Dallas Cowboys vs. Atlanta Falcons: A NFC Championship preview?

ATLANTA, GA - OCTOBER 15: Matt Ryan /

Is it possible that Sunday’s Week 10 matchup between the Dallas Cowboys and Atlanta Falcons is a preview of this season’s NFC Championship Game?

One might scoff at the idea that Sunday’s matchup between the 5-3 Dallas Cowboys and 4-4 Atlanta Falcons is a preview of the 2018 NFC Championship Game on January 21, 2018 – especially if you happen to follow the 8-1 Philadelphia Eagles or the 6-2 New Orleans Saints. We probably shouldn’t leave out supporters of the 6-3 Seattle Seahawks, either.

Okay, the 6-2 Los Angeles Rams, too.

Having said that, these were the top-two seeds in the NFC playoffs a year ago. Only that bad start against the Green Bay Packers in the Divisional Playoffs and then a 51-yard field goal by Mason Crosby prevented this matchup from taking place in last year’s NFC title game, which would have taken place in North Texas with a trip to Super Bowl LI on the line.

I’ll say this much up front: I never felt that Dallas was quite ready for the NFC Championship Game last season. That doesn’t mean that they couldn’t have won it, but I don’t think that they would have had the Cowboys and Falcons met last January.

I say this mainly because I watched the Falcons mop the floor with the New England Patriots for more than a half before they somehow found a way to fall to a vastly inferior team.

It happens.

As the Cowboys are starting to roll on a three-game winning streak, there’s the feeling that perhaps this team is ready for bigger things finally. To Cowboys haters, that 5-3 record might suggest that Dallas has taken a good step backwards and that an upstart like the Rams or Eagles are the heir apparent to the NFC throne.

But if we’re looking at the Cowboys over the last three games, there’s a very different picture to look at when compared to the same one we saw over the first five games.

That unexpected and gloomy 2-3 start to the season saw the Dallas Cowboys score an average of 25 points per game. Thanks mainly to that Week 2 blowout loss to the Denver Broncos, they were giving up 26.4 points per contest and they were -3 in turnover differential.

Over the last three games the Cowboys are scoring just under 34 points per game while allowing just 15.3. Yes, that blowout win over the San Francisco 49ers is in there to inflate things a bit, but the Kansas City Chiefs game saw 28 points put up – big difference between those two opponents. Another glaring stat shows the Cowboys at +6 in turnover differential over the last three games.

Sacks are up.

Ezekiel Elliott yards and touchdowns are up, although he now appears suspended for the next six games.

Even without Zeke in the backfield, this is a different team.

The Falcons?

Yeah, they’re different too, but probably not a team that’s going to go quietly into the night with that 4-4 record. Matt Ryan is too good of a quarterback and these ‘dirty birds’ have too much talent.

If the Falcons expect to even make the playoffs, things have to change right away, but the problem is that the Cowboys are standing in the way.

Unlike Dallas, Atlanta is not playing their best football of the season right now. The Falcons have lost four of their last five games following an impressive 3-0 start. The losing skid includes a Super Bowl-rematch defeat against the New England Patriots in a game that wasn’t even close.

The Falcons might need Sunday’s game even more than the Cowboys – think about that.

Dallas trails the upstart Eagles by two games in the NFC East with two head-to-heads still to come.

The Falcons trail the NFC South-leading New Orleans Saints by two games and also have a couple of matchups with the black and gold coming up. Also trailing the Carolina Panthers by a game and a half following last week’s collapse in Charlotte, it goes without saying that Atlanta is on the ropes.

Next: Dallas Cowboys 2017 Rookie Class - Midseason grades

An NFC Championship Game preview on Sunday?

Well, I don’t think that I see that matchup on the schedule.

But there’s no question that the Dallas Cowboys and Atlanta Falcons might be playing for their playoff lives on Sunday in a matchup that might as well be a playoff game for both franchises.