Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!
Today the Carolina Panthers take on the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium. This is a huge game for the Panthers on the biggest national stage of the year. 
I will be tweeting from the field starting at around 2 hours before kickoff. Follow @CarolinaHuddle on Twitter for pregame photos and observations. 
Panthers Keys to Victory
- Josh Norman must contain Dez Bryant. A big day from Bryant could be the Panthers downfall. 
- Ground and Pound. The Panthers have the 4th ranked rushing attack in the league. Dallas has the 5th worst rushing defense. Capitalize on that matchup, own the time of possession. 
- Front 4 pressure. If the Panthers with Charles Johnson can get adequate pressure on Tony Romo without blitzing, the game is won. Having the best linebackers in football roam the field freely is an insurmountable obstacle for Dallas. 
It is widely known that the Cowboys fan base is one of the least knowledgeable, tolerable, and likable fan  bases in the NFL, generally speaking. 
As such, here are a few tasty nuggets I found while surveying their fan communities. 
From the official Dallas Cowboys Message Board
The Cowboys won a game by 10 points against another bad team, and now they are a Superbowl contender. The Buffalo Bills beat the same Miami team by 16, I guess they are a dynasty in the making. But, to be fair, the Bills are a respectable 5-5. Comparing them to the 3-7 Cowboys does them a disservice. 
The Panthers upgraded offensive line handled JJ Watt easily earlier this year. After witnessing that, individuals on any defense are no longer worrisome. It takes more than one or two good players to stop the Panthers potent offense. It would take an overall solid defense at all positions, something the Cowboys are far from having. Dallas has a mediocre defense in the literal sense of the word. They are currently ranked 15th in points allowed per game. The Panthers are ranked 5th. 
Tony Romo doesn't crack the top 5 in QB's the Panthers will have faced this season. If he played anywhere but Dallas he would not be on the national media radar week in and week out. 
The Cowboys are waiting on intelligent insight from Greg Hardy.... 

Stopped reading. I appreciate it when opposing fans have witty smack talk, but seeing "SCam" on every troglodyte NFC East message board is lazy and ineffectual at best. Do better. 
Hey look, one of those Charlotte residents we all laugh at and share photos of when we see him in his Cowboys gear. Sad. 
Six weeks ago we visited the immortal fate of Sisyphus, Greek king damned to a fate of eternally rolling a boulder up a hill, only to have it roll back down right when it reached the top. The folks over at Existential Comics did a nice job with it (it's a lot funnier now that we've pushed that boulder over the crest with the downfall of the Seattle Seahawks.)

But alas, as is the case with any franchise plagued by long periods of mediocrity, we still have lots of mileage to get out of the Sisyphean analogy. If Sisyphus is Panthers, and the boulder an NFL team, there is perhaps no candidate more appropriate than the Dallas Cowboys. This is a matchup that reflexively triggers bad tastes in the mouths of Carolina fans at its mere mention, tapping into a frustrating legacy of bad teams caught at bad times and good teams caught at bad times and good teams at good times caught by bad referees. That cursed boulder has been tumbling backwards for as long as any of us can remember.
With Thanksgiving a scant three days away, and an impending matchup that invokes ineffable angst deep in the stomach pits of all Panthers fans, I've decided to assemble an abbreviated history of the Carolina-Dallas matchups. It's abbreviated because I've marked 2005 as the genesis of Sisyphean tendencies; it's latter-day Cowboys games that've proved so maddening. Five games punctuate our history, each more gut-wrenchingly infuriating than the last. Let's have a look.
2005 (L 20-24)
With ten years of hindsight a lot of people point to this as the greatest Panthers offense of all time. Jake Delhomme had come off a career year in 2004 and extended it with Steve Smith's triple crown season. The team rolled into this late-season game with a 10-4 record, a game ahead of the Bucs for first place in a highly competitive NFCS. Winning this game and then beating the hapless Falcons would seal the division and leave the Panthers with a first-round bye. Needless to say, this would be a bad contest to drop.
