The Detroit Lions and Dallas Cowboys have been heating up over the final weeks of the season to reach the NFL playoffs (4.40pm EST, Sunday on FOX). Now, in the wildcard weekend, the teams go head-to-head with a chance to advance to the divisional round, something neither has done too often in the past 20 years.
For the Cowboys, who have won five Super Bowls, second only to the Pittsburgh Steelers’ six, the only classification they have gotten lately is ‘disappointing’. The team has won just one playoff game since 1997 (eight tries) and has earned the reputation of choking away winnable games behind QB Tony Romo and head coach Jason Garrett.
Fortunately for Dallas, the Lions haven’t done any better in the same span of time. Although the team has made a full 180 degree turn since losing every single game in the 2008 season, the Lions are winless in their last seven playoff games dating back to 1991, with their last victory coincidentally coming against the Cowboys.
When it comes down to it, for both teams, the lack of playoff success has kept two otherwise excellent quarterbacks from being considered elite. Perhaps the exclusion is fair as Matthew Stafford has reached just one playoff game in six seasons and Romo has come up small (832 YDS, 4 TD, 5 TO – 2 INT) in the few postseason chances (four games in 12 seasons) he has had.
On the positive side, 2014 was a career year for Romo. He finished the season with the highest QBR and highest completion percentage (69.9) in the league and did so with a personal best touchdown (34) to interception (9) ratio, also the second best in the NFL. Additionally, he performed his best in December (4-0 with 987 YDS, 12 TD, 1 INT), a month that had statistically been one of his worst. If ever there was a year when Romo would be in position to turn around his January struggles as well, it would be this one.
Pick Your Poison: (DAL) Dez Bryant or (DET) Calvin Johnson
If ever there was a game that showed why teams should start to embrace ‘triple coverage,’ it would be this one as Dez Bryant (pictured) and Calvin Johnson are easily two of the best at their position. Perhaps for the first time in a long time, all eyes won’t be on the one called Megatron.
Johnson is one of the best to play the game and showed that with last year’s incredible and historical record-breaking performance. This year however, Johnson missed three games and was at less than a hundred percent in a handful more. He still managed to end the year with 71 receptions, 1,077 yards and eight touchdowns, but those numbers were a pittance compared to what the eight-year receiver has become known for.
Look no further than Johnson’s last eight games and you’ll see that guy and the guy who will be operating on all cylinders in just his second ever playoff game (he had 12 receptions for 211 yards and two touchdowns in the first). In four of these last eight, Johnson topped the 100 mark and in two of those four he topped the 140 mark.
Regardless of how good the opposing team’s corners are, nothing seems to stop Johnson’s production. He was targeted 10 or more times in nine of his 13 games this year and is responsible for catching nearly 28% of Stafford’s passes and 44% of Stafford’s total touchdowns in the six years they have been together.
Then there’s Dez. Cocky, confident and sometimes a bit of a bad sport, there is no denying that Bryant’s athleticism makes him one of the best wide receivers in the game. In 2014, he continued to prove that as he put in the second best season of his five year career and did so with an NFL-best 16 receiving touchdowns.
Bryant’s numbers ranked him as the eighth best in receiving yards and 10th best in yards per game. Overall, those stats are kind of middle of the pack but that didn’t matter. His real value came late in the season when the Cowboys needed him the most. Bryant recorded nine touchdowns total and 70 yards through the air in each of his last seven games, including 114, and a season-best three touchdowns, in what was effectively the division-clinching game against the Philadelphia Eagles.
Both Bryant and Johnson are incredible talents and guys whose ability to stretch the field can change a game in a matter of a few plays. Bryant, behind an immaculate finish by Romo, has the hot hand but Johnson has always been reliable. If Stafford can get a little more accurate with his throws, expect Megatron to be on the receiving end of most of them.
Detroit Lions at Dallas Cowboys Betting Picks
Both the Cowboys and the Lions have not performed well in this situation in the past but since one of them has to win, look for it to be the Cowboys. Apparently the odds are in agreement as Dallas is around the 7-point favorite at home, a place where they lost all three of their games this year.
While I think the Cowboys and Romo’s hot streak will continue, don’t expect this game to be easy. Detroit is one of only three teams to have two wide receivers with over 80 receptions and 1,000 yards apiece in Johnson and Golden Tate, who also is second in the NFL in receptions and yards on third down. Additionally, runningback Joique Bell has four rushing touchdowns in the last five games. It’s worth noting however that Bell has never rushed for over 100 yards on the road.
The Lions also have a top-two defense and the best rushing defense in the league. Don’t expect this to hamper Demarco Murray too much however as in 12 of his 16 games this year, he rushed for over 100 yards. Only once did he rush for less than 69 yards, which is what the Lions’ defense gives up, on average, per game.
Ultimately, Dallas is just a more complete team. Their offensive line is the best in football and it has paved the way for Murray and Romo’s MVP-caliber numbers. Dallas looks primed not only to win this game and cover the spread, but also to advance very far into the postseason.
- Bet on Dallas Cowboys -6.5pts @ -115 odds with BetOnline Sportsbook (it is -120 for the same spread with 5Dimes). You can get -7.5pts for +105 with Bovada, but we will stick with the first option.
- The over at 48 total points in the game @ best odds of -110 with BetOnline or 5Dimes looks the safe bet, especially considering Dallas alone averaged over 40 points in their last four games.
Marilee writes on NFL, MLB & tennis for USA Betting. Another area of her sporting journalistic expertise is pro wrestling. A native of Philadelphia and a big Eagles fan, she has been a sports writer for many major websites including Bleacher Report and Rant Sports. She started her journalistic career early, as sports editor for her college newspaper.