With week 17 almost upon us, it is notable that there is a definite lack of excitement. Most of the talk around the NFL has moved to what will happen after Sundays action – the annual Black Monday firings and the playoff matchups to come.
The exception this year – the NFC East.
This Sunday night it is all to play for as one of the most historic rivalries in the NFL is reignited. The much maligned but in form Tony Romo leads America’s team the Dallas Cowboys to Fed Ex Field to take on the rookie sensation Robert Griffin III and the Washington Redskins.
There’s the promo out of the waybut the reality of this game is that it really is all about the quarterbacks. Both have been red hot at times this season and both have had their receivers determining their fortunes – sometimes good, sometimes bad. In the end it has been the good play by Romo and RG3 – with the latter ably assisted by rookie backup Kirk Cousins - that has been what has driven their respective teams into the playoffs. It might sound overly simplistic but whichever quarterback plays the best will win this game – it’s that simple.
That doesn’t mean they won’t need help. Dallas has had all sorts of trouble with their running game this season and those woes are likely to continue this Sunday. Since his return from injury, DeMarco Murray hasn’t been able to hit his stride and with Washington one of the league’s top run defenses he’ll have to be at his best to make a real impct this Sunday.
By contrast, rookie Redskins running back Alfred Morris has been a revelation as head coach Mike Shanahan has once again taken a rabbit from his hat in finding this talent. Morris has already set records in his rookie year and is aiming for a couple more, biggest of all the Redskins all-time single season rushing record. It is this and the running skills of Griffin that have made Washington the top rushing attack in the NFL this season.
Looking at the passing game the advantage swings in the favor of Dallas. Despite playing with a major finger injury, wide receiver Dez Bryant has been outstanding in the past couple of weeks and is red hot coming into this game. With the Redskins passing defense struggling at times this season, I wouldn’t bet against Dez putting up at least 120 yards through the air this week for at least one score. Then as always there is trusted tight end Jason Witten – I expect the battle between he and Washington inside linebackers London Fletcher and Perry Riley to be one of the better matchups to watch.
On the other side, the Redskins have some good talent but that fails to fire at times. Pierre Garcon has been remarkable during his time onfield this season – when he’s actually played, given he missed nearly half the season through injury – but subordinates Josh Morgan, Aldrick Robinson and Leonard Hankerson have been inconsistent. For me the main threat to watch in this game will be veteran Santana Moss – he’s shown a propensity to win the battles inside and get away for big plays at crucial moments. I’d also keep an eye on tight end Niles Paul – the former wide receiver has been adaprting well to his new spot and may be in for a breakout performance.
Overall I see this as a matchup of two good offenses and two defenses that play well at times but go into every game with something to prove. My prediction – Washington pulls it out 38-34 but this one could go either way.