Two terrible things happened in this game. Midway through the third quarter Terrance Newman hit Steve Smith out of bounds, and Smith ran up to a ref to (rightly) complain about the no-call. He committed the cardinal sin of touching that ref and was promptly flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct and ejected. Smith was livid. Fox was livid. Delhomme was livid. I was livid, I almost died. But Delhomme threw the game on his back, marched down in the fourth quarter in response, and threw a touchdown to Ricky Proehl for a late three-point lead.
Here Sisyphus surfaced for the first time. With their final possession the Cowboys marched down the field and lined up for what would be a game-tying field goal, leaving Carolina three minutes on the clock to go grab a game-winner. Julius Peppers and Ken Lucas miraculously blocked it - and then were famously flagged for roughing the kicker. It was the worst single-play ref job in Panthers history. "I definitely touched the ball, both me and God know it," Lucas said about the play, after Drew Bledsoe, given a new set of downs, tossed the game-winning touchdown.
God, Ken Lucas, and all of us know this atrocious call kicked off a full decade of equally atrocious Panthers-Cowboys matchups.
2006 (L 14-35)
This season was a disappointment from the start, so a screw job in a Cowboys game was a natural fit on the menu. Keyshawn Johnson was supposed to be the key free agent that would put the Panthers over the top, but the first two games quickly upended those expectations. Two crushing losses followed by a narrow win over the Buccaneers summed up that season. It was up and down all year. Dallas rolled into town to face a 4-3 squad that might actually be the streakiest team in Panthers history.
Sometimes brilliant, sometimes atrocious, this game was a microcosm of that season. The offense scored early, the defense forced a turnover, and then a Steve Smith rushing touchdown made it 14-0 Panthers. But Dallas went on to score 35 unanswered points, led by a young undrafted free agent named Tony Romo. A deplorable defensive secondary (that day) and an anemic passing attack (supplemented by referees refusing to call flagrant holds on Julius Peppers for four quarters, rendering him sackless on the day) contributed to another crushing loss.
A win here would've put a 9-7 Panthers team in the playoffs. Instead it was another moribund 8-8 John Fox season, on the bright brink of vitality but, as usual, only grazing it.
2007 (L 13-20)
Miracles do happen. The Panthers beat an outstanding Seattle Seahawks squad at home in week fifteen, only allowing a touchdown in the final seconds when Quinton Teal or somebody went for the interception instead of just batting it down. This was a tremendous upset, and it placed the Matt Moore-led Panthers at 6-8, mathematically still alive for the playoffs. Winning out - with some help - could land the Panthers a wild card spot. Just gotta beat Dallas on that newfangled Saturday Night Football thing!
This game was fairly unremarkable. Both teams traded momentum all night, though the Panthers never led. They stayed in it the whole game, though, answering every Cowboys score with one of their own, and halfway into the fourth quarter a gorgeous Thomas Davis interception put the Panthers one score away from tying it up. Wunderkind quarterback Matt Moore got the ball back with a chance to go win the ballgame on national television, and began a march down the field.
Never in my life will I forget watching Drew Carter run his route up the middle of the field on 3rd and 8, beating linebacker Jacques Reeves, who then proceeded to cling to him like superman's cape for the next eight yards while a perfectly-placed ball dropped into Carter's molested, premature-tackle-contorted body. No flag. Unforgivably terrible no-call; there was no subjectivity involved. It was a flagrant pass interference in front of two referees, uncalled.
Carolina punted, gave up a field goal, and lost the game. Jobbed.
2009 (L 7-21)
Tony Fiammetta was drafted this year in hopes of developing the world's best running attack. It was largely a success, but in true fashion general manager Marty Hurney ignored gaping needs elsewhere. The Panthers went into week three with Nick Hayden and Everette Brown as mainstays on the defensive line with two ugly losses under their belts. This year was a harbinger of horrors to come in the following one, and the Cowboys provided the salt in the opening wound. As one of the league's best running teams that year (remember Marion Barber, Tashard Choice, and Felix Jones back when that three-headed-monster thing was in vogue?) they were able to consistently punch it past Hayden, Damione Lewis, and the rest of that recalcitrantly inept defensive front seven (Beason was still Beason, but consistently marginalized by upfield blockers all year.)
