In the final regular season game of the 2012 season, the Dallas Cowboys will travel to FedEx Field and lock horns with bitter rival Washington Redskins, in a dogfight for the NFC East Crown and ultimately, a playoff trip. Before the season started, I predicted Dallas standing at 9-6 after week 16, with this showdown being the winner take all match. Although the season didn't exactly lay out as planned, it essentially is the same, save for one game off. The Cowboys are coming off a meaningless loss, but are still fairly hot, being 5-2 in the second half of the season and coming off the best performances of Dez Bryants career, and in my opinion, the best Tony Romo performance of the season. It wasn't enough to keep pace with the Saints, but the momentum the Cowboys will carry will be significant, especially after finding themselves in a scenario where playoffs are even possible, after a 3-5 start. Speaking of momentum, the team that knows all about it will be the one on the other side of the ball; the Redskins themselves. After starting off 3-6, the team was already looking forward to next year. Then, RG3 and fellow rookie Kirk Cousins went possessed, en route to a 6 game win streak, delivering them an NFC East lead and legitimate playoff shot. The final SNF football game of the year will be exciting. Will the Redskins continue their unbelievable rookie-led win streak to 7 to finish the season and ride into the playoffs as the hottest team? Or will Dallas show the grit they have been playing with these past few weeks, show up again in the fourth quarter, and finally make the playoffs again? Read on to see my predictions.
DeMarcus Ware vs Trent Williams: Whenever the Cowboys face a hot offense, DeMarcus Ware is always a key player. He hasn't been showing up in the stat sheets, but his impact is huge. He is invaluable to this defense, as evidenced by his sideline-ment against the Saints. He wasn't doing much to bother Brees, but in the second half, Brees seemed untouched in the pocket. WIth no harassment, it was like taking candy from a baby to slice the Dallas defense apart. Because of that, he was able to make the perfect throws when they were needed. This time, Ware will be playing through not only a hyper extension on his elbow, but also a shoulder strain. However, I expect Ware to play like a madman and make a huge difference. Despite the injuries, look for Ware to pressure Griffin multiple times and record a sack in his last regular season game.
Brandon Carr vs Santana Moss: In the last game against the Redskins, the Cowboys secondary was abused. While alot of the blame can be put on Danny McCray having to start and the injury plagued front seven unable to shake up Griffin, the corners are going to have to step up and play ultra tough to make up for the defensive shortcomings of the other areas. Moss is an extremely fast receiver, and those are the exact receivers Carr has trouble with. He can play the jam, but is Moss gets free of it, he will be off for the huge play. If he plays press man, one tiny misstep which would be ok against another receiver could be fatal against a guy with the speed of Moss. And if he plays off, it a footrace between Carr and Moss once Moss gets the ball off the cushion. Carr did pretty well against a speed guy in Mike Wallace against the Steelers, but I see Carr having trouble against Moss. Look for Carr to break up a couple passes in which he sticks with Moss, but I also see Moss having a good day and getting a score.
Morris Claiborne vs Pierre Garcon: Along with Carr, Claiborne will be counted on to make up for the rest of the inefficiencies on defense. While Carr may struggle, I really think Claiborne will end his rookie year by stamping a solid game. Claiborne has had a good rookie season, has shown great man coverage skill, and has the speed to keep up with most receivers. He also made some impressive plays last week against one of the best passing offenses in the league. I think Claiborne has a big game against the Redskins, just like on Thanksgiving. On Turkey Day, he allowed just one completion, and even then, it went for negative yards. Everybody remembers the smack he layed down. Claiborne will be one of the premier rookies in this game after showing shut down skill again.
Dez Bryant vs DeAngelo Hall: Dez has absolutely lost his mind. Normal athletes just can't perform like him. He is without a doubt an elite receiver, and will be the only elite receiver playing in this Sunday Night Game, and I expect him to showcase that fact. He was great against Hall last time, recording 145 yards and 2 scores against the Redskins secondary and I expect no mercy this time. Dez will have another huge game in the power struggle for playoffs.
Jason Witten vs Redskins LBs/Secondary: It has been a long time since Witten has been one of my key players. But in week 17, everyone needs to show up, including the all time TE receptions leader. Witten is playing terrific this year despite a retched start, and he will not slow down here as he is there for Romo multiple times again.
