Fans of the Dallas Cowboys have something to rejoice about this holiday season. After a dismal preseason outlook for the team’s prospects, the Cowboys look to be set to walk into the playoffs as the third seed, after locking up the NFC East crown last Sunday with a dominant performance against star quarterback, Andrew Luck, and the Indianapolis Colts.
While a third seed looks all but inevitable, questions still arise for Dallas and their playoff future. Can a miracle happen to jettison the ‘Boys to a first round bye? If they are locked into the third seed, what team will they host in the first round? Both of these questions will be answered by week’s end.
If all of the favored teams win this week, the Cowboys would be the third seed and host the lowest seeded wild card team, the Detroit Lions. The Cowboys can not end up lower than the third seed due to their division title and a lackluster NFC South champion that will not have the record to overtake their spot.
It looks more than unlikely, but there is a chance that the Cowboys can move up for a first round bye. If the Seattle Seahawks lose and the Arizona Cardinals fall as well, Dallas would move up to the first seed. This would also occur if the Cowboys win and the NFC North title game ends in a tie. They can clinch the first seed with a Cowboys win, a Cardinals loss or tie and a tie between Detroit and the Green Bay Packers.
Make sense yet?
If they retain the third seed, the Cowboys will likely play the loser of the Detroit/Green Bay game. The only way this would prove untrue is if the Cowboys fall to Washington and Detroit and Green Bay tie. Out of the more likely scenarios, who would the ‘Boys rather see walk into AT&T stadium next weekend?
It’s understandable to hope for the most likely opponent– the Detroit Lions. The Lions have a much less capable quarterback at the helm when compared to the packers. Matthew Stafford, despite throwing for over 4,000 yards through 16 games, boasts an abysmal touchdown to interception ratio (19-12), has an 85.4 passer rating, and has been sacked a whopping 43 times on the season.
However, the Lions do have their strengths, primarily at wide receiver and defensively. Detroit has two receivers over the century mark, Golden Tate and Calvin Johnson (1,286 and 1,038 yards respectively). Despite their success, Detroit’s receivers struggle to find the end zone as their top two targets have just 10 touchdown grabs on the season. Nonetheless, a matchup with Detroit may be a nightmare for struggling cornerback Brandon Carr and the Dallas Cowboys corners.
Detroit’s defense is another animal. They rank second in the league in yards per game (295.9). Behind Ndamukong Suh, they are the best defense against the run, only giving up an impressive 63.8 yards per game. They do not let teams in the end zone either. The Lions have kept teams off the scoreboard allowing just 16.8 points per game. They can be beat with the pass though, ranking 13th in the league in pass yards per game.
Although they are arguably the more formidable opponent, and are coming in much hotter than the Lions, the Cowboys may be wise to hope the Packers come to town in the first round. Detroit has not won in Green Bay since 1991, so it may be a surprise to see the matchup, but a Packers win may prove beneficial to the Cowboys looking down the line in the playoffs.
Head coach, Jason Garrett, is always preaching a one game at a time mantra, but the possibility of playing in Lambeau Field’s frozen tundra is nothing short of daunting, even with the Cowboys formidable rushing attack. In the playoffs, the Packers are 12-5 at home since the dawning of the Super Bowl era.
A Green Bay win will likely give them the second seed, seeing as the Seahawks will likely win against the St. Louis Rams this weekend to sew up the first seed. Upon winning the inaugural playoff game, as the third seed, the Cowboys would have to visit the second seeded team in the next round. A comfortable climate in Detroit’s dome would be much more preferable to the brutal Wisconsin cold.
Of course, the downside to facing Green Bay in the first round would be facing the Packers quarterback and MVP candidate, Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers is second to Cowboy Tony Romo in passer rating (111.0), but has over 700 more passing yards than his Dallas counterpart. He also gets to throw to two wideouts with over 10 touchdown catches, Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb.
Celebrate the division title while you can, fans. Winning the division was hard-fought, but the road to the Super Bowl will be no easier. No matter where they are seeded or who they play, the Cowboys will be tested in a tough NFC.