As the Dallas Cowboys enjoy their well-earned bye week, they have been busier than expected. They will see their injured players (Morris Claiborne and La’el Collins) come back to practice, they have added to their superstar offensive line with the signing of Jonathan Cooper and they anxiously await the decision surrounding Randy Gregory’s suspension. While all is well these days at The Star, the coaching staff is already game-planning for the January 15th showdown at home against the Lions, Giants or the Packers. Let’s take a look at each opponent.
After the Week 16 beat down, the Detroit Lions clearly would be the ideal opponent for the Dallas Cowboys. The Lions’ primary strength is their quarterback play which has been suspect at best ever since Stafford injured his middle finger in Week 14. The Lions limp into the playoffs with three straight losses. While they showed a glimpse of potential with Zach Zenner and Eric Ebron during the Week 16 matchup, the Lions are obviously outmatched at every position against the Cowboys. It would be the ultimate upset if the Lions are able to beat the Seahawks and gift the Cowboys a trip to the NFC Championship game.
New York Giants
It has been well documented that the New York Giants handed Dallas its first two losses and were briefly competing with Dallas for the NFC East crown this season. The Giants played exceptional defense during both games this season against the Cowboys, with particularly effective play by the defensive line which in turn allowed the secondary to ball out. With the potential addition of Jason Pierre-Paul back to the lineup, this defensive line’s tenacity is like the Super Bowl winning 2011 Giants team headlined by Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck.
While there has been the constant talk of “not losing to a team three times in one season,” I do not think the Dallas Cowboys are at all afraid of facing the Giants again. The Giants offense has been inept lately and their defense can only hold up so much against a multi-pronged attack with Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, Dez Bryant, Jason Witten and others. While Odell Beckham, Jr. is always a slant pass away from breaking for a touchdown, the Giants do not pose the most difficult challenge for the Cowboys in the Divisional Round.
Green Bay Packers
The evening of October 17, 2016 was a significant one. The Dallas Cowboys pranced into Lambeau Field and beat the Green Bay Packers which prompted the real quarterback controversy talk in Dallas to officially began. Prescott threw three touchdowns, Zeke shredded an impressive run defense and David Irving had his coming out party with a sack and a fumble recovery. Unfortunately, this was all before Aaron Rodgers proclaimed that he would “run the table” and take the Packers back to their familiar landing spot atop the NFC North. Well, he did. Over the last six games of the season, the Packers were 6-0 and defeated three playoff teams, including an all-out smack down of the Seahawks, a victory over the Texans and a division-clinching win over the Lions.
Aaron Rodgers has had 15 touchdowns and no interceptions during this six-game winning streak. What is even more impressive is that he has been shredding opposing pass defenses with touchdowns to a multitude of offensive weapons. Additionally, he continues to make plays on the run, whether it is to buy more time for his receivers to get open or to sprint for a first down. If a shootout occurs between Rodgers and Prescott, it would be hard to pick against the former Super Bowl MVP.
Ultimately, I predict that the Dallas Cowboys will again play the New York Giants in the Divisional Round because Eli Manning has as many playoff wins at Lambeau as Aaron Rodgers does (2) and the Giants pass rush will make Rodgers struggle in the pocket. While a third game against the hated Giants is not ideal, I think the Cowboys will do just enough to sneak by and advance to the NFC Championship game, a place they have not been since the original Triplets took them there back in 1996.