Last week’s slate ended well for the home teams. The Stars finally earned their long-awaited first regular-season win on Saturday, while SMU saved their season against UCF, and the Cowboys pummeled the Falcons.
The stakes are even higher this time around. We’ll learn a ton about the Mavericks, while the Mustangs walk into their toughest game of the year. And 10 weeks after playing the defending Super Bowl champions, the Cowboys now face the losing side from that game.
Here’s what I’m watching.
Wednesday, 11/17 and Friday, 11/19: Mavericks at Suns—9:00 p.m., Bally Sports Southwest
The Mavericks head into the week sitting in fourth place in the Western Conference, although, as our Zac Crain notes, things don’t feel as good as their record indicates. A major part of that is the competition: as of Sunday afternoon, they don’t hold a win over a single team with a winning record and just one over a squad at .500 (Toronto). This week is the proving ground, with four games total against the Denver Nuggets, Phoenix Suns, and Los Angeles Clippers—the teams that happen to occupy the third, second, and fifth seeds in the West, respectively.
The main events are the two middle games: consecutive road tilts against the Suns, last year’s Western Conference representative in the NBA Finals. Phoenix has absolutely owned Dallas in recent years, winning the last six matchups and 13 of the last 16 dating back to January 2017, and they’ve jumped out to an impressive 9-3 start despite starting center Deandre Ayton missing time.
Getting a split, then, would be admirable. Take one of the Denver or L.A. games, too, and the Mavericks should walk out of this gauntlet with their heads held high.
Saturday, 11/20: SMU at Cincinnati—2:30 p.m., ESPN
This is the big one, even if the matchup has lost a bit of luster over the last few weeks. The Mustangs turned in a hell of a tune-up effort, filleting UCF 55-28 last week in their most impressive effort of the season. They’ll need to be even better to take down the undefeated Bearcats, who are chasing both the AAC title as well as a playoff berth. Will they? It’s hard to imagine so if leading receiver Danny Gray is sidelined after leaving the UCF game in a boot. But the Mustangs have enough firepower to stay in the fight. And if they do pull this off, they’ll be one game back of the conference lead.
Sunday, 11/21: the Cowboys secondary versus Kansas City’s Tyreek Hill—3:25 p.m., ESPN
For the first time in years, the vaunted Chiefs offense has looked mortal, a byproduct of the front office’s failing to provide complementary pieces to ease the strain on Kansas City’s All-Pro trio of Patrick Mahomes, Travis Kelce, and Tyreek Hill. No defense is equipped to shut down both of Mahomes’ favorite targets, so the safest path to success is to pick your poison, and that means letting Kelce do what he wants for the sake of slowing down Hill.
Easier said than done, of course. Hill is the game’s most electric wide receiver, a 5-foot-10 thimble of sparks—and, it must be noted, all sorts of troubling off-field issues—who can cause problems both vertically and laterally. None of Dallas’ corners—Trevon Diggs included—can stick with him because no one anywhere can. Every one of them is going to get beat somewhere on the field. The key to containing him is making sure that somewhere is in front of the secondary. Limit the big gains, make him work, and always have help ready to snuff out big gains after the catch. Do that, and Kansas City’s attack becomes manageable, which lays out an attainable path to victory with the Chiefs’ patchy defense not having anywhere near the personnel to weather Dallas’ offense.
This is the Cowboys’ biggest test since the season opener at Tampa Bay. How they play Hill will have a major say in whether they pass.