The 2016-2017 regular season has finally come to an end and given way to what is expected to be a highly, entertaining post-season tournament. The wild card round in both conferences will be decided this weekend. The top two seeds in each conference have earned much-needed byes. As the number one seed in the NFC, it has become apparent that none of the remaining teams scare the Dallas Cowboys.
None of the Remaining Teams Scare the Dallas Cowboys
It has been a fairy-tale season for the team with the blue star on the side of its helmets. Many expected the squad to buckle under the weight heaped upon its shoulders by injuries and inexperience at the start of the year but it has not even come close. In fact, the team has achieved the unbelievable, considering that two rookies have spearheaded the club’s accelerated climb.
Otherworldly performances by former third-string quarterback Dak Prescott and 21 year-old running back Ezekiel Elliott combined with the re-emergence of veteran linebacker Sean Lee and the development of youngsters Byron Jones and David Irving given people around the organization a positive outlook on the team’s immediate future.
The Cowboys finished the regular season tied for the best record in franchise history at 13-3. However, the team could have easily ended with a 14-2 record which would have set the mark but head coach Jason Garrett and his staff chose to rest many of the team’s starters in the final game against the Philadelphia Eagles this past weekend. Here’s a breakdown of the 11 teams that stand in the way of a sixth Lombardi Trophy for the Cowboys.
The Oakland Raiders would have been quite a challenge with quarterback Derek Carr at the helm. Carr has become an exceptional professional. His receivers and running backs are formidable threats to bust a game open at any moment. Unfortunately, he has been shelved by a broken ankle. The Raiders will be led into battle with by rookie quarterback Connor Cook. Cook will be making his first NFL start this weekend against the Houston Texans.
Cook will be hard-pressed to decipher even the Texans basic defensive schemes on the road in his first start. An incredible showing by running back Latavius Murray and some timely throws from Cook could put them over the hump, but they will probably fall short of a possible meeting with the Cowboys, especially with Carr unavailable for the post-season.
The Houston Texans and the Miami Dolphins are in a similar situation. They have both lost their starting quarterbacks to injury. Although the Texans have re-inserted former starting quarterback Brock Osweiler, the team’s fan-base does not seem too thrilled about his return. Nevertheless, Osweiler does have more experience and tools than the Dolphins Matt Moore and Cook.
The Cowboys would be excited to play either of these ball clubs, primarily because of the team’s improving defense. Neither team has the kind of targets at receiver that intimidate the Cowboys back-line. Ironically, Morris Claiborne’s return will dramatically affect the production of the team’s secondary. These match-ups would be competitive but the end result would never be in doubt.
The Lions were just in Arlington, Texas a week ago, playing in a meaningful game against this Cowboys team. Despite putting up 21 points and showing quite a bit of fight in the first half of the meeting, the Lions folded up like a tent after the halftime break. Quarterback Matthew Stafford and his brethren came crashing back to earth under an offensive onslaught and a defensive pummeling that saw them beaten to a pulp with 21 unanswered points.
Prescott threw for three touchdowns in the game. Elliott rushed for two touchdowns and gained 80 yards on just 12 carries. Receiver Dez Bryant had several receptions and even threw a touchdown pass as the Cowboys offense closed the game with 21 unanswered points. In a rematch, the plan would be simple. Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan would give Elliott 12 more carries, resulting in another 100-yard rushing game or possibly, the rookie’s first 200-yard day.
The Lions opened the game in a hurry-up offense, which confused Lee and his cohorts during the first half. It appeared as though the Cowboys had not prepared to see much of that style from Stafford and his crew. The defense settled-in and began to torment the Lions offense, in the second half. They forced a couple turnovers and shut the Lions desperate running game down. Either way, this team does not fear the Lions in any way.
Kansas City Chiefs
Quietly, the Chiefs have positioned themselves as the two seed in the AFC. They were the beneficiary of the injury to Oakland’s Carr, enabling them to take the slot with little resistance from a disheartened Raiders team. But the Chiefs do have a strong defense. The question is how strong? Not sure, if they could stand up to the Cowboys offensive line.
Their two biggest weapons on offense, tight end Travis Kelce and scat-back Tyreek Hill, do bring considerable attributes to the party but the field general Alex Smith has been shaky throughout his career. Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli would surely scheme up something nice to control the Chiefs offense. Nope! This team does not strike fear in the hearts of the Cowboys players, either.
If the preseason explosion between these two teams is any indication of what we might get with a post-season match-up, why would the Cowboys be scared to face the Seahawks? Quarterback Russell Wilson is a dual-threat who makes plays with his arm and legs but would need a lot of help from his supporting cast. A glaring weakness shows up in his lack of a complimentary running game.
Marshawn Lynch’s departure has left the Seahawks scrambling to find his replacement. When they think they have plugged the leak, the chosen runner has come up injured. They are trying to revive their rushing offense but the Cowboys would not be waiting for them to get it together. Marinelli would stick his scrappy, defense on Wilson and force him into submission.
