NFL Playoff Preview
NFL Playoff Preview 2021-22 Wildcard: #3 Cowboys vs #7 49ers (Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports)

NFL Playoff Preview 2021-22 Wildcard: #3 Cowboys vs #7 49ers

The 2021 NFL Playoffs are set, and we’ve got a bunch of previews. Among those games is a matchup between two franchises who duked it out for the entire 1990s, both winning multiple Lombardi Trophies. Here we are in 2022 and these two teams are set to meet again. With neither team making the playoffs last year, it’s fitting that they matched up against each other.

The 49ers are 10-7 this year and made the playoffs after defeating the Rams in overtime on Sunday. The Cowboys won the NFC East Division and will be hosting San Francisco in Jerry’s World.

The Cowboys prolific offense led them to a 12-5 record this year, which gave them the 3 seed. Dak Prescott had 5 touchdowns in the Cowboys 51-26 onslaught of the Eagles Saturday night, which broke the franchise record previously held by Tony Romo.

However, the Defense has been the difference for Dallas this year. After drafting Micah Parsons at 12 overall, he went on to have one of the best seasons of a rookie in recent memory. While their defense gives up 351.0 yards per game, they’re tied for first with Indianapolis in turnover margin per game. Dan Quinn did what he needed to do for the Cowboys to be successful: make their defense competitive. The defense didn’t have to be perfect, but the number of turnovers they produce should be alarming to any team they face, especially in the playoffs.

The 49ers needed to either win, tie, or have New Orleans lose to Atlanta to make the playoffs. After New Orleans won, all the pressure was on San Francisco. The 49ers’ came back from a 17-0 deficit to the Rams on Sunday, as Jimmy Garoppolo lead an 88-yard drive to tie the game, forcing overtime. Following a field goal to take the lead, rookie Cornerback Ambry Thomas intercepted Rams’ Matthew Stafford to seal the win and give San Francisco the 7 seed.

Their offense ranks 13th in points per game with 25.1, 12th in passing, and 7th in rushing. Deebo Samuel has emerged as not only one of the best receivers in the league but running back as well. The 49ers’ defense is tenacious also, ranking 3rd in yards per game.

How the Cowboys Can Win

#1 Stop San Francisco’s Ability to Run The Ball

The key to Dallas winning is stopping San Francisco on the ground. San Francisco has been a run-first team throughout the year, and with Garoppolo’s thumb being banged up, we can expect them to run the ball at an even higher rate. The 49ers feature Elijah Mitchell and Deebo Samuel in their backfield, which makes for quite the tandem. Samuel also is a huge threat in the slot position. I would expect the 49ers to really try and establish the run early, and if the Cowboys can force Garoppolo to throw the ball, it could reap benefits for a secondary that loves to create turnovers.

#2 Get The Offense Clicking, and Early

The other key to Dallas winning is their offense. When firing on all cylinders, that offense is tough for any team to beat. They have a big advantage over the average 49ers secondary, and I’m sure offensive Coordinator Kellen Moore has a lot of plans to get Amari Cooper, Ceedee Lamb, and Cedric Wilson involved in this game. They have a tough task ahead of them in the stout 49er defense, but this is an offense that could hang 35 points on any defense if they’re clicking.

#3 Forget The Past

Dallas will be making their first playoff appearance since 2018, where they defeated Seattle in the first round, but ultimately fell in the Divisional Round to the Rams. For the Cowboys to win this game and go deeper into the playoffs, they have to forget who they were, and rather recognize what they are now. This team isn’t nearly the same as it was in 2018, and with veteran coaches with playoff experience in Mike McCarthy and Defensive Coordinator Dan Quinn, they’re poised to take the next step.

How the 49ers Can Win

#1 Control The Clock

The aforementioned run-first offense of the 49ers could be a difficult task for Dallas, who allows 4.5 yards per attempt. The 49ers will have to get their playmakers involved every opportunity if they want to win. The biggest thing that San Francisco can do is dominate the clock, keep their offense on the field as long as they can, and not give the Cowboys offense opportunity after opportunity.

#2 Establishing the Run

Establishing the run is key for the 49ers, which will allow them to eventually open up the passing game. The 49ers have some real good playmakers in Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, and George Kittle. If San Francisco can establish the run game early, their offense will open up in tons of ways.

#3 The Stout Defense Must Show Up

Lastly, San Francisco’s defense will have to show up. They’re tasked with one of if not the best offenses in the NFL, but they’re as prepared as anyone. Linebacker Dre Greenlaw returned Sunday and had 12 tackles, he’s an x-factor for that Defense. We know what San Fran’s defensive line and linebackers bring to the table. Their secondary will have to step up against Dallas’ skill players to win this game.

The Pick

This is one of my favorite matchups in the opening round of this year’s playoffs. What happens when Dallas’ high-flying offense meets San Francisco’s tenacious defense? This is sure to be a good game, but I just don’t see the 49ers getting it done. Although they have one of the best defenses, they snuck into the playoffs, while Dallas crushed the NFC East Division to get here. I think this may be the year the Cowboys get over the hump.

Score Prediction: 30-20 Cowboys

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