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The Bills are a worse matchup for the Cowboys than the Eagles

Sunday is a big test for the Dallas Cowboys.

NFL: Buffalo Bills at Dallas Cowboys
The Cowboys face an elite quarterback this week.
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

This week’s game for the Dallas Cowboys does not come with the season-long anticipation that the eventual 20-point domination of the Philadelphia Eagles had. But the Buffalo Bills are a much more worrisome opponent. There are multiple ways that this game offers more challenges than the second meeting with the Eagles and their once league-leading record did.

Let’s start with how Philadelphia got exposed for the second week in a row. Not only is that pertinent for how the season might play out, it is just fun. All year, the Eagles have escaped games they were in real danger of losing. Luck played a huge part, as Cowboys fans can attest. In both of their games with their biggest division rival, Dallas forced three fumbles. In the first one, Philadelphia got on all three of the loose balls, and the Cowboys came up just five points short. In the second, the oddly shaped ball wound up in the hands of a Dallas defender every time, and the result was a 20-point victory that was not really even that close as the Cowboys had control of things the entire game. While the Eagles are still one of the better teams in the league, it is becoming apparent they were never as good as the 10-2 record they brought to AT&T Stadium made them look.

The Bills are just 7-6, but they have experienced the other side of luck, including their loss to Philly. They are coming off a gutsy win over the Kansas City Chiefs and are in a real fight to get into the playoffs. The AFC is much more balanced than the NFC. Dallas and the San Francisco 49ers have emerged as the class of their conference, with the Eagles and the Detroit Lions looking like a sparse second tier. Outside those four, only the Minnesota Vikings currently have a winning record. Every other NFC team is below .500 going into Week 15. It is highly likely that at least one of the teams in the NFC playoffs will wind up with a losing record. And the 49ers are the first team to clinch a playoff spot in the NFL, with Dallas, Philadelphia, and Detroit on the cusp.

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In contrast, eleven AFC teams have winning records. But outside the Baltimore Ravens, none of them seem to stand out from the pack the way San Francisco and Dallas do in the NFC, and the Ravens seem a notch below those two. The win over the Chiefs last week breathed real life into the Bills. They are now fighting for a playoff spot, and with all the tie breakers have no margin for error. Still, the stumble last week by the Miami Dolphins keeps a slim hope alive of not just making the playoffs but overtaking the Dolphins for the AFC East crown. (The New York Times playoff predictor puts that chance at 23%, while they have a 49% chance of being at least a wild card. That shows Dallas’ chance of at least making the playoffs as better than 99%, although not quite 100%. Winning against Buffalo would sew things up for them, adding a bit of extra motivation.)

One of the biggest factors in this game is that the Bills have a quarterback in Josh Allen that legitimately is in the MVP conversation along with Dak Prescott and others. Last Sunday proved that Jalen Hurts is not at that level. Allen is much more the kind of QB that is dangerous for the Cowboys. He is mobile and hard to sack, and can create on the move. He has been picked off at an average of just over once per game, and has fumbled four times, offering an opportunity for the Cowboys defenders. Still, he is one of the league’s better passers, ranking seventh in yards and most importantly is second to Prescott in touchdown passes. He is the closest to Brock Purdy that Dallas has faced so far, and we know how that one went. The pass rush will have to be strong to keep him from finding Stephon Diggs, his best weapon.

Buffalo is very close to the Cowboys in offensive output, averaging just 2.6 yards per game less. They are just a bit less effective throwing, and slightly better running the ball. The one clear edge goes to Dallas in scoring, where the Cowboys have a 5.6 points per game advantage. As mentioned, Diggs is the clear number one target. James Cook is their most successful runner, with Allen himself a threat as well as their number two ground-gainer.

One situation to watch closely is the status of Dalton Kincaid, their top tight end. He was hurt against the Chiefs and is considered day to day this week. If he is out, it would be an advantage for the Cowboys. Wide receivers Gabriel Davis and Khalil Shakir are the other main concerns for the Dallas secondary. If Allen has time to get the ball out, they will have their work cut out for them.

Defensively, the Bills may be less formidable and the kind of team Prescott and his receiving corps can run up some big numbers on. They are fourteenth in yards allowed. That may be deceptive, however. They only allow 18.8 points per game, the sixth best in the league. That is a troubling matchup as Prescott himself noted how Dallas left too many points on the field by having to settle for the automatic Brandon Aubrey field goals too often against the Eagles. The Cowboys did have a great day in the red zone last week, but that has hardly been consistent. ‘Bend but don’t break’ defense is what gives them the most trouble. They have to do a better job converting third downs and getting into the end zone against a team that scores the fifth most points in the league. The Cowboys have the firepower to win a shootout, but that is always risky. Prescott and company have done an excellent job protecting the ball, and are tied for the fewest giveaways this year. But that can change in a heartbeat. In a close game, just one or two inopportune mistakes could tilt the balance.

This is also a game away from home for the Cowboys, and in a chilly environment. All three of their losses have been on the road this year. While the weather is not expected to be exceptionally cold, with the current forecast for mid to low 40s, it could be wet with light rain or drizzle. Those are not good conditions for Prescott and increase the chance of those turnovers, although that will work both ways. Still, turnovers are one of the most unpredictable elements of the game. We can hope that the Cowboys will continue their trend of being on the plus side of the ledger, but a hope is all it is.

And we know that the crowd at Highmark Stadium is one of the loudest and most loyal in the NFL. This is going to be a hostile environment. Dallas fans travel well, but this is not the most exciting place to go. Expect this to be a game where Dak’s now infamous “Here we go” may be much less audible as he is forced to go with a silent count much of the time.

The Cowboys truly controlled the entire game against the Eagles, but that is much less likely against a Buffalo team fighting for their playoff life. The Cowboys still have what they need to win this one. But they cannot afford many mistakes, including the ever present threat of foolish penalties. Expect a game that will have a lot more drama than the last one.

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