Part 4 of the Sports From the Basement Wild Card Weekend Preview
to read about Arizona vs Carolina
to read abut Baltimore at Pittsburgh
to read about Cincinnati at Indianapolis
As predicted last week, the 12-4 Dallas Cowboys ended their stellar regular season and are rewarded with a game against the 11-5 Detroit Lions. The Panthers have the easier matchup on paper, that’s for sure, but games aren’t played on paper.
Cowboys offense vs Lions Defense
Strength vs Strength. Dallas, led by the leagues leading rusher DeMarco Murray, boasts the number 2 ranked rushing offense in the NFL, at 147 yards per game. They are going against the number 1 ranked rushing defense of the Lions, who give up only 69 yards rushing per game. The Cowboys caught a break earlier in the week when it was announced that Ndamukung Zuh would miss this game after being suspended. The suspension was later overturned on appeal, so Suh will not miss the game. With Suh, the Lions defense is the beast that it has been all season, and he should do his usual damage stuffing up the line of scrimmage. Expect Murray to try to get his yards more on the outside, with more stretch runs and sweeps.
The Lions defense isn’t too shabby against the pass either, ranking 13th in the league. The Cowboys are 16th in passing, but like to rely on the run. While slowing down Dez Bryant will go a long way in slowing down the Cowboys, Tony Romo likes to spread the ball around. Romo has been playing at a high level, and if Bryant is covered he won’t hesitate to dump it to Murray, or throw to Jason Witten. Terrance Williams has also developed into a nice threat for Dallas. The main reason for the Cowboys’ 12-4 record is that they have many weapons on offense that can beat you, and they do not make mistakes. A lot has been said about Tony Romo’s playoff failures, but the Lions cannot rest on that alone.
Lions offense vs Cowboys defense
Unlike Tony Romo, Matthew Stafford will fixate on a single receiver. He gets away with it because that receiver is Calvin Johnson, but he forces way to many balls Megatron’s way. Johnson only played 11 games this season. (The actual number is 13, but he was hobbled in those two games and only saw three targets). In those 11 games, Johnson was targeted 125 times! Or 11.3 times per game. Detroit’s number 2 receiver, Golden Tate, was targeted only 7 times per game this season in games that Johnson played. No other Lions player was targeted more than 56 times all season, so those are the two to stop in the passing game. Stafford will try and try and try some more to get the ball to Johnson, so the Cowboys need to stay on him. At some point in this game on a third and 8 Stafford will inexplicably throw to a triple covered Calvin Johnson and the ball will be knocked away.
The run defense for the Cowboys is solid, at 8th in the league, and Detroit’s running game is average at best. Joique Bell has come around late in the season, but he is a plodder who will move the chains. The big plays from Reggie Bush haven’t really materialized. The Lions are really a Stafford to Johnson one trick pony. Calvin Johnson is so good that he can win games by himself, but the odds aren’t in the Lions favor.
Neither team’s return game scares you. In fact the only thing that does scare you is the Lions kicking game. Matt Prater has been average at best, and the Lions have struggled with missed field goals all year long. Dan Bailey has been Mr. Automatic for the Cowboys and Dallas should enjoy a nice advantage.
I expect a close one here, and maybe not the shootout that everyone is expecting. DeMarco Murray will wear the Lions down just enough and then it’s off to Lambeau for the Cowboys. Dallas 27, Detroit 24.