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Cowboys vs. Cardinals: Writer predictions for potential playoff preview

Can the Cowboys extend their win streak to five?

Arizona Cardinals v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

When the Cowboys hosted the Cardinals last year, it was the first time in Dak Prescott’s career that he wouldn’t be playing for them. The result was a 38-10 blowout loss for Dallas, and life without Dak began to set in very quickly. Prescott hasn’t forgotten about it, and plenty of other Cowboys players likely haven’t either.

This time around, things are very different. Prescott and the Cowboys have won four straight, with their most recent win being a 56-14 mollywhopping of last year’s NFC East champion. Both teams have clinched a playoff berth, even though the Cardinals are losers of their last three games. That gives the Cowboys an opportunity to continue their streak with a win over a team that had the NFL’s best record just a couple weeks ago. Do our writers think they can do it?

When Arizona has the ball

Take away the quick game

Much of Kyler Murray’s dominance this season had to do with his almost telepathic connection with wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, as the two routinely connected on bonkers passes that most quarterbacks wouldn’t dare attempt. Since Hopkins was put on IR, the Cardinals have struggled on offense.

Murray and Kliff Kingsbury have turned to the quick game. In each of the last two weeks, Murray has been near the bottom of the NFL in completed air yards. Many of his quick targets go to rookie receiver Rondale Moore, whose blazing speed creates automatic mismatches, and tight end Zach Ertz. To get a better idea of this, Moore has the lowest average air yards per target right now and is second in the league in yards after catch per reception. Meanwhile, Ertz is fourth on the team in receptions that move the chains despite being acquired just nine games ago.

Moore didn’t play last week and his status is still uncertain for this week, which would shift even more responsibility onto Ertz’s shoulders. Either way, the Dallas defense is already well-versed in playing tight man-to-man coverage, and if they can continue that kind of play while getting pressure off the edges, Murray will have yet another day full of frustration. If the last two weeks are anything to go off of, that’s good news for the Cowboys.

When Dallas has the ball

Keep the tempo going

The Cardinals defense had been playing well above expectations for most of the year, but they’re reeling in the last three weeks. This is reflected by their fifth place ranking in overall defensive DVOA being contrasted by ranking 11th in weighted DVOA. That’s the second largest discrepancy of any defense.

Injuries are a part of it, but they’ve also just faced offenses that have been getting hot at the right time. Well, no offense has gotten hotter than the Cowboys did this past week. Teams rarely drop a 40-burger over four quarters, but this group did it in just two.

A big part of the Cowboys’ offensive success against Washington was going up tempo. Amari Cooper recounted that one Washington defender asked for the Cowboys to slow things down because they were going too fast for the defense. If Dak Prescott can get into a rhythm early again, then Kellen Moore can start speeding things up against a defense that’s struggled mightily in the last three weeks.

Now onto the predictions from your BTB writers...

Tom Ryle:

This week’s discussion about the Cowboys involves whether the WFT whooping was a fluke or where the team actually is. I am leaning to this being the new reality of a team that is at or close to the best health overall of the season, and a QB and offense that regained its confidence. The defense has been at playoff level since midseason, and just seems to be honing things.

There is a caveat, though. The opponents for Dallas have not exactly been intimidating. It can be rightly observed that they have built the recent winning streak against a trio that is 17-28 on the season. The Cardinals are the first winning team in a while for the Cowboys to face. On the other hand, Arizona is in its regularly scheduled late season slump, and clearly misses DeAndre Hopkins. I still feel a lot of confidence in Mike McCarthy and his charges, and think they put on another show in the home stadium.

I’ll pick the Cowboys by a wildly optimistic score of 41-17.

Terence Watson:

This week is a big one for the Dallas Cowboys in their chase for the top spots in the division facing off against the reeling but still dangerous Arizona Cardinals. If the Cowboys expect to stay in contention for the top two spots in the division then this game is a pivotal one, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Los Angeles Rams are tied with the Cowboys and both have an easier path towards the second spot the Cowboys currently hold. To keep this spot they will need to stop the dynamic Kyler Murray and this effective rushing attack featuring James Connor and Chase Edmonds.

The Cowboys are fortunate they don’t have to go against DeAndre Hopkins who is out with a knee injury but they will still need to contain Murray in order to limit his big play ability with his legs and arm to win the game. In order to do both they will need to force this Cardinals offense into consistent third and long situations to limit the rushing attack and force Murray to stay in the pocket and make throws down the field. Look for the Cowboys to use Micah Parsons or a safety as a spy in the middle of the field to keep tabs on Murray if he tries to escape the pocket. That technique has worked in the past for teams and with the speed on this Cowboys defense they can do it as well.

Cowboys 35, Cardinals 20.

Matt Holleran:

This game features two teams going in completely different directions. While injuries certainly have impacted their team, the Cardinals just aren’t playing good football right now. Their problems start with their signal-caller Kyler Murray, who for the second straight season has really cooled off down the stretch.

