This is it, the stage has been set. The Cowboys slayed several dragons last week in their demolition of Tom Brady and the Buccaneers, and now they’ve proven they can win in the playoffs. The next step is to get some revenge on the team that ended their postseason after just one game last year and, in doing so, reach the NFC Championship Game for the first time in nearly three decades.
It won’t be easy, though. The 49ers have won their last 11 games and boast efficient playmakers on both offense and defense. This will be a much harder test than last week’s game, but the Cowboys should expect that. What do our writers expect, though? Let’s find out.
When San Francisco has the ball
Make your tackles
This was a point of emphasis last week, too, but it’s significantly more important against the 49ers. No team has more yards after the catch per reception than San Francisco, and it’s a primary feature of the offense. They’re also are one of the most run-heavy offenses in the NFL, especially since Brock Purdy became the starter, and have the second most rushing yards after contact of any playoff team (Dallas is in first place, by the way).
If the Dallas defense is to have any success against this high-powered offense, they have to tackle well. Only five teams had fewer missed tackles than the Cowboys this year, which is a good thing, but the 49ers are a different beast. It will be especially crucial for Dan Quinn to avoid exposing Trevon Diggs - who missed three tackles last week - to too many runs directed his way. San Francisco did exactly that a year ago with some success.
When Dallas has the ball
Win on third down
The Cowboys have often talked about gearing their offense towards getting into third and manageable situations, which is generally an ill-advised strategy. However, it’s actually a good idea against this 49ers defense that rarely gives up big plays. Only six defenses gave up fewer explosive plays than San Francisco, who is allowing the second fewest yards per play on the season.
There aren’t too many cracks in the armor of this impressive 49ers defense, but they do have a particularly glaring one: third-down defense. On third downs alone, San Francisco is 19th in conversion rate, 23rd in success rate, and 26th in EPA/play allowed. Meanwhile, the Dallas offense is fifth in third-down conversion rate, fifth in success rate, and seventh in EPA/play. If the Cowboys can keep that up, they’ll be able to piece together long, sustained drives against a defense that rarely gets beat deep.
Now onto the predictions from your BTB writers...
Tom Ryle (11-7):
Well, is it safe to believe now? Outside of the Maher mess, the Cowboys answered just about every question against the Buccaneers. The only one remaining is how much of that was the quality of the opponent. The 49ers are a much better team.
Still, there are some indications that they have benefitted from a weak schedule. I think Dallas is going to be the best pass rush they have faced, and that could really stress Brock Purdy. As long as Dak plays the way he did in the wildcard, the offense should not be a problem.
I’m picking the Cowboys to advance by a 34-28 margin.
Tony Catalina (11-7):
This is a storybook type redemption opportunity for the Dallas Cowboys. A win over the team that ended their season last year to advance to a game they haven’t played in for over 27 years is a dream scenario. Make no mistake about it, the Cowboys are going to have to go out there and earn it. The 49ers by many estimations look to be the best team in the league and the Cowboys are well aware of that.
I think it’ll be a close one that will get our blood pressure through the roof but ultimately the Cowboys break loose and win the game they haven’t been able to for over a quarter century.
Cowboys win, 23-16.
Matt Holleran (9-9):
I really hope I’m wrong about this prediction, but this is going to be a very challenging game for the Cowboys. San Francisco’s offense is going to cause many more problems for Dallas’ defense than the Bucs did, and that eventually will be the reason they lose the game. This one stays close until the fourth quarter when the 49ers’ ground game helps them pull away.
Give me the 49ers, 27-17.
Brandon Loree (12-6):
The Cowboys will be facing their toughest test of the season. While the Philadelphia Eagles have a better record, I believe the San Francisco 49ers have the better team. They have a complete defense with playmakers led by Nick Bosa and Fred Warner. On offense, it’s picking your poison, and the toughest matchup for Dan Quinn might be standing on the sidelines with Kyle Shanahan.
Dallas is looking to accomplish something they haven’t done in 27 years, and that’s going to an NFC championship game. For context, I was born seven months later, not even alive to witness the greatest. I believe my time has come to see what everyone’s been talking about.
I feel it in my heart that somehow the Cowboys travel out west and beat the 49ers 24-17. Last week was a legacy moment for Dak Prescott, so this week I’m feeling a big game from someone like Micah Parsons, getting two sacks and a forced fumble.
Matthew Arizzi (11-7):
If you told me five months ago the Cowboys would be getting Mr. Irrelevant in the Divisional round, I’d be excited. However, the 49ers probably have the most talented roster across the entire NFL.
Last week, Kenneth Walker had the highest YPC that the 49ers allowed in the last month of the season. Ton Pollard will need to replicate that. Along with that, the Cowboys can’t afford to start with two three-and-outs as they did last week. The 49ers were losing at half last week, so the Cowboys need to start strong to have a chance. Purdy also hasn’t had three consecutive games without a turnover all season and he hasn’t turned the ball over the last weeks, so make of that what you will. All things considered, this is 49ers game to lose. I’d love to be wrong, but give me them.
49ers win 24-20.
Mike Poland (13-4):
The simple answer here is what scares you more, facing Tom Brady or facing Brock Purdy. Yes the 49ers defense is extremely stingy on run plays, it has a boat of sacks and pressures and has this years Defensive Player of Year candidate sitting in Dak’s periphery. The offense has near as what you can call position-less football with so many interchangeable pieces that move up and down the field.
But, they haven’t faced a team like Dallas on their schedule and the New Orleans Saints gave the league a blueprint to work off in proving that if don’t allow the offense to bully you then you can beat them effectively.
Cowboys win 21-17. Plus the Giants beat the Eagles sending the NFC Championship game to Dallas…mind blown!
Brian Martin (13-5):
The Dallas Cowboys looked close to unstoppable last week against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and if pick up where they left off against San Francisco, the 49ers probably don’t stand a chance. Sadly, Dallas has been a Jekyll and Hyde team this season so we really don’t know what to expect from them week to week. It’ll no doubt be a close game, I’m going with the Cowboys.
Cowboys win 23-20.
RJ Ochoa (12-6):
In the lead-up to Monday night’s game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers it felt like the opportunity that the Cowboys had been begging for since getting bounced in the playoffs last year. This game feels different. This game feels like the opportunity that the Cowboys have earned.
As I see it the Cowboys were not supposed to do a lot of things this year. They were not supposed to repeat as playoff participants. They were not supposed to win games without Dak Prescott. They were not supposed to survive at left tackle when Tyron Smith got hurt. They were not supposed to beat Tom Brady in the playoffs while wearing their jinxed navy jerseys on a grass field.
I don’t say any of that to say that this is a team of destiny or that fate is on their side. What I am saying is that I am done declaring things that they are not supposed to do. They are supposed to find a way and I think they do. Give me Dallas, 30-26.
David Howman (12-6):
This is a clash of titans. Both the Cowboys and 49ers have elite defenses, offenses that can score in bunches, smart and aggressive coaches, and enough physicality in the trenches to overpower inferior opponents. Watching these two go at it should be an absolute treat, and it’s unlikely to be as lopsided as either team’s Wild Card game was.
That said, the one area where Dallas has a clear advantage is at quarterback, and it’s a pretty important one too. Dak Prescott looked unbeatable last week, while Brock Purdy survived a very shaky start against Seattle. Both quarterbacks face much tougher defenses this week, and I’m expecting a very, very physical battle. But in the end, the better quarterback will find a way to win.
Cowboys win, 27-20.