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Pregame Shuffle Week 17: Cowboys vs Lions

Saturday night seems like it is going to be a good game.

NFL: Detroit Lions at Dallas Cowboys Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

The Cowboys are coming off consecutive losses for the first time since Thanksgiving of 2021, but they now get to return to the comfort of AT&T Stadium where they’ve won 15 straight games stretching back to last season. Not only will this be a welcome homecoming for the Cowboys, but it also marks their final home game of the regular season and, very likely, until the start of the 2024 season.

As is customary with America’s Team, their final home game of the season promises to be special. Jerry Jones guaranteed as much when he announced that this would be the game where legendary head coach Jimmy Johnson is finally inducted into the team’s Ring of Honor.

Of course, there’s an actual game to be played too, and it won’t be an easy one. The Cowboys are set to host the Lions, who just clinched their first division title since 1993. They did that with a 30-24 victory over the Vikings last week, which is poetic considering that the 2021 Lions beat Minnesota in Week 13 for their first win of the whole year.

That puts into perspective the quick and impressive turnaround this much-maligned franchise has seen under head coach Dan Campbell, a familiar face for Cowboys fans. Campbell is a Texas native who played his college ball at Texas A&M and later for the Cowboys, serving as a mentor to rookie Jason Witten among other things.

Campbell took over the Lions in 2021 and the team underwent a complete and total rebuild, finishing 3-13-1 in that first year. After starring on Hard Knocks ahead of the 2022 season, the Lions had all the hype in the world but stumbled out of the gate. Still, after starting out 1-6 (including a 24-6 loss in Dallas) the Lions finished 9-8, just narrowly missing the playoffs. Now, they’re 11-4 and have accomplished something truly special.

In Dallas, it’s been a bit of a different turnaround. The Cowboys have never suffered as much as the Lions, but they’ve been plagued by inconsistency since the dynasty of the 90’s. However, Mike McCarthy has already clinched his third straight playoff appearance for the Cowboys. His predecessor, Jason Garrett, reached the postseason three times in nine full seasons at the helm. No other Cowboys head coach since Barry Switzer had taken this team to the playoffs three different seasons, and McCarthy is the first since Switzer to do it three years in a row.

While both teams are in the midst of achievements they haven’t enjoyed since the 90’s, this game represents more than that. For the entirety of the season, the Cowboys and Lions have been two of the best teams in the league, taking various turns as the flavor of the month. However, both teams have struggled a bit in recent weeks.

For Detroit, they once looked like the favorite to earn the top seed in the NFC. The 49ers had just dropped three straight, and Detroit entered their bye week at 6-2 and, outside of this game against the Cowboys, very few challenging matchups left on the schedule. But they came out of the bye with close wins over the Chargers and Bears before dropping a game to the Packers on Thanksgiving. Two weeks later, they lost a rematch against the Bears, casting doubt on their contender status. Since then, they’ve blown out the Broncos and narrowly beat the Vikings last week.

As for the Cowboys, they looked to be turning the corner after blowing out the Eagles at home to reach 10-3 and take first place in the NFC East. But a two-game road trip out east brought up the team’s disappointing record on the road, and a two-game losing streak followed in short order. They got utterly blown out by the Bills, but played much better against the Dolphins last week, losing on a last-second field goal. Still, the narrative of struggling on the road remains.

The good news for the Cowboys is that this game is at home, but the Lions are also the toughest home opponent they’ve faced outside of the Eagles this year. A year ago, the Cowboys throttled the Lions in this same stadium. That game was earlier in the season, before Detroit really hit their stride, and also featured Dak Prescott’s return from his injury suffered in Week 1.

Still, the Cowboys won that game in convincing fashion for a few reasons. Defensively, they smothered Jared Goff and forced him into several bad plays, including two interceptions and two fumbles. While Goff has generally played well this year, he’s been at his worst under pressure. Expect that to be a big focus for both teams this week.

All in all, this game offers an early taste of a great matchup between two NFC heavyweights. Both teams are looking to get some confidence under themselves and could gain plenty of that with a win this week. And for the Cowboys, this may very well be their last chance to put on a show for the home crowd this year.

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