Carolina coach Ron Rivera sees a Dallas team on the verge of a run with Tony Romo back and trying to keep the Cowboys in the playoff picture.
Rivera should know. That's exactly what the Panthers did a year ago.
Cam Newton's team rallied from 3-8-1 to win four straight and qualify for the postseason. This time, Carolina is 10-0 for the first time in franchise history, making its Thanksgiving debut Thursday against the Cowboys (3-7).
Dallas just snapped a seven-game losing streak that covered all the games Romo missed with a broken collarbone, and four of the games All-Pro receiver Dez Bryant was out with a fractured foot.
"Their best receiver has been hurt, their tight end has been hurt, their running game is still in flux because it's just starting to develop and the runner is getting used to the blockers, and the blockers are just getting used to the quarterback being back," Rivera said of the defending NFC East champions. "They're, I think, on the cusp of getting ready to start rolling again."
Romo has a knack for winning these games. According to STATS, he's the only quarterback in NFL history with multiple wins against teams that were 9-0 or better -- Indianapolis (9-0) in his fourth career start in 2006 and New Orleans (13-0) three years later.
While Newton and the Panthers are trying to "manage our success," as Rivera put it, and in prime position for a first-round bye in the playoffs, Romo does at least share one thing with Carolina's dual-threat star. The four-time Pro Bowl quarterback is undefeated this season, too -- in three starts.
"I just think we won a football game," Romo said when asked if last week's 24-14 victory at Miami was a lift for a fading team that somehow is only two games behind the division-leading New York Giants.
"As far as going into this week, it's such a short week you just forget about last week and you have to move right on. You get about four to six hours of enjoyment with it and then you are right on to Carolina."
The Panthers have an NFL-best 14-game winning streak in the regular season, and are coming off a 44-16 rout of Washington, Dallas' division rival.
And yet Carolina was merely a pick-em on the betting line Wednesday. According to pregame.com, an undefeated team has never been an underdog against a team with a losing record in Week 10 or later.
Chalk it up to the power of Romo's return.
"We've never really pretty much paid attention to anybody being the underdog or whatnot," Newton said. "It really is irrelevant. For us, it's just be ready to go on Thursday."
Things to consider with the Cowboys going for their 30th Thanksgiving win:
HARDY REUNION: Dallas defensive end Greg Hardy wouldn't talk to reporters in the days before his first game against the team that drafted him. He missed the last 15 games with Carolina last season because of his arrest in a domestic violence case, and has been a target of heavy criticism -- some of it self-inflicted -- since serving a four-game suspension to start this season.
Rivera didn't want to get into his organization's decision not to bring back Hardy, and Dallas coach Jason Garrett didn't want to discuss details of the team's decision to sign him in free agency. Hardy had 34 sacks in 63 games with Carolina, including two seasons of 10-plus sacks.
"Greg is a great teammate, contrary to popular belief," Newton said. "Greg is a person that came in and worked hard, gave everybody everything that he had and a person that you love to watch on Sundays. Anytime you've got a person like that, it's always great to watch."
NEWTON RIDING HIGH: Newton is coming off one of his best games as a passer, throwing for a career-high five TDs against Redskins. Behind Newton, the high-powered Panthers have scored at least 27 points in 10 straight games this season and are third in the league in scoring, averaging 29.9 points per game.
SHORT WEEK: Romo had his worst game last season on Thanksgiving, and acknowledged the short rest affected his recovery with his surgically repaired back. But Garrett noted that Romo wasn't as far removed from back surgery a year ago, and the Cowboys played a Sunday night game before losing to Philadelphia four days later.
JOHNSON'S RETURN: Panthers defensive end Charles Johnson makes his return after missing seven games with a hamstring injury. Johnson has averaged more than 10 sacks per season over the past five seasons. The Panthers have 22 sacks in their past six games without Johnson.
TIGHT END WATCH: Dallas' Jason Witten still needs six catches to join Tony Gonzalez as the only NFL tight ends with at least 1,000 catches and 10,000 yards receiving. Carolina's Greg Olsen needs six receptions to become the team's leader among tight ends a week after setting the yardage record at the position.