With the score 7-3 in the Panthers' favor midway through the third quarter (it one of the few good defensive games that squad put together) Jake Delhomme's dying arm lobbed a deep ball for Muhsin Muhammed, who caught it for a deep touchdown, the big-play game-breaker Carolina desperately needed. Then the refs called it back for a ticky-tack offensive pass interference call at odds with the tenor they'd set for officiating all game. It led to a Carolina punt, a Dallas field goal, and then Jake Delhomme's dying arm's game-losing pick-six.
So it goes.
2012 (L 14-19)
Maybe it's just because it's lodged in recent memory, but this game might actually have been the most maddening of the five. Keep in mind the 2012 season was maddening to begin with; the Panthers had seen Chudzinski's offense crumble in the season opener and enjoyed one win over the Saints before being humbled by a home drubbing by the Giants, a certain Haruki Nakamura play, and another loss to the Seahawks. They went into their bye 1-4 and came out of it facing the Dallas Cowboys.
This game was strange to watch because familiar icons like Cam and Luke were surrounded by people that seem like ancient history. Louis Murphy, James Anderson, ol' Bullethead. It was strange to watch plays that I've seen the Panthers succeed on a thousand times over this season, but absolutely fell apart in that year. This Cowboys game was no exception. It was maddening. I know, I was there with my pregnant wife trying not to jostle her while I flailed with rage.
Score-wise the game wasn't so bad. Tolbert grabbed the lead on a goal-line thrust part way through the fourth, putting the Panthers up by a point. But, characteristically, officiating knocked it out of reach. Two calls in particular were unforgivably bad: a no-call on blatant fourth-down DPI that left Louis Murphy and the entire stadium insane with fury and the Cowboys with great field position, and then immediately after that a phantom horse collar tackle on James Anderson that showed up on the replay as a perfectly legal tackle nowhere near the horse collar. Both were crucial, game-deciding calls by an arbitration crew expected not to affect the outcome of a game. Perhaps more than in any other Panthers game they failed, and Dallas walked away with a win, sending the Panthers packing to Chicago at a lowly 1-5. It may have been the worst loss of the season.

Sisyphus takes many forms.
So what do we make of this Sisyphean trend?
French existential philosopher Albert Camus has his own take on it. Opposing many philosophers who suggested that a true embracing of the absurdity of Sisyphean life is suicide, Camus proposed that the only true response is revolt. Weave your meaning through struggle. Throw down the iron chains of nihilism and an ever-plunging boulder and wrestle that son of a bitch to the top. Camus was onto something; while plenty of us have considered suicide after watching the last five Cowboys matchups, it's in the spirit of the 2015 Carolina Panthers to revolt. They've done it all year, pushed that boulder upward with single-minded determination.
How, exactly:
They can revolt by taking down a mid-tier Cowboys secondary forced to start rookie free safety Byron Jones in place of injured CB Morris Claiborne. The Dolphins beat him like a drum all day. They can revolt by stifling a suddenly vulnerable-looking Cowboys offensive line that consists of Doug Free struggling against speed rushers and interior guards susceptible to talented, stunting under tackles (like Kawann Short.)  They can revolt by frustrating an incredibly emotional Dez Bryant into making stupid, game-losing plays (or lack of plays entirely.) They can revolt by forcing Tony Romo into impressively desperate throws that invariably turn into picks, as happened multiple times against the Dolphins. They can revolt by grinding out tough ground yards against a Cowboys defensive line susceptible to undisciplined run defense, poor contain, and consistently leaving gaping holes between guard and tackle.  
They can revolt by punching Dallas in the mouth, and, collectively, punching the throats of every mealy-mouthed pundit, informationless fan, wheedling bookie, and narrative-driven columnist calling for a "juggernaut" 3-7 Cowboys team to ruin the season of the most overrated 10-0 team in existence.
So get out the turkey and pop open some cranberry sauce: in three days' time we'll have a new page in the abbreviated history of the Panthers and Cowboys. It'll begin - and end - with revolt.
Each week I bring to you the best photos my camera captures, all in HD. 
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Without further ado... 
