Every game just keeps getting bigger. At the beginning of the season, the claim was that week 1 was going to be HUGE for Dallas. A win would set the tone for the season. A loss would start off the season on a sour note. After week 9, the "Big Game" talk has started again. The Bengals game was the biggest game. Then, it became the Steelers. And now the biggest game of the season so far looms upon Dallas, when they host the New Orleans Saints in week 16, which will be crucial in deciding the playoffs for not only the Cowboys, but the NFC East and, really, the NFC in it's entirety. Here's my prediction for how the red hot Cowboys will handle the dud-but-dangerous Saints.
Dez Bryant vs Jabari Greer: As long as Dez wears the number 88 in Dallas, he will be a game breaker. He is insane and aside from Romo, deserves most of the credit for making Dallas playoff contenders, after being 3-5 at the halfway mark of the season. On Sunday he proved that even a broken index finger on his dominant hand while playing the league's best defense still can't stop him, as he reeled in 4 catches for 60 yards and his eighth score in 6 games. Dez is also the leading scorer for TD's in the entire NFL since week 10 (discounting QB's). On Sunday, he will face a challenge however. While it is true he will be running around the Saints' "defense", his prime matchup will be against Jabari Greer, who I see as a very underrated corner. He has great skills, and had the key pass block against Atlanta, delivering the Dirty Birds their first loss of the season in week 10. But I still don't see Greer completing the job with his hands full of Dez. Greer will give him a tough time, but Dez will still roll despite his injury and win a close personal match.
DeMarcus Ware vs Jermon Bushrod: The last time the Cowboys beats the Saints (2009 in the Superdome, snapping the Saints undefeated season) Ware had been the X-Factor, when he hit Drew Brees from behind on the final drive, forcing a fumble (recovered by Jay Ratliff) which allowed the Cowboys to kneel the ball to victory. He had two strip sacks in that game, even though it was the only game of his career he didn't start (injury). This time, he will be a key again. Bushrod is a tough tackle, and Ware is having a bit of down time and dealing with a hyper extended elbow. I really think we will be disappointed by 94 again because we may not see a sack, but Ware will provide plenty of pressure on Brees, make the QB very uncomfortable, and draw more blockers, which will make it a very long day for the Saints, considering Anthony Spencer's play from the strong side. Although we may not see it on the stats, Ware will be a key contributor in this game. But because Bushrod will stop one of the NFL's best pass rushers from sacking his QB, I have to say Bushrod will win this matchup.
Brandon Carr vs Marques Colston: Brandon Carr has been warranting that 50 million dollar deal he received this offseason, while Marques Colston has been having a solid season in New Orleans. Carr will need to display his game from the past couple weeks in this game to stop the New Orleans offense. I see Carr's hot streak ending in week 16, as he does a decent job against Colston, but doesn't really make a huge play.
Saints Game Plan: The Saints have to take advantage of the Cowboys weak run defense. The Boys' inside linebacker squad has taken huge hits, and Pierre Thomas is averaging about 4.6 yards a carry. The Cowboys have been playing the pass well, so Brees should allow Thomas to do his things and keep shoving the ball down the Cowboys throat through the middle to keep the offense on the field.
Cowboys Game Plan: The defense may have a tough time forcing turnovers and making many plays, so the offense will have to step up and make plays against a weak defense. Luckily for the Cowboys, the offense seems to have gotten into a rythym in the past month and a half. Dez will be injured but can still take control of a game. Murray is fantastic when the line gives him something, and Romo has been very efficient this December. The second generation of "The Triplets" will have to give the Saints' defense a tough time and find ways to score.
Quarter by Quarter
Q1 The Saints will get the ball first and have a good looking first drive. About midfield, they get pass happy, and after the Dallas pass defense makes some stops, New Orleans punts the ball. Dallas offense takes the ball deep in their own territory, but after 2 big third down conversions, find themselves in scoring range. Romo takes a shot downfield which doesn't finish, but Dallas gets the field goal to take an early 3-0 lead. The Saints offense once again can't maneuver through the Dallas defense and once again punt the ball. This time, Miles Austin flaunts while making a couple nice receptions to put Dallas in scoring range again. The offense wavers yet again though and Dallas tacks on another Bailey score to take a 6-0 lead to end the firs half.
