NFC Playoff Preview: Divisional Weekend

Dallas Cowboys (10-6) at Los Angeles Rams (13-3)

Saturday, January 12th, 8:15 pm EST.

With the Cowboys tight win over Seattle on Wildcard Weekend, we saw one of the best defenses left in the playoffs move on to the Divisional round. The top two units, Chicago and Baltimore, both failed to advance. Dallas has shown good balance between the strength of their front seven and a more unpredictable offense. Dak Prescott became the first Dallas QB to run and pass for a TD in the same playoff game. Thinking about it, that’s actually weird. It should have happened before. Troy Aikman never walked one in? But I digress. Prescott has proven to be far more effective since the addition of Amari Cooper in the mid-season trade with Oakland. Cooper caught seven passes for over one-hundred yards in the win against Seattle, and there’s no reason he won’t be a top threat in the passing attack again. If Dallas can stay balanced, there might be nothing stopping them from advancing to the NFC Championship game.

Except there might be.

In all of the excitement about the Saints and the resurgent Bears, the Rams have somehow been lost in the shuffle of the NFC’s Super Bowl contenders. The Rams are a thirteen-win team that won one of the greatest displays of offensive football in history against the Chiefs. They also have Aaron Donald. The defensive player of the year hasn’t been kind to opposing quarterbacks this season, racking up a career-high twenty-plus sacks, four forced fumbles and 41 QB hits this season, per Pro Football Focus. He’s an immediate game changer because he’s constantly doubled, but still makes plays. That’s going to be a problem for Dallas. Their once-dominant offensive line has come back to earth this season, though they’re still above average. Can they contain Donald, create lanes for Zeke and give Dak time to find Cooper downfield to keep the defense honest? I’m not sure, and it’s a question that will likely decide the game’s outcome.

On the other side, the Rams second-ranked scoring offense hinges on Todd Gurley’s ability to keep defenses honest, a task he’s been up to all season. He’s the league’s third-leading rusher. The Cowboy’s fifth-ranked rush defense will look to contain him out of the backfield, but they’ll need to be ready to deal with him as a pass catcher as well. He’s amassed almost six-hundred yard as a receiver in the flat, to add to his twelve-hundred rushing yards. He’s listed as limited on the injury report with that knee that’s been causing him trouble, but the extra week’s rest should help. While the Rams may be without the services of injured receiver Cooper Kupp, they still have Robert Woods and Brandon Cooks as deep threats to stretch the field. They’ve BOTH caught passes for over twelve-hundred yards for Jared Goff.

Prediction: In the end, it comes down to whether you believe that Dallas can keep pace with Los Angeles. If the Rams were bringing in a bottom-ten defense, like the Chiefs, I might be tempted. But they’re not. I had the Rams as a pre-season Super Bowl pick and I can still see them getting there. It’s one of the NFC’s season-long juggernauts versus a Dallas team that got SHUT OUT by Indy in week fifteen. I just don’t think this game is as close as some folks are making it out to be.

Rams 30
Cowboys 17

EDITOR’S NOTE: Check out Tom’s other playoff previews here

Image Source: USA Today

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