The Dallas Cowboys will take on the San Francisco 49ers in the opening round of the 2021 NFL Playoffs. Dallas is the third seed, while San Francisco is the sixth seed in the NFC.
These two franchises have a rich history against each other. The Cowboys and 49ers were the best of the best in the 90s, often playing one another in big games. It only makes sense for these two to play in the first-round of the postseason this year.
Dallas opens a three-point favorite, but there are a handful of pros and cons in this matchup.
PRO: COWBOYS AVOIDED FOUR-SEED
One of the biggest pluses for the Dallas Cowboys is that they avoided the fourth seed. The fourth seed in the playoffs would have had a gauntlet of a path to reach the Super Bowl or make any kind of postseason run.
The Cowboys, instead, have the opportunity to delay a road game at Lambeau Field against the Packers. Dallas also has the potential to host multiple playoff games, depending on what else happens in the NFC bracket.
No playoff matchup is ever easy, but this is close to a best-case scenario for Dallas when factoring in opponent and a potential route to the Super Bowl.
CON: DANGEROUS OPPONENT
While the Cowboys avoided the first-round game against the Cardinals or Rams, Dallas still has a difficult matchup. The 49ers do not have the firepower that the other two NFC West squads do, but they are well-coached and play a physical brand of football.
49ers enter playoffs having won 7 of 9 and 8 of 11. They possibly have NFL's best run defense, one of its hottest pass rushes and an explosive offense that's been repeatedly clutch. Efficiency metrics have them as a top-8 team on both sides of the ball.
It's all on the table
— David Lombardi (@LombardiHimself) January 10, 2022
Nick Bosa is one of the best edge rushers in football. Deebo Samuel has emerged as one of the league’s best weapons. Furthermore, the ‘Niners are coming off a confidence-boosting victory over the rival Rams to get into the tournament. It won’t be an easy matchup for the Cowboys by any means.
PRO: FAVORABLE QB MATCHUP
If you were forced to pick your poison, the 49ers present much less of a challenge than Cardinals or Rams — at least on paper. Why? Quarterback play. It is that simple.
Kyler Murray is among the most unique players in the NFL. He has the ability to hurt defenses with his arm or his legs and turn a game on its head. Matthew Stafford, meanwhile, was in the thick of the MVP race for much of the season. His connection with Cooper Kupp is deadly.
Jimmy Garoppolo, on the other hand, is not the kind of quarterback that often evelvates a team. He is prone to turning over the football and does not have the game-changing ability that several of the other NFC playoff quarterbacks do. Additionally, Garoppolo is a pocket passer and does not add the running dynamic that has often hurt the Cowboys.
Dak Prescott gives the Cowboys a huge advantage at the most important position on the field. That is significant.
CON: 49ERS STYLE OF PLAY
The 49ers play a physical style of football that can wear defenses down. Kyle Shanahan leans on the ground game to set the tempo and gain an advantage throughout the four quarters. Elijah Mitchell, Jeff Wilson, and Samuel have all proved to be effective rushers out of the backfield.
It will make sense for San Fransisco to play ball-control football on Sunday afternoon. For one, the Cowboys have struggled to stop the run, and that plays right into the 49ers’ hands. Secondly, the ‘Niners would be smart to keep the ball away from Dak Prescott and Kellen Moore.
San Francisco gets after the quarterback, runs the ball very well, and has weapons that can hurt you in the passing game with Samuel, George Kittle, and Brandon Aiyuk. The 49ers have a brand of play that can give the Cowboys fits.
PRO: COWBOYS PASS OFFENSE
Building on the quarterback advantage, the 49ers have a pass defense that Prescott and the Cowboys should be able to take advantage of. San Francisco is susceptible to giving up big plays through the air, something that should play right into the Cowboys’ hands.
Dak Prescott has had an up-and-down second-half of the season, but the Cowboys have one of the better quarterbacks in the league. Dallas is tops in the league in scoring offense and passing offense, and we have seen several flashes of the unit being able to put up points in bunches. Getting the passing game going early would give Dallas an advantage.
The Cowboys have scored 50-plus points in two games this season, the first time they have done scored 50 or more multiple times in the same season since 1980. It’s their fifth game scoring at least 40 points, tied for the most in a single season in team history (1971).
— Todd Archer (@toddarcher) January 9, 2022
Amari Cooper is due for a big game. CeeDee Lamb is a big play waiting to happen. Cedrick Wilson has emerged as a legitimate weapon. The return of Blake Jarwin gives the Cowboys a two-headed machine at tight end with Dalton Schultz. The pieces are there for Dallas.
CON: DEFENDING DEEBO
Deebo Samuel has been mentioned in this article before, so let’s bring him up again. He is probably the most important player in the Dallas Cowboys’ defensive game plan. Samuel is a weapon that has hurt defenses from all over the field all season long.
The 2019 draft pick has had a breakout season on the West Coast and is in line to potentially grab All-Pro honors. Outside of Cooper Kupp and Jonathan Taylor, you would be hard-pressed to find a better season from a skill player in 2021.
Samuel is a game-breaking talent. The Cowboys have to find a way to identify where he lines up and then also contain him. Dan Quinn will likely throw a handful of different players and looks to attempt to get Samuel off his game.
Preventing Deebo Samuel from taking over will be a key element in the Cowboys’ playoff opener.
Featured image via Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports