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NFL playoffs 2019: NFC divisional-round predictions, picks, preview | Dallas Cowboys-Los Angeles Rams, Eagles-Saints key matchups, X-factors, more
By Matt Lombardo |
The 2019 NFL playoffs continue on Saturday, with an NFC Divisional round game between quarterback Jared Goff, running back Todd Gurley and the NFC West champion Los Angeles Rams and quarterback Dak Prescott’s Dallas Cowboys. On Sunday, quarterback Drew Brees and the NFC South champion New Orleans Saints host Nick Foles and the defending Super Bowl champion Eagles.
Rams defensive line vs. Cowboys offensive line: The Cowboys boast one of the NFL’s premier offensive lines, but even they are likely to have their hands full with the Ram’s dominant defensive front. Aaron Donald should be a runaway favorite to win the NFL Defensive Player of The Year award after logging 20.5 sacks and 59 tackles. In addition to Donald, the Cowboys will have to contend with Ndamukong Suh, and Michael Brockers, who combined for 5.5 sacks.
Cowboys WR Amari Cooper vs. Rams CB Aqib Talib: Amari Cooper unlocked the full potential of the Cowboys’ aerial attack after being acquired via trade earlier this season. Last week, Cooper caught seven passes for 106 yards and now has 53 catches for 725 yards and six touchdowns in a Cowboys uniform. Meanwhile, the Rams bolstered their secondary over the offseason, and it will likely be Aqib Talib tasked with containing Cooper. Talib finished the regular season with 23 tackles and one interception.
Rams RB Todd Gurley vs. Dallas Cowboys front-seven: No running backs rushed for more touchdowns than Gurley’s 17 this season, and he finished third in rushing yards with 1,251. Needless to say, the Rams’ offense functions at its best when it funnels through Gurley. If the Rams are able to get Gurley going early against a rushing defense that finished the regular season ranked No. 5 in the league, allowing just 94.6 yards per game, it could be a long night for the Cowboys.
X-factor: Jared Goff
For the first half of the season, Jared Goff was right in the mix for the MVP award alongside the likes of Patrick Mahomes, Drew Brews, Philip Rivers, and Tom Brady. However, Goff cooled significantly over the second half of the season, only exceeding 300 passing yards in a game once in five tries during the month of December, with six touchdowns and six interceptions over that span.
Goff lost his first career playoff game last season to the Atlanta Falcons, and will need to play at a high-level if he is going to avoid making it two postseason losses in a row on Saturday night against the Cowboys.
Who has the advantage when the Rams have the ball?
The Rams’ success as a team is predicated on the success of head coach Sean McVay’s team, and the play of Goff, Gurley, and wide receiver Brandin Cooks. Los Angeles brings the league’s second-rated offense into Sunday night’s contest, averaging 421.1 yards and 32.9 points per game. If McVay and the Rams are able to dictate the pace of the game and turn it into a track meet, it’s difficult to envision the Cowboys able to keep pace, after averaging 21.2 points per game during the regular season.
Who has the advantage when the Cowboys have the ball?
Teams have shown an ability to attack the Rams’ defense, particularly using the running game to neutralize the impact of Donald and Suh as interior pass-rushers. The Rams have allowed an average of 122.2 yards rushing per game. The only way that the Cowboys are likely to have a chance to pull off the upset is to shorten the game by pounding the run with Elliott early and often.
The Rams will win if …
They are able to pressure Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott into making mistakes and turning the football over defensively, and capitalizing on big plays downfield offensively. If Jared Goff plays a turnover free game, there’s a good chance that the Rams will advance to the NFC Championship Game.
The Cowboys will win if …
Ezekiel Elliott carries the ball over 25 times, exceeds 100 rushing yards with multiple touchdowns and the Cowboys are able to dominate time of possession, keeping Goff, Gurley, Cooks, and the rest of the Rams’ offensive playmakers at bay. The Cowboys’ defense is good enough to limit big-plays over the top, and if this is a low-scoring affair, don’t be surprised if the Cowboys win by at least a touchdown.
The Rams are rested, have a balanced offensive attack, and one of the brightest offensive minds at head coach. Don’t be surprised to see McVay try to establish the run early and often with Gurley, before opening up the playbook and allowing Goff to stretch the field vertically to Cooks and Cooper Kupp. The Cowboys simply aren’t equipped to keep pace in a shootout, which is where the Rams are most comfortable.
Rams 37, Cowboys 26