Along the Sidelines - Redskins at Panthers
Who: Washington Redskins at Carolina Panthers
Where: Bank of America Stadium
When: 1:00
Today the Carolina Panthers have the opportunity to be an unprecedented 10-0 in their quest for a playoff bye week and home games throughout. 
The Redskins are a decent team, and this will be a tough test on the Panthers resolve. It would be helpful to go into Dallas on Thursday undefeated and with momentum. 
Keys to Panthers Victory
- Devin Funchess needs to continue his improvement. A tough possession receiver is the missing piece in this offense. If Funchess catch catch fire, look out. 
- Big Day for Big Play Bene. Bene will be moved back over to the outside where he really shined last season. Bene has caught heat this season from fans while playing the nickel position. Nickel is the most mentally demanding position on defensive side of the ball. At outside corner, Bene's responsibilities are cut in half, allowing him to just play the game. Big plays may return. 
- Ted Ginn is primed to break a long punt return or possibly a TD. Please, for all that is holy, do not block in the back during these plays as has been the case two weeks in a row. 
Approximately 2.5 million years ago a major shift occurred among earth's proto-human species. Up until that point, the most advanced form of primates were Australopithecines. Large and robust, they employed arboreal physical features to forage in the trees and, to a limited extent, the ability to walk upright to gather food and hunt game. But fossil evidence shows a sudden explosion in ability and habit, the result of which is the relatively quick emergence of a new species - Homo habilis. Marked by an increased brain-mass-to-body-size ratio and the first recorded use of tools, H. habilis is roundly agreed upon as beginnings of something new, something almost human.
Much debate circles around the process of becoming human. Most of it has focused on key foods that allowed for evolutionary selection and adaptation to acquiring it; the most notorious one is the idea that hunting vertebrates was the trigger for the explosion of human traits. The model goes like this:
Meat is an incredibly valuable part of the diet; Individuals best equipped to hunt meat are those that can stand tallest and walk the longest distances; Individuals that can stand the tallest and walk the longest distances breed more, and nature selects for those traits; Thus, populations gradually become better equipped to hunt. This model is generally accepted. Using it as a base, others hypothesize that, for instance, the invention of fire and cooking led to the formation of social solidarity, male-female pair bonds, and even language; those are, of course, heavily debatable. But the above model endures, and can be summed up as follows:
Adapt to your ecological niche or you're dead.
The same is also true in football.

Scientists confirm Andrew Luck is the closest living relative of H. habilis
Much like the survival of a species is dependent on its ability to adapt to the often-changing environment around it, offensive coordinators in the NFL must act and react according to defensive situations and gameplans, both in the short term (in individual games) and the long term (throughout the course of the season, or several seasons.) Our own Mike Shula remains enigmatic precisely because his apparent short-term flaws must be weighed against what appear to be long-term adaptive strengths. Let's break them down.
Short-term Shula
Last week the Titans came in with a very specific game plan: make up for the injury-wracked cornerback position by sending blitzers on nearly every down. It was a very good plan, actually, taking advantage of an extremely underrated defensive line able to hold gaps well enough allow linebackers through. In fact, if it wasn't for several defensive gaffes (like playing unblitzed zone coverage against Greg Olsen) and a Carolina defensive line that controlled the line of scrimmage all day, Mularkey may have sent the Panthers packing with their first loss of the season.
Mularkey's defense was relentless, and Mike Shula went three quarters without making adjustments to counter it. The obvious call for constant pressure is screens; you let the blitzers cross the line of scrimmage and then lob it over their heads into a convoy. If you don't do that you keep in extra guys to protect and release them upfield, or at least designate a hot receiver to occupy the vacated zone.
Instead we saw this:

Four go routes, developing at various phases twenty yards downfield, and what looks like a very deep, complex option break to the sideline by the tight end. No hot routes, no designated protection, all in the face of an incredibly obvious blitzing situation and three linebackers telegraphing the impending rush.