Sadly, the two squads faced off a year ago at AT&T Stadium with a thud. The Seahawks managed to beat the Cowboys who were led by backup quarterback Matt Cassel by a score of 13-12. Marinelli showed how to contain Wilson during the game, holding him to 210 yards on 30 pass attempts. Wilson did throw for a touchdown but he also threw an interception.
Prescott and Elliott would challenge the Legion of Boom, too. The youngsters are not afraid of the Seahawks fiercest and toughest defender, safety Kam Chancellor. The biggest hole in their secondary is the one left by safety Earl Thomas who was lost for the season a few weeks ago. No, there is not much boom in the legion these days and the boys with the blue star would present a beastly challenge.
New York Giants
Two of the team’s three losses came at the hands of their division rival the New York Giants by a combined total of four points. The Giants do pose a threat because of the ability they have shown to control the Cowboys receiving corps and confuse Prescott. But if the Cowboys were ever chomping at the bit to get after an opponent for a third time this season, it would be the Giants.
Contrary to popular belief, the Giants have not truly dominated this Cowboys team. In the opener, the Cowboys were driving to put themselves in position for kicker Dan Bailey to try a long field goal for the win. Terrance Williams made a reception that would have inched the team closer to Bailey’s make-able range but the receiver chose not to attempt to get out of bounds as the clock wound down.
The second meeting was a defensive battle. The Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuoulo clearly won the chess match with Prescott and Linehan but again, the Cowboys were moving down the field in the closing minutes to either tie the score or take the lead. A rematch would be just what the doctor ordered for this young team.
Prescott has seen a lot now. Elliott was able to gain 100 yards against a Giants defense that is supposed to be dominant against the run. He would undoubtedly, crack the line of scrimmage the third time around, possibly en route to a huge day. No, the Giants do not scare this team at all. This team seems to relish challenges and come to life when the pressure is on.
Green Bay Packers
It is beautiful to think that the Giants or Packers could be eliminated this weekend. Truth be told, the Cowboys would probably much rather face the Giants. However, a rematch with the Packers and their unbelievable, probable 2016 NFL MVP, quarterback Aaron Rodgers would give the Cowboys another chance to demonstrate their physical dominance. Physicality is not the Packers specialty.
The team is more finesse than fire these days but they are on a hot streak. The offensive firepower is not what it could be but Rodgers has been spectacular. He may provide some tense moments for the Cowboys defense throughout the game but ultimately Prescott and his offensive line would overwhelm them with ball-control. The Cowboys smash-mouth approach would not be what the Packers want to experience, again.
The Falcons do have an explosive offense led by quarterback Matt Ryan, receiver Julio Jones and a two-headed monster at the running back position. They could put up some points on the Cowboys in a hurry. On the flip-side, the Cowboys could do the same to them. The Falcons defense is not built to hold up against a physical attack. The game would be played in a dome, which would pretty much eliminate either team from having the upper-hand.
The physical nature and structure of the Cowboys would seemingly wear down the undersized Falcons on both sides of the ball. It would be a wonderful match-up to witness, no doubt. The Cowboys would not mind the battle, though. This team really wants to know what it’s made of and a war with the Falcons would give them quite a litmus test.
Quarterback Ben Rothlisberger, running back Le’veon Bell and receiver Antonio Brown do possess amazing skills. All three of them were on full display in the early season match-up with the Cowboys. The game turned into a shootout with both teams unloading a number of fireworks that will be remembered for years to come.
Sure, a rematch would probably produce a similar showing but the outcome would also probably remain the same. The Steelers defense cannot stop the Cowboys rushing attack, which would open up the passing game for Prescott and his crew. Time of possession would teeter in favor of the Cowboys once again but a Super Bowl match-up would mean the revival of one of the greatest rivalries in league history.
New England Patriots
Staring across the field at Patriots quarterback Tom Brady would create a moment of trepidation for any NFL team. But these young Cowboys might just be silly enough to embrace the challenge. Brady’s experience in post-season battles is second to none. His miraculous throws and timely touchdown passes have already gone down in NFL folklore. Interestingly enough, Brady has never really dominated anybody in the Super Bowl.
When you look back at his championships, you’ll find that none of his victories came by more than four points. In fact, three of his rings came by way of the leg of their former kicker Adam Vinatieri. Yes, Brady put them in position with precision passes and nifty maneuvering in the pocket but he was never really the hero, was he? The Patriots team is strong. They have not faced a ball-control team like these Cowboys, though.
Prescott might start the game a little bit jittery, going head-to-head against one of his many idols but Linehan would probably put the onus on Elliott to put several dents into the Patriots defense. Elliott could soften them up just enough for Prescott to make a few plays and possibly put Bailey in position to kick the game-winning field goal. The loss of tight end Rob Gronkowski is huge for Brady and company.
Ultimately, the naivete of this year’s Cowboys team provides them with the courage to face off against any of the remaining teams in the playoffs. Head coach Jason Garrett has implemented a fighting philosophy with his team that has them believing in each other. Most importantly, this team believes it belongs where it is and they are desperately, eager to prove it.