The Dallas Cowboys can outroar the Detroit Lions tonight in the NFL play-offs. Here's Neil Harvey with his take on this weekend's late game ...
"It's Stafford's inability to perform at the highest level that drives the biggest nail into Detroit's coffin, with the quarterback currently on a 16 game losing streak on the road against teams that finished the year with winning records"
Detroit Lions @ Dallas Cowboys
Sunday January 4, 21:40
Live on Sky Sports 2
Dallas will run the ball. Dallas know this. Detroit know this. Everybody who's watched the NFL this season knows this. And barring injury, they will run it almost entirely through DeMarco Murray, their juggernaut of a running back who has amassed an amazing 13 touchdowns and 1,845 rushing yards this season. Dallas' gameplan has been the same all season - batter opponents into submission with Murray and then get quarterback Tony Romo to pick the meat of the bones by connecting with wide receiver Des Bryant.
The potential snag here though is that the Cowboys' second-ranked running game is coming up against the NFL's number one ranked run-defense. Now that's a stat that might have some Cowboys fans worrying. But it probably shouldn't. Because it's potentially a very misleading one. The harsh reality is that the Lions have had it soft so far. And by that, what I mean is that only twice all season have they faced a run-attack that ranks in the NFL's top 10. Those games came against the Jets, where they allowed 84 yards rushing to Chris Ivory, and against the Panthers, who mauled them 24-7 in Carolina.
Facing Murray and the Cowboys robust offensive line will be by far the biggest test the Lions' defensive line has had all season. And that should mean another healthy stat-line for Murray, who has proved that he can run for a hundred yards against just about anybody, including Seattle's number three ranked rush-defense. For me, that makes Murray's quote of more than 85.5 yards one to be snapped up in a hurry.
When it comes to scoring touchdowns though, Detroit have given up 23 through the air, as opposed to just eight rushing. And with Des Bryant sure to be getting the bulk of attention in the endzone that makes Cole Beasley a cunning play to bag a score. The long-haired receiver emerged from nowhere late-season to quickly became one of Romo's favourite red-zone targets, snaffling four touchdowns in the last six games of the regular season.
On the other side of the ball, Detroit have no great offense to speak of. Certainly their running unit led by Joique Bell screams mediocrity, and should plod-on in its usual fashion against Dallas' quite competent eighth-ranked run-defense. By far Detroit's best hope of moving the chains lies in the hands of Matthew Stafford. His best hopes of success lie in turn in connecting with receiver Calvin Johnson.
And, on paper, their chances of success look good against a Dallas secondary that's failed to produce much pressure and which ranks 26th in the league. However, we should note that the Cowboys have taken on the free-scoring offenses of the Giants, Colts and Eagles in recent weeks, contributing to a skewed ranking. The Cowboys also won all of those games and were able to ease off in the latter stages - allowing their opponents to make some easy gains in the process. Expect their true game-face in a play-off scenario to be much meaner.
While Stafford does possess a strong arm, he is also undoubtedly prone to turnovers, with 12 picks and eight fumbles undoing much his of his good work from the season. But it's Stafford's inability to perform at the highest level that drives the biggest nail into Detroit's coffin, with the quarterback currently on a 16 game losing streak on the road against teams that finished the year with winning records. That's a run that even DeMarco Murray would be proud of, and on top of everything else makes the Cowboys look a fantastic bet here.
Dallas (-6.5) to beat Detroit @ 2.001/1
Dallas (-3.5) to beat Detroit at Half Time @ 1.9110/11 or better
DeMarco Murray (DAL) rushing yards to be more than 85.5 @ 1.9110/11 or better
Cole Beasley (DAL) to score anytime touchdown @ 2.8815/8