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Cowboys at 49ers: Writer predictions for Sunday Night Football showdown

Can the Cowboys get revenge for their last two playoff losses?

NFC Divisional Playoffs - Dallas Cowboys v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Michael Owens/Getty Images

Are you ready for it? Arguably the biggest game of the Cowboys’ regular season schedule is here, as they prepare to take on the undefeated 49ers on Sunday Night Football. Boosting the Cowboys’ odds is the expectation that, for the first time in two years, they’ll have their full starting offensive line with Tyron Smith set to return from injury.

They’ll need all hands on deck to beat the 49ers, who have eliminated Dallas from the playoffs each of the last two years and already look to be one of the best teams in the NFL. So what do our writers think will happen? Let’s get into it.

When San Francisco has the ball

Maintain gap discipline

This is easier said than done. San Francisco’s offensive system is built out of the trenches, with the wide zone blocking scheme functioning as the root of it all. That allows this offense to utilize misdirection on nearly every play, getting defenders into the wrong gaps and then taking advantage of the confusion.

Last year’s playoff matchup between these two saw the Cowboys defense playing with great discipline up front, and they’ll need that kind of performance again. Christian McCaffrey is off to a tremendous start this year, and that’s made life infinitely easier on the passing game as a result. The secret to slowing this offense down starts in the trenches. Dallas has to avoid playing the way they did against the Cardinals in Week 3 if they want to have a shot in this game.

When Dallas has the ball

Keep the secondary honest

This was the biggest issue for Dak Prescott and the offense a year ago when they faced this team. Over 70% of Prescott’s attempts were less than 10 yards down the field, and he was only able to hit on three of his 11 attempts that went 10+ yards downfield. That allowed San Francisco to sit on everything underneath and clog up any passing lanes.

So far this year, Prescott has been throwing a lot of short passes, but it’s come with deep shots built in as a constant threat. Michael Gallup and Brandin Cooks have run frequent deep routes to stretch the secondary, even if they haven’t been targeted much on those routes. If the 49ers try to crowd the short throwing lanes in this one, Prescott needs to let it rip deep and either win big or at least keep the secondary honest. That will be the key to being able to move the ball against this very talented defense.

Now onto the predictions from your BTB writers...

Tom Ryle (3-1):

This is the game everyone was looking forward to as soon as the schedule came out, and it could well have the most impact of any regular season game for the Cowboys. The 49ers have ended things two years in a row for Dallas, so not only do the Cowboys have to face a talented roster and really good head coach, they have to overcome a bit of history. It’s going to be tough, and I’m tempted to go against Dallas to do some reverse jinxing, but I think they manage to pull this one out.

Cowboys win, 27-19.

Tony Catalina (3-1):

I would love to pick the Cowboys here. I would love have supreme confidence enough to say the Cowboys are winning this big regular season matchup. But my brain kicks in and tends to think “show me, don’t tell me” and that’s where I am at. The Cowboys absolutely could win this game, but I need to see it. Two straight season ending losses to them tends to stick with you.

So for that reason, I’m picking the 49ers to win 23-20 and hope that I am wrong.

Matt Holleran (3-1):

This matchup between the Cowboys and 49ers might be Dallas’ most impactful regular season game in the last decade. That might sound dramatic for a game coming in Week 5, but the Cowboys have some serious demons to exorcise in San Francisco this Sunday. The Cowboys are a better, more well-rounded team than they were when they faced the 49ers 9 months ago.

They are better on both sides of the ball and will pose serious challenges for the 49ers. I really think this game comes down to one man, and that is Dak Prescott. Dallas’ signal-caller is not going to let his team lose this game. Dallas gets the ball down with about two minutes left and Prescott puts the team on his back, driving them down the field for a game-winning touchdown.

Give me the Cowboys in a thriller, 20-17.

Brandon Loree (3-1):

I believe this is the start of the season for the Dallas Cowboys. They are healthy along the offensive line for the first time all year and have worked through the mistakes of the first four games. The Cowboys have had their hearts broken by Kyle Shanahan and the 49ers in the playoffs in back-to-back seasons. This 2023 roster might be the best team of all three the Cowboys have faced.

This game has a chance to be a defining moment for Mike McCarthy in Dallas. It’s not the playoffs or the Super Bowl, but for Cowboys fans, it certainly feels like it. McCarthy returns to San Francisco, where he was an offensive coordinator for one year in 2005 before becoming a head coach for the foreseeable future. In his first year with the Packers, McCarthy went to San Francisco and won 30-19. I think the Cowboys will win and by the same score.

Cowboys win, 30-19.

Matthew Lenix (3-1):

The Cowboys were able to bounce back from their first loss of the season with a dominating 38-3 win over the Patriots. The San Francisco 49ers are a different animal, though. They look every bit like a top Super Bowl contender as their offensive and defensive units rank in the top five.

However, Dallas has a top defensive unit themselves, and the stench of losing to the 49ers in back-to-back playoff appearances. I feel like they get over the mental hump and win a defensive battle against the 49ers.

Cowboys win, 20-17.

Mike Poland (3-1):

It’s a tale of two cities. This game breaks the tie in so many ways. These two teams have a series record against each other of 19-19-1. A win doesn’t just break this tie, it helps separate the two teams as the powerhouse of the NFC. Both teams are performing exceptionally well on defense. Dallas is allowing only 10 points per game, the 49ers are allowing 15 points.

The Cowboys are currently allowing 259 yards per game, the 49ers are allowing 284. But there is a separator between these two teams, the passing game. The Cowboys are second in the NFL at forcing turnovers. The 49ers rank only 16th. Combine that with being ranked 17th in passing yards allowed, this is a game for Dak to take his chances at throwing the ball and take over the game with his arm.

Cowboys win 20-17.

Brian Martin (3-1):

It’s hard to pick against one of the few remaining undefeated teams in the league, but I just have this gut feeling the Dallas Cowboys will find some way to win this Week 5 matchup with the San Francisco 49ers. I think they’ve had this game circled on their schedule from the beginning and will have something up their sleeve that will end up being the difference maker. Give me the Cowboys in a close one.

Cowboys win, 20-17.

RJ Ochoa (3-1):

I want nothing more than to pick the Cowboys, but I simply can’t. We are at a place where, based on the last two postseasons, San Francisco has the complete and total benefit of the doubt when it comes to playing Dallas.

This isn’t to say that the Cowboys can’t win or anything like that. But if I have to offer the most logical outcome it is the 49ers continuing to roll.

David Howman (2-2):

I’ve been weirdly confident about this game all year, and now that it’s here I’ve seen nothing to make me waver. The 49ers have looked good but they have a few weaknesses on both sides of the ball. Brock Purdy has gotten away with a few really dangerous throws, and this offensive line has not held up well. The defense has been vulnerable when they get stretched vertically, too.

We know exactly what San Francisco will try to do in this game. On offense, they’re going to run it down the defense’s throat until they start cheating up, and then unleash their play action game. On defense, they’ll sit on every CeeDee Lamb route and refuse to let him get going. This is a game where Brandin Cooks could really go off, and Michael Gallup could recapture his deep ball magic too. If that happens, and the Dallas defensive line is able to hold their own in the trenches and keep their linebackers clean, the Cowboys will be in a good spot.

Cowboys win 26-23.

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