AFC. He has a touchdown catch in 17 of his past 19 games against the AFC. ... TE Jason Witten has 73 career receptions on Thanksgiving, most in NFL history. He has 809 receiving yards on Thanksgiving and needs 26 to surpass Herman Moore for most all time. ... LB Jaylon Smith leads Dallas with 58 tackles. ... Rookie CB Jourdan Lewis ranks fourth among NFC rookies with six passes defensed.

PREDICTION: Without Sean Lee in the lineup, the Cowboys have given up a whopping 33.5 points per game. Philip Rivers has more weapons than Dak Prescott. Keenan Allen is healthy and the tandem of Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram will thrive in front of a national audience.

OUR PICK: Chargers, 38-21.

--Dennis Rudner

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