WASHINGTON, January 3, 2014 — While there are several important NFL wild card games this weekend, one of the most exciting is likely to be the Dallas Cowboys against the Detroit Lions.
Dallas has suffered some difficult challenges this year, including a back injury for quarterback Tony Romo, but the team is currently on fire. Not only has Dallas won their last four games, they have defeated their opponents by an average of more than 21 points.
Tony Romo is having an outstanding season, probably one of his best of his 11 years in the NFL. He has completed 69.9% of his passes for more than 3,700 yards and 34 touchdowns. Equally importantly, he has matured as a team leader.
However, this Dallas team is less about Romo and more about the Dallas Cowboys as a whole.
Dallas also has an exceptional offensive line, which gives Romo time to make plays and frustrates opposing defenses.
Dallas also now has both strong running and passing options, boosted by the combination of DeMarco Murray and Dez Bryant. Murray set the franchise record for rushing, with more than 1800 yards and 13 touchdowns this season, and Dez Bryant set the franchise record for single season touchdowns. Bryant also is formidable in yards after the catch. He ranks seventh in the NFL this season, and is also ranked seventh in the league for most yards after contact.
Defensively, Dallas is also strong. They have the best record of any NFL team with a turnover margin of plus 1 or better, and have earned seven interceptions in the last four games. Dallas is 11-2 when it has had at least one interception. One potential weakness is their record against the run, but Detroit frankly does not have much of a run to challenge that potential vulnerability.
Detroit has its own weapons, but is unlikely to make it past Dallas. Calvin Johnson remains one of the best wide receivers in the league, and defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and linebacker DeAndre Levy lead the defense. The reversal of the suspension of Suh – who had originally been sidelined for stomping on Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers – at least gives Detroit a fighting chance, but not enough.
Matt Stafford has had some strong play this season, but he simply is not good enough to lead the Lions to a win against the Cowboys. He completed only 48.7% of his passes last week against the Packers and looks like a quarterback who is declining rather than peaking as we enter the playoffs.
Despite being ranked second in the NFL in yards allowed and points allowed per game, the Detroit defense also allows massive yards after the catch, giving up 2,239 YAC this season. That is particularly dangerous when facing YAC expert Dez Bryant.
Nothing is ever sure in football, and Sunday is no exception. The Cowboys have a fairly dismal playoff record since their 1995 Super Bowl win against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Dallas has not participated in a playoff game since January 2010, when the team lost to the Minnesota Vikings 34-3. The media also likes to point out that Romo “struggles” in late-season games.
But this Sunday, Dallas is very likely to prevail over Detroit.
Prediction: 41-28, Dallas.
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