Q2 The Saints will come on, trying to answer to straight scores by Dallas. Brees finds a deep pass that stings every Dallas heart...but then Anthony Spencer gets his first sack of the game to end the drive by New Orleans and force a field goal. Dallas still leads 6-3. Dallas takes the field trying to attack the offense. Romo makes a mistake a throws a couple bad passes to force a Dallas punt. The Saints look to score again, but three runs in a row result in a 3 and out. The Saints send the ball back down to Dallas, inside the Dallas 20. With the half ending and deep within their territory, Dallas will try to score before halftime. It is Austin again making the big plays, as he reels in 2 passes during the drive, both going for over 20 yards after breaking a couple tackles. After multiple third down conversions in Saints' territory. Dallas then finds itself inside the 10 yard line with seconds left. Murray takes a five yard run into the endzone for the first TD of the game, giving Dallas a 13-3 lead going into halftime.
Q3 Dallas will receive the second half kickoff, looking to take a dominant lead. The Romo will take his first sack of the game though and the Saints will get the ball back. Sproles will have a nice return, priming the Saints for a score. After Brees slices the defense with a few plays, that exactly what the get as Brees finds Lance Moore in the endzone on a short pass to make it a 13-10 game. Dallas will look to regain footing on the next possession. After getting just inside the Saints 30, the offensive line commits 2 penalties in a row before allowing Romo to get sacked again, killing the drive. The Saints will try to score twice in a row when they come back. This time, the running game makes the big play, setting up another score. Brees then pushes the ball into the 10 yard line, before Thomas takes it up the gut and stabs Dallas with an 8 yard score to take the lead 13-17. With their backs against the wall and the quarter ending, Dallas will try to score quick. Romo will lead the Boys' down to the redzone before the quarter ends.
Q4 Romo will finally score when he finds Austin on a slant that will go all the way for a score on the first play of the fourth quarter to give Dallas the lead again, 20-17. Brees will then lead the Saints to their own forty. But then he will make a bad mistake and Morris Claiborne will nab his second pick of the season. The return won't be much, but the momentum will be, as a big play to Dez and a long run by Murray will set up another score for Dallas. From the 15, Romo will find Dez at mid distance, before Dez shakes a weak tackle and finds the endzone once again to give Dallas a 27-17 advantage with about 9 left in the fourth. Brees, looking for a comeback win, will once again carry the Saints into scoring range. Anthony Spencer will meet Brees for the second time on a third down to force another field goal. The Saints will cut it down 27-20. Dallas will get the ball, needing to just hold it for a few more minutes to win. But with 1:30 left, they will be forced to punt. The Saints will be hoping for an amazing finish, needing a TD with a 90 yard field in front of them and only 1:30 to do it. Their chance will be short lived however, as Lance Moore will fumble the ball at midfield when he is creamed by Gerald Sensabaugh. It will be picked up by Claiborne and Dallas will kneel the ball to victory again, reliving the 2009 game in which they won off a late fumble by New Orleans on the Saints last chance. The Cowboys will look ahead to week 17, in which they will fight against the Washington Redskins for the NFC East Championship.
Final Score: Dallas 27, New Orleans 20
Romo: 29/39, 320 yards, 2 TD
Murray: 16 rush, 75 yards, TD, 3 rec, 20 yards
Austin: 8 rec, 90 yards, TD
Bryant: 6 rec, 110 yards, TD
Witten: 8 rec, 80 yards
Spencer: 7 tackles, 4 TFL, 2 sacks
Carr: 1 pass defended, 4 tackles
Claiborne: 2 pass defended, 1 INT, 1 Fumble Recovery, 3 tackles
Sensabaugh: 7 tackles, 1 Forced Fumble
Sean Lissemore: 3 tackles, 1 sack
Brees: 25/42, 290 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT
Thomas: 22 carries, 100 yards, TD, 2 rec, 10 yards
Moore: 5 rec, 80 yards, TD
Colston: 4 rec, 60 yards