After winning just their second playoff game of this decade last week, the Dallas Cowboys will now try their luck against the Los Angeles Rams in the Divisional Round of the NFC playoffs. Kickoff is set for 8:15 EST on Saturday, January 12. The game can be seen on Fox.
The Rams have opened the week as 7-point favorites at home. The over/under for the game is set at 49.5 points. Be sure to check out NFL betting odds for this week’s playoff games.
Dallas was able to survive a 2-point game against the Seahawks last weekend. After trailing heading into the 4th quarter, the Cowboys scored two late touchdowns to come from behind. However, the Cowboys dominated the game statistically, leaving little doubt that they were the better team and deserved to advance.
With that win, the Cowboys have now won eight of their last nine games. They surely have the confidence that they can advance past the Divisional Round for the first time since they won the Super Bowl after the 1995 season. Of course, even as road underdogs, there’s some semblance of pressure on this year’s team to end that streak given the team’s recent playoff failures.
The Rams, meanwhile, will be playing their first playoff game after getting a bye last week. Despite hitting a couple of stumbling blocks in December, the Rams finished the regular season 13-3. In the end, they didn’t get as much attention as the Saints or Chiefs, but they are clearly one of the elite teams in the NFL.
Of course, their season will be considered a bit of a disappointment if they don’t at least reach the conference championship game. After losing a home playoff game last season, there is also some pressure on Sean McVay and company to prevent this season from ending in a similar fashion.
It’s with some hesitancy that I lead toward Dallas in this game. I’m still not sold on them as an actual Super Bowl contender. However, I believe the Cowboys are the kind of team that will force a low-scoring game. That should allow them to give the Rams some trouble and stay within striking distance. Los Angeles will probably win, but I think the Cowboys will beat the spread.
The Dallas defense may have been the most impressive part of their win last week. The Seahawks were the best rushing team in the NFL this season, but the Cowboys held them to just 73 yards on 24 carries. It shouldn’t be a surprise since the Cowboys were strong against the run all season. However, last week’s game proved that the Dallas defense is capable of containing a strong rushing team.
Of course, they’ll be facing another elite rushing team this week. Even with Todd Gurley sitting out the final two regular-season games, the Rams had no trouble moving the ball on the ground behind C.J. Anderson. Admittedly, those games came against the Cardinals and 49ers. However, after a pair of losses prior to those two games, the Rams renewed their commitment to running the ball. With Gurley expected back, I expect L.A. to ride Gurley as much as possible. Even if the Cowboys have some success against Gurley early, the Rams aren’t likely to abandon their running game, so the Dallas defense needs to be prepared to stop the run for 60 minutes.
Part of the reason why I think the Rams will remain committed to running the ball is a little bit of uncertainty surrounding quarterback Jared Goff. Despite taking another step forward this season, Goff struggled some in late-season games against the Eagles and Bears, a pair of playoff teams. Goff threw five interceptions with no touchdowns in those games. Even if he bounced back in Weeks 16 and 17, that’s still a concern. Remember, this Dallas defense was able to shut down Drew Brees and the Saints earlier this season, so they’re good enough to give Goff some trouble.
On the other side of the ball, I also have some lingering questions about the L.A. defense. They were barely middle of the road this season, giving up 24 points per game. Heading into the season, we expected them to be a top-10 defense, but they fell well short of that. The Rams game up over five yards per carry on the ground this season. Also, they didn’t get much production out of their pass rush outside of Aaron Donald, which shouldn’t have been the case with teams having to focus so much attention on Donald.
The Cowboys, of course, aren’t exactly a juggernaut offensively. However, I think they can have some success against the Rams. The new troika of Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, and Amari Cooper all stepped up against the Seahawks last week. Given how vulnerable the Rams have been against the run, the door should be open for Elliott to have his fifth straight game rushing for at least 85 yards. That should put Prescott in a good position to move the ball through the air. As always, if he can take care of the football and avoid mistakes, the Cowboys should be in good shape with playmakers like Elliott and Cooper.
All things considered, I have some concerns picking the Rams to win comfortably against a quality team. The Cowboys have a defense that can put up some resistance and a running game that can take advantage of a weak Los Angeles defense. I still favor the Rams to win. But Dallas is at least good enough to stay within a touchdown and beat the spread.