A new habit has developed for NFL fans. Every week we anxiously wait to see if someone on our teams’ rosters shows up in the COVID protocol. It adds a new and unwanted level to the injury concerns that have always plagued rosters. The Dallas Cowboys have certainly had their share of both. But as they prepare to face the San Francisco 49ers, they are in remarkably good shape. And, after several weeks facing teams that were depleted, Dallas has a similarly healthy team coming to AT&T Stadium for the Wild Card Round.
It is certainly a good news/bad news scenario. The game is probably going to be very competitive. That makes for riveting football, which is entertaining but potentially nerve-wracking. For the Cowboys, that could be a serious concern as placekicker Greg Zuerlein is not inspiring confidence if the final outcome should come down to him making a kick.
It is still a bit remarkable to have two rosters that are mostly intact after the long grind of the regular season, which was the first to have seventeen games. Dallas did not avoid the injury/COVID issues during the season, but thanks to the current rules, they have somehow managed to get almost everyone back and ready to go for the most important game of the 2021-2022 season. And, to a large degree, the 49ers have achieved the same.
We discussed all of these ideas on the latest edition of Ryled Up on the Blogging The Boys podcast network. Make sure to subscribe to our network so you get access to all of our shows. Apple devices can subscribe here and Spotify users can subscribe here.
There are even parallels in the few players each team is missing. The most obvious is at wide receiver. The Cowboys lost Michael Gallup just a couple of weeks ago, while Mohamed Sanu went on IR some time back. Both filled the WR3 role for their teams. Gallup is out for the remainder of the playoffs, but Sanu could possibly still return based on what we know. On the defensive line, San Francisco lost DT Javon Kinlaw to season-ending IR, and Dallas saw Brent Urban suffer a similar fate. Kinlaw is probably a bigger loss for his team, but Urban was a key part of the DT rotation for Dan Quinn. His loss was offset by the return of Neville Gallimore and Trysten Hill during the latter part of the regular season.
Outside of Sanu, the 49ers are, like the Cowboys, relatively unscathed on offense, as long as Trent Williams is able to play Sunday. If there is an advantage for either team, it probably goes to Dallas. San Francisco lost starting CB Jason Verrett to season-ending ACL surgery in September. It has left them a bit thin at the position, and the secondary is seen as the most vulnerable part of their defense.
Still, for the most part, the players currently on IR for both teams are mostly backups whose absence has little impact on the field. And while both teams had several players on the COVID list to start the week, they each will likely see all come off unless they fail to have negative tests.
Obviously, the two wildcard opponents have successfully navigated both injuries and illness to make it this far. In a further parallel, they won their game 17 contests to help themselves. There is a clear contrast between those wins, however. The Niners defeated the Los Angeles Rams to secure their place in the postseason, a much more difficult task than the Dallas beatdown of a Philadelphia Eagles team that sat as many starters as possible to rest up for the Wild Card game they had already locked up. San Francisco did not have that luxury. As has been well discussed, the decision by the Cowboys to play their starters for most of a game against backups was a risk, but they won that gamble with no significant injuries reported. And they did rest Tony Pollard, who has been fighting a foot injury. COVID forced them to also sit Micah Parsons and Trevon Diggs, a de facto way to protect them for the playoffs.
Two exceptionally healthy rosters for this time of year will square off to see who continues and whose season ends on Sunday. It is not only going to be one that draws great interest, it revives a classic playoff rivalry. Neither team has any excuses due to health. We hope it will be an entertaining win for the Cowboys.