Tony Romo vs Redskins Defense: I never put Romo as a key player, as he's the QB and there is no doubt that he will be at the head. But in this game, he will play a bigger role than ever. Romo is playing the best football of his life right now, and in the past few weeks is on a 16 TD to 3 INT streak. I don't even know how many yards he's passed for in that span. Point is, he has played elite so far and along with Dez, has put this team on his back and carried them to a playoff opportunity. I expect Romo to have another huge game to cap off the 2012 season and torch the Redskins defense,
Miles Austin vs Josh Wilson: I haven't had Austin in the key players for a long time either, and that's because he really hasn't been very key. He has made some plays and has had a decent year, but ever since Dez took over as the true No. 1 threat, Austin has has a tough time earning the ball as the third option. Last week, Austin did not do good. I counted 3 drops, another pass he should have caught with the talent he has shown before although it was tough, and he was not getting the ball very much. Granted, he did have the game tying TD, but he must step up for his team next week. I don't see a mind blowing game, but I think he makes a couple plays and overall has a solid ending to an average season.
Redskins Game Plan: The Redskins must rely on the run and Alfred Morris to do the brunt of the work on Sunday. Back when Lee and Carter were both healthy, running the ball against Dallas didn't work very well, but ever since they were both sent to IR, along with DE Kenyon Coleman and not-really-but-pretty-much-IR-player Jay Ratliff, the run defense has collapsed, The Cowboys are putrid against the run. Stuffing if down the throat will allow the Redskins to stay on the field and dominate the possession, as well as opening the pass game. If the Redskins figure it out in the run game, the Dallas offense will be required to do alot of work in a limited time to keep it close.
Cowboys Game Plan: The Cowboys game plan is the opposite of the Redskins; instead of targeting weak run personnel, the Cowboys must attack aggressively through the air. Between Romo, Bryant, Witten, and Austin, the Cowboys have the talent to keep the secondary on edge and absolutely shred them. If Dez, Romo, and Witten all play the way they have been, the Redskins will see plenty of stinging big plays to Bryant, short third downs set up by Austin, and crushing third down conversions by Witten. Dallas needs to take advantage of a huge mismatch in the pass game and show no mercy to keep their offense high flying and full of octane.
Quarter by Quarter
Q1 This time, I think Dallas starts with the ball. I don't like that, but it seems to be the right choice as the offense gets flowing immediately. Thanks to 2 nice receptions by Bryant, the Cowboys will find themselves quickly inside the redzone. 3 plays and a 3rd down conversion later, they will be inside the 5. Murray takes 2 carries before finding space into the endzone and taking a 7-0 lead after the first possession to make up a little for the hiccup against the Saints. The Redskins will take the field ready to fire back in a back and forth fight. Alfred Morris will get stuffed, Griffin will throw incomplete, but Griffin will find his receiver on third down. Soon after, he will find a receiver open deep to set up the offense in the redzone. The Cowboys defense will allow Morris to take it inside the 10 yard line, before Griffin will find his tight end in the endzone mismatched against a linebacker to even the score 7-7. On the next possession the Cowboys will be a bit flat, converting the first third down but failing on the second and punting. The Redskins will then try to march down the field. They will convert a couple third downs and take the ball to the Cowboys 35, but on third down, Griffin will be chased down by Spencer and the Skins will punt, pinning the Cowboys inside the 10. Backed up, the Cowboys will give the ball to Murray, who will break away to the outside and find room for a long run to take it 30 yards downfield to the 40. Immediately, Romo will find Dez deep to put the ball inside the Redskins 30. Another Murray run will set up first down, before Romo will find Bryant once again, this time deep in the endzone for a TD to end the quarter, 14-7.
Q2 The Redskins will be hard pressed to answer to back to back TD's by Dallas, but will be up to the task. Dallas will find itself in a couple situations to get the ball back, but a couple penalties will put Washington in scoring distance. After and Alfred Morris run and a short Griffin run, Washington will be faced with a third down. Griffin will try to take the TD deep to his receiver, but Claiborne will knock it down in coverage and force a field goal. Washington will trail 14-10. Dallas will attempt to score three TD's in a row on the next possession. This time, a slow drive will take place, centered around Austin and Witten. Near the end, it will thin out and Dallas will go for the field goal to extend their lead 17-10. The Redskins will then slowly take it down the field, converting 4 times on third down. Finally, in the half's last few seconds, Jason Hatcher will wrap up Griffin to force a Washington timeout and field goal. Halftime score: Cowboys up 17-13.
