Two of the NFL's signature franchises will face off on Sunday in the NFC Wild Card Round at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. The surging San Francisco 49ers (10-7) and the Dallas Cowboys (12-5) have had their share of epic battles in the playoffs over the years, and Sunday promises to provide another dramatic chapter in this rivalry. It has been a while since these two teams met in the postseason, as in 1995 when Steve Young and the 49ers defeated the Cowboys' "Triplets" (Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, Michael Irvin) 38-28 in the NFC Championship Game in Dallas.
This season, San Francisco punched its ticket to the playoffs in style as the 49ers rallied from a 17-0 deficit to defeat the Los Angeles Rams 27-24 in overtime at SoFi Stadium. Kyle Shanahan and the 49ers continued their ownership of the Rams, who they have beaten six consecutive times. Jimmy Garoppolo completed 23 of 32 passes for 312 yards, with one touchdown and two interceptions. Elijah Mitchell led a punishing running attack with 85 yards, and Deebo Samuel had 140 all-purpose yards. Brandon Aiyuk had six receptions for 107 yards. This type of balanced offensive attack is a recipe for success in the playoffs. The defense stepped up, with Ambry Thomas effectively ending the game late in overtime by intercepting Matthew Stafford. They also settled in after a tough first half as they limited the Rams to just seven points over the nearly 40 remaining minutes of the football game.
Dallas heads into the playoffs with some swagger after dispatching Philadelphia 51-26 last Saturday night. One of the main objectives for the Cowboys in that game was to have the offense generate momentum. Well, Dak Prescott took care of that by completing 21 of 27 passes for 295 yards and five touchdowns. Ezekiel Elliott rushed for 87 yards to secure another 1,000-yard season on the ground. The defense did some nice things as they kept Gardner Minshew in check, for the most part, throwing the ball. They also created a couple of turnovers and registered three sacks on the night. The hire of defensive coordinator Dan Quinn has proven to be the right one — he's a prime candidate for several head-coaching jobs — as this unit has improved a lot in 2021. The Cowboys allowed 21.1 points per game, which ranked seventh in the NFL, and led the league with 34 turnovers forced.
NFC Wild Card: San Francisco (10-7) vs. Dallas (12-5)
Kickoff: Sunday, Jan. 16 at 4:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Cowboys -3
Three Things to Watch
1. Can the 49ers' offense play keep away from Dallas?
San Francisco should not lack confidence this week on offense. The 49ers survived the annual grind of the NFC West to make the playoffs. The NFC West was 40-27 overall with three playoff teams. Head coach Kyle Shanahan will set the tone by running the ball with Mitchell and Samuel. The offensive line must turn this into a physical battle by absolutely dominating the Cowboys' defensive front. George Kittle and Aiyuk's role in the game will be to make those big chunk plays that keep the chains moving and grind the clock to limit the number of possessions. Garoppolo must take what the defense gives him throwing the football and not force anything this week. Now, the question is whether Garoppolo will accomplish that and not give the ball away. It will be intriguing to see how he responds once again on the big stage after leading the Niners to the Super Bowl two years ago.