The eyes of America will be on Foxboro Sunday Afternoon as the Dallas Cowboys head north to take on the New England Patriots in a huge inter-conference battle. This is a rare treat for the NFL’s two most valuable franchises to meet in the regular season. In both teams’ storied histories, this will be only the 13th time the Patriots and Cowboys have meet with Dallas holding the all-time series lead at 7-5. The Patriots, however, have won the last five meeting including the 2015 game where New England dismantled the Brandon Weeden led Cowboys to the tune of 30-6. A lot has changed since then so this matchup could be more interesting of a watch.
Dallas (6-4) enters this game having won 3 of their last 4 games and are looking to keep their slim lead in the NFC East. To date, the Cowboys have been wildly inconsistent this year starting out 3-0 only to lose their next three including an inexplicable loss to the New York Jets. While in recent weeks they seemed to have righted the ship, they still are in danger of being overtaken by their division rival Philadelphia Eagles and left completely out of the playoffs.
New England (9-1) is in a heated battle with the Baltimore Ravens for the top seed in the AFC. While the Patriots rebounded from their first loss of the season by beating the Philadelphia Eagles last week, New England’s offense has continued to struggle this year.
Major AFC and NFC playoff implications are on the line so in yet another futile attempt to be non-bias and analytical, both teams are broken down in key areas to see how they will match up against each other and which one may have the key to a victory.
Quarterback – PUSH: On paper, the Cowboys’ Dak Prescott is having a very impressive season and is certainly rated above Tom Brady in most Quarterback categories. While this brings much delight to the non-Patriots fans around the league, in a big game situation like it will be on Sunday, there are very few knowledgeable fans that would take Dak Prescott over Tom Brady.
Running Backs – PUSH: No one will argue that Dallas’ Ezekiel Elliott is one of the top running backs in the league. However, the Patriots’ running back group hold a significant statistical edge in yards from scrimmage over their Cowboys counterparts.
Wide Receivers – COWBOYS: Led by Amari Cooper, the Cowboys have assembled a very deep and talented receiver group that have put up some very impressive numbers. The Patriots, on the other hand, are still trying to tinker with their receiving corps well after the mid-point of the season. There is some optimism that the addition of Mohmed Sanu and the return of N’Keal Harry will provide an offensive boost as the season progresses.
Tight Ends – COWBOYS: The combination of Jason Witten and Blake Jarwin certainly will not scare anyone, but they are a much more formidable pair than anything the Patriots can put on the field at this point.
Offensive Line – COWBOYS: The Cowboys offensive line certainly isn’t at the level it was a few years ago but they are doing a much better job at protecting their quarterback and run blocking than the Patriots. The possible return of New England’s Isaiah Wynn could provide a boost but it’s too much to expect one player returning from injury is going to have a meaningful impact so soon.
Defensive Front Seven – PUSH: Both teams have formidable defensive front but up to this point in the season, the Patriots have allowed fewer rushing yards per game and had a more consistent pass rush against opposing passers. New England’s offense needs to ensure they are accounting for Dallas’ Jaylon Smith and DeMarcus Lawrence on every snap.
Secondary – PATRIOTS: The Patriots’ defensive secondary is playing at much higher level than their Cowboys counterparts. Currently, the Patriots are allowing: The lowest opposing quarterback completion percentage, the lowest (by far) opposing quarterback rating, and are still leading the league in interceptions.
Special Teams – PATRIOTS: Certainly, the Patriots kicking woes are far from solved…However, the punt coverage team, led by rookie punter Jake Bailey, have been doing an outstanding job flipping the field or pinning opponents deep in their own territory.
Coaching – PATRIOTS: There are very few head coaches that can matchup with the Patriots’ Bill Belichick in terms of understanding the game, utilizing players, and managing in game situations…The Cowboys’ Jason Garrett isn’t one of them.
If we assign 2 points for every category (1 point per team for draws) this is how it lines up:
Line: PATRIOTS -6 ½
Keys to a Patriots Victory:
1) Controlling the Dallas Offensive Line: Though Dallas’ offensive line is not getting the headlines like in 2014, this is a formidable group that can wear down opposing defenses. The Patriots front seven must remain disciplined in their gap/lane assignments and do a better job at setting the defensive edges against this group in Dallas.
2) Work the Short Passing Game: With offensive line concerns, the Patriots need to utilize the short passing game to help slow down the Cowboys’ pass rush. Utilizing James White and Rex Burkhead both out of the backfield and split out will be key.
3) Stop Dallas’ Running Game: By the numbers: If Dallas’ Ezekiel Elliott rushes for over 100 yards, the Cowboys are 4-1 this season. If he is held under 100 yards, the Cowboys are 2-3. The best opportunity for the Patriots to win is to stop the running game and put the game in Dak Prescott’s hands.
This game is not a great matchup for the Patriots particularly where the strengths of the Dallas Cowboys lie. While there have been frustrations in New England regarding the consistency of the Offense, there are certainly areas for the Patriots to attack to have success.
Look for a painfully close defensive battle where points will be at a premium.
The Knuckles Prediction: Patriots 19 – Cowboys 17