Q3 The Redskins will get the ball, with a full head of steam to score and take the lead. Griffin will lead a good looking drive into the redzone, before Santana Moss comes up with a TD catch to take the first Skins' lead, 17-20. The Cowboys will take the ball to midfield, before they run out of gas. Despite the hot offense, Dallas punts the ball and puts the Redskins inside the 10. Washington looks good on offense again, taking the ball to the redzone again. Dallas has some fortune fall upon them however, as Alfred Morris fumbles in the open field and Dallas lands on top of it. It is a huge momentum swing that can change the game. Dallas takes advantage and drives down the field, fueled by some more Dez Bryant. After marching down the field, Romo will once again find Dez short, who will take it just a few more yards for his second score of the night. Dallas regains the lead, 24-20. The Redskins gets the ball and go to the final period.
Q4 The Redskins will drive down, looking to keep the game close. After getting into field goal range, it seems as if Griffin is about to get sacked on third down. But Griffin escapes and turns it into a long run, taking it in for the score to steal the lead again, 24-27. Dallas gets the ball, expecting to display some of the infamous 4th quarter scoring. They do just that, as the offense flows smoothly to get into scoring range. Dallas tacks on the field goal to tie it at 27. The Redskins will get the ball, with about 9 left to play. On their first third down, Ware will come up from behind and manage to take down Griffin for a huge 3rd down sack. With tons of momentum already with them, Dallas only increases it with a long punt return to set up the ball inside the Redskins 35 with about 8 to go. Murray takes 3 straight runs for a first down. Romo finds Austin short on a slant, who takes it inside the 10. Austin then makes his biggest impact, by catching a short screen and navigating his way to the endzone to take a 34-27 lead, leaving 6 on the clock. The Redskins, after a short team Hazzah meeting, will step on the field, 80 yards needed, 6 on the clock, in a tense fight for the NFC East. Griffin will make plays through the air and with his feet by running for a couple first downs as well. They will overcome big third downs, and a fourth down, before finally setting up in the redzone with 1:30 left. Alfred Morris will take a carry 8 yards. Then, Griffin will drop back, and with the pressure coming, exit the pocket. On the run, he will show superb leadership, keeping his eyes downfield. Finally, he will throw the ball beautifully in the back of the endzone, into the waiting hands of a receiver. After the superior display of clutchness, the score will be tied at 34, with :45 left on the clock for Dallas to score, or go into OT. After a touchback, Romo and Co. will step onto the field, season hanging in the balance. Witten and Murray will both take short passes out of bounds, setting up an early 3rd and 2. After the snap, Romo will look downfield for Dez. With immense trust, he will take the deep shot instead of a safe conversion. It will be huge: Dez will show up big and make the catch near midfield. Running the hurry up offense, it will be all Witten from there. Romo will find Witten three times in a row to put the ball on the Redskins 35, with Bailey warming up. At :10, Romo will hand the ball off to Murray, who will pound forward for a couple yards. Dallas will call the TO at :02 from the 33. Bailey will trot on, for the game winning 50 yard kick. Bailey will kick...it will curve just a bit to the left...but by a a couple yards, it will go through the uprights and Dallas will go into uproar, as Split Em wins yet another game for Dallas, securing an NFC East crown and playoff appearance for Dallas.
Romo: 38/49, 420 yards, 3 TD, 0 INT
Murray: 19 rush, 95 yards, TD, 3 rec, 15 yards
Bryant: 11 rec, 180 yards, 2 TD
Austin: 6 rec, 80 yards, TD
Witten: 10 rec, 100 yards
Spencer: 8 tackles, 1 Sack
Ware: 8 tackles, 1 sack
Sensabaugh: 5 tackles, 1 Forced Fumble
Griffin: 35/52, 390 yards, 3TD, 0INT
Griffin: 5 rush, 50 yards, TD
Morris: 25 rush, 100 yards, 1 Fumble, 1 rec, 10 yards
Moss: 8 rec, 120 yards, TD
Garcon: 3 rec, 40 yards