One team’s playoff drought will end. It’s been five years since the Dallas Cowboys won, but its been 24 long years since the Detroit Lions last tasted victory in the postseason.
Dallas enters Sunday’s Wild Card matchup at AT&T Stadium as the NFC East champion and eager to advance in the playoffs for the first time since 2009’s win over Philadelphia. The last time the Lions won in the postseason was 1991, when they beat none other than the Cowboys in the divisional round before falling in the conference title game.
Winners of four straight, and scoring 40 or more points in three of those victories, the Cowboys are 6.5-point favorites over Detroit. Quarterback Tony Romo has been on fire during the Cowboys' streak, tossing 12 touchdowns to one interception and completing nearly 75 percent of his passes.
Romo’s also trying to dispel anymore talk of his blunders in the postseason. In four career playoff starts he’s 1-3, with four touchdowns to two interceptions.
Being able to protect Romo and the stellar play of the offensive line have been huge reasons for the Cowboys (12-4) success this season, but they are likely to miss right tackle Doug Free (ankle). Free is listed as doubtful against the Lions on the team’s official injury report, and he’s joined by outside linebacker Anthony Hitchens (ankle) and defensive tackle Tyrone Crawford (illness).
Romo’s also received some tremendous help from recently named All-Pros DeMarco Murray and Dez Bryant. The running back, Murray, led the NFL with 1,845 yards and 13 touchdowns, while Bryant tallied 88 receptions for 1,320 yards and 16 scores.
But how Dallas’ trio fares against the Lions crushing defense figures to be the biggest factor in the matchup. Ranking second in the league in total defense, the Lions were also first against the run and 13th versus the pass. They also racked up 42 sacks, the eighth highest total in the league, and picked off 20 passes in the regular season.
Detroit also dodged a major bullet earlier this week when defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh’s suspension was instead turned into a fine. A physical force on the Lions frontline, Suh stepped on Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers in last week’s 30-20 loss to the Packers and he was originally supposed to sit for the first round of the postseason.
With defensive tackle Nick Fairley (knee) listed as doubtful once again, thankfully for Detroit they won’t miss Suh against the Cowboys, and in particular Murray.
But Dallas must also worry about the Lions' dangerous attack. There’s quarterback Matthew Stafford, who threw for 4,257 yards (his lowest total since his rookie year) and completed 22 touchdown passes, as well as top receivers Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate and running backs Reggie Bush and Joique Bell.
Bell led the team with 860 rushing yards and seven touchdowns, and was especially helpful leading the Lions rushing attack while Bush was on the mend with ankle injuries this season.
Tate did the same for Johnson, and excelled with a career-high 1,331 yards and four touchdowns on 99 receptions. But Johnson still led the team with seven receiving touchdowns and notched his fifth-straight 1,000-yard season.
Start Time: 4:40 P.M. ET
TV Channel: FOX
Betting Odds: Dallas -6.5
Over/Under: 48.5 points
Prediction: Dallas over Detroit, 35-20