Murray has struggled taking care of the football of late, and that’s going to play right into the hands of the Cowboys defense. While I do believe Arizona will hang in for the first three quarters, I see Dallas pulling away in this one in the fourth.

Give me the Cowboys, 30-20.

Darreck Kirby:

Arizona is reeling right now thanks three straight losses. Dallas, meanwhile, is suddenly cooking with gas. That being the case, the Cardinals’ plunge from the top-seed to 5th in the NFC playoff picture means they’re going to be downright desperate for a win on Sunday. Kyler Murray is 8-0 in his career, be it high school, college, or the pros at AT&T Stadium. In last year’s 38-10 trouncing of Dallas, however, he was absolutely mortal, completing just 9 of 24 passes for 188 yards and two scores. Arizona’s advantage that given day was its ground game, with 261 yards between Kenyan Drake, Murray, and Chase Edmonds -good for 7.5 a pop. That was the difference that day.2021 is not 2020.

Andy Dalton is not under center for Dallas. Drake is not in the backfield for Arizona. If Dallas can contain the Cardinals ground game, including Murray’s elusive improvisations by spying with Micah Parsons, Dallas has a good chance to keep Arizona’s offense in checking. Let the offense go quick, utilizing no-huddle as it did on its second drive of the game against Washington. Build a lead early and let the defense pin back its ears on the other side of the ball. Arizona will come out swinging early but Dallas can break them with a couple of well-timed body shots, which is exactly what I expect as the Boys keep pace in the race for the NFC’s top seed.

Cowboys 34-23.

Aidan Davis:

The Cardinals are currently in the same position the Cowboys were at four weeks ago; they have a solid team that has been underperforming lately, but they will likely get back on track at some point. Meaning we shouldn’t assume that Dallas is going to face the Cardinals of the last three weeks, maybe they find life against the Cowboys.

But if the Cowboys can control the line of scrimmage on offense, Arizona can be beat both on the ground and through the air. On defense the game plan will likely center around preventing a Kyler Murray scramble or a deep ball that shifts momentum, which he has excelled at this year. The defense will be ready to prove themselves as an elite, top-three defense, and Dak will continue the offensive resurgence from last week. It will be a close game but the Cowboys get it done at home.

Cowboys 24, Cardinals 23.

Tony Catalina:

The Cowboys were perfect in score column for the month of December, but as the calendar turns and the year changes, so will the opponents talent level. The Arizona Cardinals come into town loser of three in a row, but don’t think for one second this talent football club won’t come in ready to roll.

This is a good team, and the Cowboys will have there hands full against Kyler Murray and the boys. Ultimately I think this is the week the Cowboys show the rest of the league they for real.

The defense stays tough, and the offense continues to trend positively and the Cowboys enter 2022 with a 27-20 win to push their win total to 12.

Brian Martin:

This Week 17 matchup between the Dallas Cowboys and Arizona Cardinals has the vibe of a playoff-game. These are two of the most talented teams in not only the NFC, but the entire league. As such, this should be an interesting head-to-head battle that could come down to whoever has the ball last.

These two teams are on opposite ends of the spectrum right now. The Cowboys are coming off a winning month of December, while Arizona is currently on a three-game losing streak. Despite their losing streak though, the Cardinals are still very much a dangerous team due to the dual threat QB Kyler Murray. Containing him will be one of the keys to victory for the Cowboys this week. With home-field advantage and Dak Prescott back in form, I’m going to predict another victory for America’s Team in a close one.

Score prediction: 28-24, Cowboys.

Danny Phantom:

The ball, the ball, the ball - that will be the theme of the game as the winner of the turnover battle will be the victor in this one. I’d love to see the Cowboys offense pick up where they left off, but Arizona’s defense will have other plans.

And although this will be the toughest offense the Cowboys have faced in six weeks, the defense will up to the task. Every big play counts as this one will come down to the wire. Micah eats, FGs are plentiful, and an unlikely defender plays hero in this one. Give me the home team in a low-scoring nail-biter.

Cowboys 17, Cardinals 16.

David Howman:

The Cowboys haven’t beaten a team that entered the game with a winning record since their win over the 3-0 Panthers early in the year. That’s a bit poetic because, just as I insisted at the time that the Panthers were frauds, I’ve long felt that this Cardinals team was a fraud as well. The way they’ve fallen apart the last three weeks has only vindicated that feeling for me.

The Cardinals defense is reeling right now, and I see a red hot Cowboys offense picking up right where they left off last week. Meanwhile, Dallas’ elite defense is perfectly suited to take away one of the few things this Cardinals offense still does well, and Kyler Murray is going to get into trouble early on with this Cowboys pass rush. I don’t see this one being that close at all.

Cowboys win 42-11.