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Cowboys News: Why The Dallas 'Mighty Orphans' Might Surprise The Lions Tonight

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The Cowboys will close out Week 16 on Monday night.

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Wild Card Playoffs - Detroit Lions v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Sarah Glenn/Getty Images

We hope everyone enjoyed their Christmas. Now it’s time to get back to work as the Detroit Lions visit Dallas in a Monday night clash.

Will Detroit Lions' defensive line be up to challenge at Cowboys? - Detroit Free Press

We know that the Cowboys have their playoff position locked up, but what’s on the line for the Detroit Lions?

If the Lions can beat either a Cowboys team that has the best record in the NFC or a red-hot Packers team that’s rattled off a conference-best five straight victories, they’ll make the playoffs for the second time in three seasons.

Next week’s game against the Packers will decide the NFC North, a division the Lions have never won, and determine whether the Lions host their first playoff game in 23 years.

Lions’ Matthew Stafford on home turf leading Detroit into Texas - Associated Press

Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford is coming home and has a tenuous connection to the Jones family.

“I really like coming home and playing in Dallas,” Stafford said. “It’s where I grew up. I played a lot of football in the state of Texas and in Dallas in my life. It’s a lot of fun going home, seeing friends and family, but at the same time just trying to win a ballgame against a really good team.”

Stafford will play at the $1.2-billion (U.S.) home of the Cowboys a little more than a week after his high school, Dallas Highland Park, celebrated on that field after winning its first state title since Stafford led the way 11 years ago.

Highland Park’s quarterback is John Stephen Jones, the grandson of Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. While Highland Park binds Stafford and the Jones family, the quarterback said he doesn’t know the younger Jones and hadn’t reached out to his dad, Cowboys executive vice-president of personnel Stephen Jones.

Detroit Lions at Dallas Cowboys scouting report, prediction - USA Today

The Lions have been facing a major problem on offense recently - the red zone.

One of the best red-zone offensive teams in the NFL last year, the Lions have been nothing of the sort this fall.

They have six field goals, three turnovers and just three touchdowns in 12 red-zone trips over the last three games, and offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter said it’s imperative the Lions make better use of their possessions Monday if they’re going to beat the Cowboys.

“We were starting this year out on the right path and really had a poor last two, three, four games of getting touchdowns down there for multiple reasons,” Cooter said. “But at the end of the day, we’ve just got to execute better. We’ve got to go score points.”

The Cowboys 'orphans' might be the NFL's biggest surprise - DMN

While the Lions have been having issue on offense, they are facing a defense that most people scoffed at before the season. But they have proven to be a resilient bunch.

This Cowboys' unit won't ever be compared to the Cowboys' Doomsday defense of the 1960s and 1970s. They're not an overpowering bunch that leaves quarterbacks shaking in their cleats.

But they have a way of plugging holes. Even when they give up chunks of yards, they've buckled down in the red zone. The Cowboys have kept opposing offenses from running up the score by limiting teams to field goals on many drives.

"We've put a lot of time and effort into it," Eberflus said of the Cowboys' red zone defense. "You get what you emphasize and we emphasize it. The players really understand how important it is. It's huge."

Opposing view: Dallas Cowboys plan to test Detroit Lions' tackling strength - MLive

Ezekiel Elliott might be trying to break Eric Dickerson’s rookie rushing record, but he might have a tougher time than usual as the Lions rush defense has really improved as the season has progressed.

On Monday, he'll be going up against a Lions defense that has missed the fewest tackles in the league this season. It's a unit that's only gotten stronger in that respect since 2014 leading tackler DeAndre Levy returned from a knee injury two games ago.

The Dallas offensive line seemingly always gets movement no matter how obvious it is that the run is coming, but the big plays will be decided by how well Elliott can work his moves on a Detroit defense that prides itself on taking them out.

"They don't make a lot of mistakes and that's what it is," Elliott said. "They're very sound. They're very technically sound in their gap. You have to be as technically sound as them and take what they give you, and just kind of grind them down."

Redskins-Giants game on New Year’s Day moved to 4:25 p.m. kickoff - Washington Post

The Cowboys would be doing one of their hated rivals a favor by beating the Lions.

The Redskins must beat the Giants and hope that either the Dallas Cowboys defeat the Lions on Monday night and the Lions-Packers contest doesn’t end in a tie, or that the Lions win out to make the playoffs for the second consecutive season.

Cowboys' biggest threat in loaded NFC playoff field is . . . - Sporting News

While most everybody thinks the team the Cowboys don’t want to see in the playoffs is the Giants, the Sporting News thinks otherwise.

But the NFC will be decided by offense, not defense. The Giants don't have enough to trust, the Packers and Seahawks are highly QB-dependent threats. The Falcons, with balance and few holes, are best equipped to outscore and outlast Dallas.

Why not the Redskins, Lions or Buccaneers? With how they're all fading hard right now, there's little hope to think any of them will both a) get in to the playoffs, and b) be capable of pulling off a major upset when they get there. Plus, given how Elliott and Prescott have performed like veterans, it will take a team with a QB that's already won in the playoffs to trump them. Those other four teams qualify with Manning, Wilson, Rodgers and Ryan.

The current standings have Dallas-Atlanta 1-2 in the NFC. If that ends up being the championship game, it would have the makings of an all-time classic shootout. For all the skepticism about the Falcons, they have emerged as literally the last team the Cowboys want to face.