The play, predictably, was a sack. The Titans tallied five of them on the day, and would've had more if not for Cam's escapability. Shula's adjustments did not come until midway through the first quarter when he called a smoke screen and a few complementary underneath routes. This kind of rigidity has been symptomatic of Shula's tenure as offensive coordinator, and an enduring criticism of his ability to adapt to defensive schemes in a timely manner.
Long-term Shula
Calls to unseat Mike Shula have been a constant since week four of the 2013 season. But 2015's 4th-ranked Panthers offense has critics doubting their own fiery prognostications, supporters crowing their final victory, and everyone else trying to figure out whether Cam's outstanding play is making Shula look good, vice versa, or a combination of the two.
Whoever gets the credit, and however deficient he may be in game-time adjustments one thing is clear: Mike Shula has evolved. He has adjusted in two critical ways that have aided in the success of this year's offense.
1) He's given Cam options at the line. Much has been made in years past of Shula's inflexible play-calls; conversation has buzzed around microanalysis of Shula's off-the-cuff remarks about Cam's frustration at play calls. But around the beginning of this season we began seeing a much different dynamic: play calls coming in at a much faster rate, leaving time for on-field diagnosis. No longer does Cam walk up to the line with 0:04 on the play clock to point out the blitzing linebacker. Instead Shula gives Cam a predetermined suite of plays based on the defensive personnel that Cam can select based on the defensive alignment.
Such an instance took place midway through the first quarter. In the following frame, the offense lines up with a play call that, based on the personnel, is probably something like the following. Notice Stewart shifting out to a slot position from the backfield. But Cam looks at the formation and immediately knows something's up. "No sir, this is some bullshit," he says, probably out loud, seeing defensive lineman standing up and linebackers clustered oddly and showing blitz.

In past years the play clock would've been at zero already, so Cam would've had no choice but to snap the ball. Instead he walks up the the line and changes the play to another in the situational set. If those linebackers are blitzing, the standing lineman may be getting ready to drop into coverage, into the flats to ruin any dump-offs or into the middle of the field to jump any crossers. Cam approaches the formation and changes the play. Notice the MLB here changing the play as a result (or pretending to.)

The new play retains the formation of the old one, but with new route combos. Most notable are Stewart and Dickson, who now stay in as blockers before releasing upfield as blitz outlets.

Ed Dickson's spot keeps the SLB low and Philly Brown's route keeps the deep safety high, and the throw to Greg Olsen is predictably successful, for a critical first down. Carolina kept the momentum and went on to score. In years past, we may not have seen the offense have time to recover.
2) Shula has abandoned bad plays. This is his other adaptation, in the truest sense of the word. Behaviors that don't result in positive gain are selected against by nature and NFL front offices, and Shula has apparently felt the pressure. The Bersin-on-bubble-screens trope is a thing of the past. So are Cotchery's misfit go routes. Rather than forcing players into variable roles because of a philosophy, Shula has recognized weaknesses on the roster and instead adapted the personnel groups accordingly. John Fox made that precise error for the latter half of his tenure here; his failure to adapt was ultimately his downfall.
Will Mike Shula's ability to adapt earn him staying power in the NFL? That remains to be seen. The good here doesn't necessarily mask the bad. But like Rivera, he is learning, adapting, changing in ways that make him and his team the most fit to sit at the top of the pile. Homo habilis' adaptation begat Homo erectus, which begat Homo neanderthalensis, which gave way to modern humans; is it too much to hope that it'll allow Shula and the Panthers to go 10-0?
After defeating the hapless New Orleans Saints, Redskins fans have new found confidence in their team. 
Here are some highlights, and low lights, from their message board.
Fairly valid point here. The Redskins must win to stay in the playoff hunt. The Panthers situation is not as urgent. However, the Redskins have not won on the road in roughly a year. 
Yeah, they are 9-0 and overrated. 
Anyways, this Panthers team is too experienced now to overlook any opponent. It isn't like this is their first playoff run. 
Panthers just put up 27 points on the road against a much better defense. Not sure if I buy a low scoring throwback game. 
LOL at that last line. Must be tough to be a fan of a team you never predict a victory for. 
Bit of a reach. There will be a decent number of Redskins fans at the game. Maybe 20%, just like every other east coast team who can access stubhub.