The Dallas Cowboys have locked up home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs and after dismantling the Detroit Lions on Monday night, they seemed to have an air of invincibility. The Cowboys offense hung 42 points on Detroit and their offensive line controlled the game as they have throughout the season. The only team to beat Dallas this season is the New York Giants, a team that in all likelihood they would not play until the NFC title game – if at all. This begs the question: who can challenge Dallas in a home playoff game? Here’s a quick ranking of the NFC playoff teams with the best shot at knocking Dallas off in a playoff matchup.
- New York Giants
Look no further than the team that has beaten Dallas twice this year. New York has been a perplexing team all year. They have been feast or famine offensively, relying heavily on big plays from star receiver Odell Beckham Jr. Beckham was much maligned early in the year for his on field antics and “distracting” behavior. However frustrating his over-emotional behavior may be, his game changing ability is undeniable. He can be the difference in a game, as he was when these teams matched up a few weeks ago. While Beckham received all the publicity for his heroics in that game, the Giants defense keyed that victory. Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo utilized varied fronts to confuse rookie QB Dak Prescott into two interceptions and a paltry 1/15 on third-down. If the Giants can get into a matchup with Dallas, their defense stylistically could pose (and has posed) a serious threat Dallas’s high-powered attack.
- Green Bay Packers
The great irony in this choice is that a few weeks ago many had the Packers pegged as dead in the water. Following a dismal performance against Washington in prime-time, Green Bay’s playoff hopes seemed like little more than a pipe dream. After ripping off five straight wins the Pack look like one of the most dangerous teams in all of football. When they matched up with Dallas in October, the Cowboys’ offense controlled the game with the running game and put Dak Prescott in manageable third-down scenarios. Green Bay’s defense has found its stride during this winning streak, helped by a resurgent and healthy secondary. They have been opportunistic, boasting a +13 turnover margin during their winning streak. Aaron Rodgers has found his stride, regaining his big-play chemistry with both Davante Adams and Jordy Nelson. Dallas’s defense has been susceptible to the big play, which make the Pack a very real threat to them. They have to make the playoffs first, but Green Bay could spell trouble for Dallas.
- Atlanta Falcons
Quietly, the Falcons have had a historically great offense. They are leading the league in points per game with 33.5 and they do it in a variety of ways. Matt Ryan has blossomed in his second season in Kyle Shannahan’s offense, and Taylor Gabriel has emerged as a big play specialist, averaging 16.5 yards per reception. Not to mention Julio Jones, who is as close to a superhuman as we have in football. The two-headed monster of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman in the backfield have provided balance for Atlanta, making their play-action game especially difficult to defend. The issue for Atlanta lies on the defensive end. Vic Beasely has bounced back from a disappointing rookie season to post 14.5 sacks to pace the Falcons’ pass rush. In the secondary they have are relying on rookie Keanu Neal at safety, and that has led to a leaky pass defense. They are middle of the pack against the run, but their inability to stop big pass plays will make a matchup against Dallas and Dez Bryant very difficult. That being said, Atlanta’s offense gives them a chance in any one off game.
- Seattle Seahawks
Before the Earl Thomas injury this team may have been the favorites to win the NFC. Since then, the Seahawks have looked shaky at best defensively, notably getting throttled in Green Bay in the first game after the injury. Kam Chancellor and Richard Sherman are still elite back-end defenders, but Earl Thomas has been the best free safety in the last ten years. His ability to cover the middle of the field and take away everything between the numbers is pretty much impossible to replace. Offensively, the running game is starting to round into form, with Thomas Rawls settling into the lead role. The offensive line remains a problem, as Russell Wilson has had to do more than his fair share of Houdini acts in the pocket to escape free rushers. Jimmy Graham is a player that could be an X-Factor as the calendar shifts to January, especially in the red zone. Scoring is at a premium in the playoffs already, and with Seattle’s recent kicking woes of late scoring touchdowns becomes even more important. Graham is a matchup nightmare and his basketball background makes jump ball scenarios a living hell for defensive backs. Writing off Seattle feels ill advised given their recent success, but their defense is truly not the same with the loss of Earl Thomas.
- Detroit Lions/Tampa Bay Buccaneers/ Washington Redskins
Only one of these teams will get into the playoffs in all likelihood, and seeing as they have each lost recently to Dallas they pose a very minimal threat to the Cowboys’ Super Bowl chances.