The Arizona Cardinals were everyone's dark-horse darling to emerge from the rigid NFC West as a contender.
The Dallas Cowboys were a big-name-laden Super Bowl contender that was going to shrug off last season's disaster.
Now, they collide at the crossroads that is Monday night, each of them coming off wins on the scoreboard, but huge losses due to injuries.
Each of them in need of a pivotal victory, the Cardinals (3-2) face the Cowboys (2-3) at 8:20 p.m. ET from AT&T Stadium on ESPN's Monday Night Football.
Here's what to watch for:
Cowboys take field without Dak
And so this will be life after Dak for the Cowboys. Circled upon the calendar as the first meeting featuring Kyler Murray and Dak Prescott, instead, the Redbirds' second-season sensation will face off with the Red Rifle. One of the league's most admired players, Prescott, is gone for the season and the eyes of Texas are now fixed upon how Andy Dalton does as Dallas' interim starter. Not since current Cowboys offensive coordinator Kellen Moore on Jan. 3, 2016, threw for 435 yards in a loss to Washington, has a quarterback other than Prescott started a game for Dallas. Prescott's string of 72 straight starts (including playoffs) to begin his career will end Monday when Dalton makes his initial start as a Cowboy and his first start in anything other than a Bengals uniform. Like Dalton, Murray is a Texas native. Dalton's a three-time Pro Bowler who essentially ceded his franchise QB spot with the Bengals to 2020 No. 1 overall pick Joe Burrow and will now face off with the 2019 No. 1 pick. The Cowboys and Cardinals haven't played since a Monday nighter back in 2017, but Murray's Cardinals did defeat Dalton's Bengals last season, though Dalton arguably outplayed the then-rookie. Things are much different now, of course. Though the Cowboys have struggled in the win-loss column, Dallas brings the No. 1 offense in the NFL to the matchup, while Murray's crew counters with the No. 10 ranking. While questions abound for the Cowboys offense with Dalton at the helm, Murray is coming off back-to-back games with a plus-100 passer rating for the first time in his career, per NFL Research. And though he's never played an NFL game at AT&T Stadium, he's 6-0 there through ample high school and college glory.
Cards rush ahead sans Chandler Jones
Arizona lost a superstar of its own as pass rusher Chandler Jones is gone for the season with a biceps injury. The younger brother of perhaps the greatest mixed martial artist of all-time, Jones is down and out, and the Cardinals defense must figure out a way to move on without the player whose 97 sacks since joining the league in 2012 are more than any other player in that span. That written, Jones leaves with just one sack this season and the Cardinals are tied for eighth in the league with 14 sacks. Nine Cards have tallied sacks, five of them tied for the team lead with two. Arizona's pass rush has been steady and diverse. Losing a talent like Jones is an arduous fate to move forward from, but against a depleted Cowboys offensive line (t16th in sacks allowed), Haason Reddick, Corey Peters, Jordan Phillips and the rest tasked with tracking down Dalton will begin doing just that on Monday.
Will there be more Zeke with no Dak?
Dalton taking over as the Cowboys' QB1 will draw plenty of attention, but Ezekiel Elliott should draw plenty of carries. Though Prescott was putting up huge numbers, the Cowboys' losing record had plenty pining for a more run-based attack with Zeke. Dallas' offense comes into Monday having passed on 66.2% of its plays (second-most in NFL). Prescott was averaging a league-high 44.4 passing attempts a game. Elliott's 89 carries are still fifth in the league, but it remains to be seen how or if his workload will change. Over his 13-year tenure with the Packers, coach Mike McCarthy's offenses had a running back finish in the top five in carries just twice. Elliott's yet to top 100 yards in five games this season, which ties his longest stretch of games without a 100-yard showing. His first such drought was last year, the first with Moore as offensive coordinator. A pair of rushing titles are in Elliott's back pocket, but a McCarthy offense has never produced a rushing champion and, for that matter, neither has an offense with Moore as OC. Monday will be the first glimpse as to whether there's more to expect from Elliott or more of the same.
An abundance of wideout standouts
Three of the top seven receivers -- in terms of yardage -- are taking the field Monday, per NFL Research, but beyond that, there's just an astounding amount of receiving talent set to hit prime time. DeAndre Hopkins is exactly the premier wideout the Cardinals were expecting when they traded for him this offseason, as he entered Sunday leading the NFL with 45 receptions and 528 yards. And after injury issues earlier in the year, Christian Kirk is coming off his best performance of the season (five catches for 78 yards). Across the way, Dallas' trio of wideouts is lighting it up. Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb and Michael Gallup have combined for 85 catches, 1,205 yards and four touchdowns with Cooper averaging career-bests of 7.8 receptions and 84.8 yards per game and Lamb joining Hopkins and Carolina's Robby Anderson as the only WRs with five or more catches in each game so far. And, of course, there's Larry Fitzgerald, one of the best to ever play the position. Fitzgerald's career is no doubt winding down and his season's hardly produced the numbers (18 catches, 123 yards, no touchdowns) his Hall of Fame career is accustomed to. But any chance to see an all-time great -- on and off the field -- is a reason to watch on Monday night.