Arguably the most intriguing matchup in the Wild Card round of the NFL playoffs is this one between the Detroit Lions and the Dallas Cowboys. The Lions had a chance to win the NFC North division last week in Green Bay but that is a tall order for any team. The loss sends them to Jerry’s World in Dallas as the NFC East Champion Cowboys await after ending the season on a high note with a destruction of the Washington Redskins. The matchup that most will be looking at here is the second-ranked Dallas rushing attack going up against the top-ranked run defense of the Lions. The more aspects of this game I look at, the more I am interested to see how this game is going to turn out.
With the winner of this game being awarded a road game at either Green Bay or Seattle next weekend, let’s take a look at what both of these two teams bring to the table this Sunday afternoon.
A Lions team that in years past had relied on the arm of Mathew Stafford and the superhuman abilities of Calvin Johnson to win games looked very different this season. Stafford still put up over 4,200 yards this season but 266 yards per game and 13th in the league is not what Stafford is used to. His 22 touchdowns vs. 12 picks is something he likely would not have accepted going in to the season, but for once he isn’t being totally relied upon to win games for this team. The Lions defense is ranked at the top of just about every category this season, including leading the league with 69.3 rushing yards per game allowed and 133 tackles for a loss. As mentioned above it will be real interesting to see what gives in a battle between this defensive front and the league’s leading rusher in DeMarco Murray. Detroit also has to overcome the fact that Stafford is currently riding a 16 game road losing streak against teams with a winning record. To make matters worse for Detroit, they have dropped 10 of their 11 playoff games in the Super Bowl era. The good news for Detroit is their capable offense can certainly expose Dallas’ mediocre secondary but everything goes back to being able to stop Murray and turning their focus to Dez Bryant, who comes in as possibly the hottest receiver in football. Stopping Dallas’ dynamic offense on the road will no doubt be a tough task, however if they manage to do it then this game is anybody’s guess.
How bout them Cowboys? If someone tells you they thought Dallas was going to host a playoff game this season they are lying to you. After losing their season opening game to the 49ers, the Cowboys looked like the NFL’s best team for the better part of the next six weeks and in the month of December, they have been in that conversation once again. The Cowboys offense is red-hot right now and the three-pronged attack of Tony Romo, DeMarco Murray and Dez Bryant have been shredding opposing defenses. With most of the hype before this game surrounding the running game, it’s in Detroit’s best interest not to forget about Dez Bryant and the rest of the Dallas receiving corps. Bryant also broke a Cowboys record with his league-leading 16th TD catch of the season last week in Washington and he accumulated over 1,300 yards receiving this year, good for 8th in the league. Dallas has lots of options on the offensive front and even if their running attack isn’t as productive as usual, they can still get you through the air. The problem with Dallas is going to be their defense. Although improved from historical poorness over last season, they still are vulnerable in the secondary and can be exposed. They do have the hustle and hunger of a unit built from castoffs and they attack the ball on every play, some characteristics that are favorable if you’re not boasting the most talent. If their defense can limit Calvin Johnson this week, Tony Romo will find a way to put up enough points to finally get Dallas the playoff victory they have been craving for the last several seasons.
Dallas -7 (+105)
Detroit +7 (-125)
OVER 48 (-110)
UNDER 48 (-110)
My Pick – UNDER 48 POINTS
This game is really tough to handicap. On one hand you have a stout defense that has been the best in the NFL at stuffing runs and on other other hand you have the league’s best runner and quite possibly the league’s best offensive line. You have an offense for Detroit that has proved in the past it can put up points, but we haven’t seen that this year and it’s been Dallas that is putting up all of the points. After careful consideration I have decided to go UNDER the 48 point total for a couple of reasons. Nothing comes easy in the playoffs and that will go for Dallas hot offense as well. Detroit’s defense is formidable and it won’t be one of those games where Romo has all kinds of time in the pocket to make plays, which is what he does better than anyone when he is not under pressure. Detroit should be able to limit Dallas’ high octane offense and on the flip side, the Dallas defense has shown this season it is capable of making some plays themselves. They are a middle of the pack defense going up against a middle of the pack offense, so anything is possible but as I said earlier, nothing will come easy in the playoffs and this Dallas defensive unit will be full of hustle. I do expect some points to be put up this Sunday between these two teams but the total is a little too high for my liking, so I am going to trust a tight-knit playoff game to keep the total UNDER 48.