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Dallas Cowboys vs. Atlanta Falcons Preview and Prediction


Two NFC teams with drastically different 2012 results will clash on Sunday Night Football, when the Atlanta Falcons host the Dallas Cowboys at 8:20 p.m. EST on NBC. Mike Smith’s club is the only undefeated team left in the NFL, especially impressive since four of the Falcons’ seven victories have come on the road. Meanwhile, the Cowboys have limped to an inconsistent 3-4 start that has frustrated the rabid Dallas fan base.

When the Atlanta Falcons have the ball:
Quarterback Matt Ryan and his elite targets in the passing game have been excellent this season, leading Atlanta to an average of 28.7 points per game. The Falcons trio of wideouts Roddy White and Julio Jones plus tight end Tony Gonzalez may be the best receiving group in the league. All three have at least 450 yards and four touchdowns through just seven games. Atlanta will look for more from veteran runner Michael Turner as the season progresses, as he has averaged just 3.8 yards per carry this year.

The Dallas defense has some very talented players but has performed inconsistently this year. The Cowboys rank fourth in the NFL in total defense (giving up only 292.4 yards per game), but they are 18th in the league in scoring (allowing 23.1 points per contest). The Falcons obviously present a huge challenge in the passing game, but Dallas has the third-best pass defense in the NFL. That’s especially impressive since the Cowboys have totaled just 13 sacks on the season.

When the Dallas Cowboys have the ball:
Perhaps nothing more defines the Dallas frustrations this year than quarterback Tony Romo’s game last week against the Giants. He threw four interceptions that dug an early 23-0 hole, but Romo ended the game with a career-high 437 passing yards and almost led the team back to an improbable win. However Dallas fell short and dropped to 3-4. The Cowboys are also battling injuries right now, and they will still be without leading rusher DeMarco Murray for a third straight game. Additionally, receivers Dez Bryant (hip) and Kevin Ogletree (hamstring) are listed as questionable for this game.

The Atlanta defense has played a bend-but-don’t-break style so far this year, benefiting greatly from an electric offense that provides many leads. The Falcons rank 20th in the league in total defense (353.3 yards per game) but seventh in scoring (18.6 points per contest). Atlanta has struggled against the run, but Dallas does not provide much of a threat in that area without Murray. The Falcons allowed a season-best 270 yards against Philadelphia last week, and they will try to carry that momentum into tonight’s game. However Atlanta will be without second-leading tackler Sean Weatherspoon, who injured an ankle in last week’s victory.

Key Factor:
The Cowboys are desperate for a victory, and their pass defense will be critical tonight. Dallas must limit Atlanta’s big plays by White and Jones and not allow the Georgia Dome crowd to get loud with a Falcons lead. It’s difficult to keep winning every week, but Ryan and company play especially well at home. Look for that to continue tonight and for the Falcons to stay unbeaten in a close one.

Falcons 27 Cowboys 23

---By Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)