Following on from Wednesday’s article about the Eagles and the Seahawks, here’s my look at the remaining seeds involved in the NFC Wildcard weekend games.
#4 Seed – The Dallas Cowboys
I have a strong dislike for the Cowboys, I’m not quite sure where it all stemmed from, maybe it’s the whole “America’s team” nickname which I never liked but I’m really not a fan of theirs in any way. With other teams I can appreciate the good players, quality coaching, loud fan bases but these guys just grind my gears in more ways than one. Maybe I’m still bitter about that game earlier in the season. Anyway rant over and on to the good stuff.
As the Seahawks did, the Cowboys finished 10-6 this season but grabbed the #4 seed as the eventual winners of the NFC East. Their season has been built on a strong defensive game with a solid ground game and some yards through the air since Amari Cooper joined their ranks. Zeke Elliot has rushed for 1435 yards, received 567 yards and finished with 9 scores total (6 rushing, 3 receiving). QB Dak Prescott is another Russell Wilson type who can both throw and run. The issue for the Cowboys is the offensive line where opposing defense’s can get at Prescott and force him to make throws on the move or take the sack. They have had a ton of close games only winning by more than 1 score once (Jags 40-7) but they have lost by more than 1 score three times (Seahawks 24-13, Titans 28-14 & Colts 23-0).
As with the Saints-Cowboys game earlier in the season, the crowd will have to play a massive part of this match-up. The Cowboys have gained a homefield advantage this season in Arlington winning 7 of 8 games at home this year. Their defense seems to thrive off of the pressure and the noise produced by this home crowd stepping up when required with their strong linebackers getting to the run early, stopping yards after catch and putting pressure on the opposing offensive line. Leighton Vander Esch Has been excellent since him came into the fray playing a particularly aggressive style which frightens opponents, not in terms of sacks but in terms of general pressure and early tackles at the line of scrimmage. LVE was a guy I would have loved to see on the Saints roster.
The Cowboys offense is last in points, yards and redzone % among the playoff teams and also got shutout by the Colts in week 15, so if the Seahawks defense has a game they are capable of producing then I can’t see anything but a Seahawks win. However if the Dallas D can do it what it did to the Saints in Week 13 then it could be one of those low score thrillers that I always find fascinating. Still, I trust Russell Wilson over Dak Prescott even in Dallas – experience will shine through.
In terms of the Saints I do think they can take the Cowboys at the dome and I think that’s a key point, the superdome. Never underestimate how big of a role homefield advantage plays for the Saints, especially in the postseason, the Saints are unbeaten at home in the superdome in playoff games. I know that the Cowboys won the regular season game but this is a different ballgame. It would be a tight affair but got the Saints sneaking it if the offense is firing and they put up 20 points or more, especially with the return to health of Ted Ginn Jr who opens up the deep ball option the Saints didn’t have in Dallas. Ginn would take coverage away from Michael Thomas giving Brees more options in the passing game. #RevengeGame.
#3 Seed – Chicago Bears
As the Saints have the #1 seed then they cannot face the Bears next Sunday (as they would go to LA) however let’s have a look at them anyway.
Another Defensive led team but this Chicago D is on another level to the Cowboys, more on a par with the Ravens from the AFC. Standout player Khalil Mack has made the most of his trade from the Oakland Raiders racking up 12.5 sacks on the season along with 6 forced fumbles, 1 interception and a defensive TD to boot. Chicago are a much improved team this year and their 12-4 record shows that, pushing LA for that final bye week spot later in the season. Da Bears ended on a 4 game win streak with just the 1 loss at home (Patriots 38-31) on the season. This is a Bears team that has already beaten the Rams too, in week 14, holding their explosive offense to just 6 points and 0 TDs with Todd Gurley only getting 58 yards from scrimmage and forcing Jared Goff into throwing 4 interceptions with a pitiful QBR of 19.1.
On the other side of the ball they still have a young, inexperienced Quarterback in Mitch Trubisky. The 2nd year QB out of North Carolina isn’t on the level of fellow wildcard playoff QBs like Russell Wilson or even Nick Foles. This is where the Bears weakness lies. Even in the victory against the Rams the Bears only scored 15 points. Trubisky only threw for 1 TD, 3 INTs against the Rams and is a QB with no postseason experience. Still they do have some weapons in their run game like Jordan Howard who has put up 935 yards for 9 scores on the ground with a further 145 yards through the air this season.
The bears are a team the Saints haven’t faced (yet) this season and one the Saints should have some apprehension about playing due to the quality of the defense, that’s not to say the Saints offense isn’t quality but it’s your classic offense v defense type game, we all know what people say about defense and winning championships. The difference with the Saints is they are at home and they have a more than decent defense this year to back up that quality offense (week 17 aside). If the Saints D can stop the ground game forcing the pass more often they can create turnovers even with the recent decline of the secondary (in the last couple of weeks of the season).
Again, as with the other games and only a slight bit of Saints bias I still back the Black and Gold to win a potential match-up with Chicago, be that in the divisional round or the championship game. It would need to follow the story of the season for the Saints, an early lead and then continually holding the other team at bay with control of the ball in terms of time of possession.
Whoever the Saints face at the divisional round stage of the season it won’t be easy, that’s a given. However I do think that they have proven over 16 games that they can beat anyone, especially at home. The 2 defeats at home this year have been to the Bucs in a freak shootout in week 1, so much has changed since then and New Orleans are notoriously slow starters. The other was week 17 where players weren’t playing to their full capacity, avoiding injuries and Drew Brees/Alvin Kamara weren’t even playing.
Looking forward to a stress free weekend of action before we get ready for next Sunday!
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