The season has just started for Dallas, the job isn’t done yet.
As the quarterback made his way to the visitors locker room with a couple of teammates and staffers around him, Prescott said something to no one and everyone all at the same time.
“The real s--- starts,” he said.
The real stuff is the playoffs, which for the Cowboys will begin Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers at AT&T Stadium (4:30 p.m. ET, CBS). It is Prescott’s third postseason as the Cowboys’ starter and first since 2018. At 12-5, the Cowboys moved up to the No. 3 seed with losses by the Los Angeles Rams and Arizona Cardinals, renewing one of the most storied playoff rivalries in NFL history with San Francisco.
In the locker room on Saturday, there were no loud or lingering celebrations. Players seemed happy with the result but far from satisfied. Coach Mike McCarthy’s message to the team was clear.
“When this plane touches down in Dallas, that’s the starting line. This is what we’ve been talking about since April and we’ve had goals all along that we’ve hit,” McCarthy said. “Twelve wins in a season is a good year, but more importantly it’s difficult to put yourself in a good position any year. We just want to make sure that everyone is doing what they’re supposed to be doing. Playing on Saturday night means we get back at 4:00 a.m., so we just really need to start the process of rest and recovery and be ready to go.”
NFL Playoff Schedule: Why the Cowboys moving to the third seed was important - Dave Halprin, BloggingTheBoys
Getting as many home games as possible is key in the playoffs.
Let’s take a look at the NFC playoff schedule and play out the possibilities.
Green Bay got the bye so they will sit out the Wildcard Round. #2 Tampa Bay hosts #7 Philadelphia. #3 Dallas hosts #6 San Francisco, and #4 Los Angeles hosts #5 Arizona.
There is no way the Cowboys will play the Packers in the next round if they win in the Wildcard Round. If no upsets occur, Dallas will travel to Tampa Bay for the Divisional Round, and Los Angeles will go to Green Bay. If Philadelphia upsets Tampa Bay, they will go to Green Bay and the Cowboys will host the winner of Los Angeles/Arizona.
Dallas can only meet up with Green Bay in the NFC Conference Championship game. Further, if Green Bay loses in the Divisional Round, then the Cowboys could host that game if the Bucs are out of it, too. Philadelphia upsetting the Bucs in the Wildcard Round, and the Packers in the Divisional Round, would set up a Philly/Dallas Championship Game in Dallas as long as the Cowboys also win their games.
If all goes to form and the top four seeds advance to the Divisional Round, then if the Cowboys can beat the Bucs, and Los Angeles beats Green Bay, then the Cowboys host the Championship Game. The same would be true if Arizona beats Los Angeles and then Green Bay.
Looking ahead to the 49ers in the playoffs.
4. Ezekiel Elliott won’t get to 50 yards rushing
Elliott was a prominent part of Dallas’ victory over Philadelphia with 87 rushing yards on 18 carries. He showed more signs of life in the regular-season finale than he had in previous weeks, but it’s still hard to envision him having a big day against San Francisco’s talented front-seven.
In a perfect world, Kellen Moore and his offensive staff would love to get Elliott going early to help set up the throw game. The 49ers aren’t going to allow that to happen. They keenly understand that stopping the Cowboys’ ground game is fundamental for their chances of success.
That means Dallas fans should expect to see Elliott get a lot of carries during the first quarter even if his rushing average isn’t up to par. Naturally, the Cowboys will throw the ball more and more as the game goes along according to the success they experience through the air.
Dallas Cowboys: Sign Kai Forbath as second kicker for playoffs - Reid Hanson, Sports Dallas Fort-Worth
As I wrote about last week, Greg Zuerlein is actually an OK kicker within a certain range. He’s over 90% on field goals under 50 yards this season. That’s a success rate we can all deal with. It’s his extra points and +50 yarders that are a disaster this season.
Speaking of 50+ yarders – over the course of the last two seasons Greg Zuerlein has clearly lost his range, making just 36% of long attempts since 2020. Yet, with an 80% touchback percentage this season (a career high for him) it seems he still has the power in his leg, just not that deep accuracy.
The point is, he’s still somewhat useful in certain roles: kicks between 29-49 yards and kickoffs.
This is where Kai Forbath comes into play. Kai Forbath moonlighted as a Dallas Cowboys kicker in 2019 when Dallas had a temporary opening. All he did was go a perfect 10 for 10. The issue with Forbath is his strength. The longer the kick, the less effective Kai becomes.
Brining in Kai Forbath to handle extra points and chip-shots but letting Greg Zuerlein handle kickoffs and field goals between 29-49 yards would play to both of their strengths. It would cost a valuable roster spot but on an uncharacteristically healthy playoff team like Dallas, the Cowboys can actually afford it right now.
The Cowboys might lose their defensive guru.
Quinn’s connection with Paton makes him the presumed front runner for the Broncos’ head coach job, but the team will consider multiple candidates. Denver has also asked to interview New England Patriots linebackers coach Jerod Mayo, and more interviews will be scheduled in the coming days.
Quinn served as the Seattle Seahawks’ defensive coordinator from 2013-2014, reaching back-to-back Super Bowls while leading a defense that dominated the Broncos 43-8 in Super Bowl XLVIII. After that, he was hired by the Atlanta Falcons as a head coach.
Quinn went 43-42 in Atlanta before being fired in 2020. Quinn helped the Falcons reach Super Bowl LI in 2016, but they suffered an embarrassing 34–28 loss to the Patriots after blowing a 28-3 third-quarter lead.
Quinn is now running the Cowboys’ defense, and he helped the team defeat the New Orleans Saints 27-17 as an interim coach in December while Mike McCarthy was sidelined with COVID-19.
Dallas Cowboys vs San Francisco 49ers preview for Super Wild Card Weekend - Lucas Mascherin, TheLandryHat
The Cowboys need to be ready for the 49ers who boast some talent.
The 49ers don’t have a scary roster, so the edge goes to the Cowboys in this matchup. San Fran’s offense was held to fewer than 20 points five times this season and eclipsed 30 points five times. They also have at least one turnover in all seven of their losses and at least two turnovers in six of them.
Head-to-head, the teams are closer than you may think. The Cowboys have a more consistent offense, but the 49ers can keep up if Dallas’ defense lets them. The main difference between them is you don’t know which 49ers team will show up and if Dallas can force takeaways.
Recent History Between Cowboys and 49ers
The Cowboys and 49ers were an entertaining rivalry to watch during the ’90s. Hall of Fame quarterbacks Steve Young and Troy Aikman led their teams during this era. Dallas won that decade with three Super Bowl rings compared to San Fran’s one.
The two franchises shared a handful of Hall of Fame stars. Among them are Terrell Owens, Deion Sanders, and Charles Haley. I guess those guys liked Dallas more since all three left the 49ers to play for the Cowboys. T.O. just made a pit stop in Philadelphia in between.
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