Cowboys set to rekindle playoff rivalry versus familiar foe

After four months of spilled ink, clutched pearls, and all of us trying to determine whether or not the Dallas Cowboys are a good team, here we are. We can continue to argue about everything–and knowing us, we likely will–but the facts are the facts. After trouncing Philadelphia, 51-26, in the season finale on Saturday night, the Cowboys finished the regular season with a 12-5 record.

And after yesterday’s action wrapped up, it is now determined that the Cowboys will host the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday afternoon at AT&T stadium. Now, it’s not exactly the halcyon days of yore for either franchise, but something just feels right about Cowboys-Niners in January. Heck, there was once a time when this matchup was synonymous with overall NFL supremacy.

The Dallas Cowboys will begin their quest for glory against an old enemy.

But that was a long time ago in an alternate universe. Lots of people accuse the Dallas fan base of living in the past. They’re not wrong. I’m not old enough to remember the 70s heyday, but I was a young man in the 90s. We’re always comparing current iterations to the superstar squads of the past, but no one has come close to achieving the heights of the older dynasties.

That’s where the current bunch comes in. The expectations around these parts never change, for better or for worse. Come training camp, it’s always Super Bowl or bust. But when the team enjoys a bit of success, those expectations can reach a fever pitch, and this year is no different.

The offense has vacillated between unstoppable and maddeningly inconsistent. Even then, they managed to lead the NFL in points per game. If they stay out of their own way, they’ve largely stayed in the unstoppable range. Couple this with the fact that there are no dominant teams on either side of the playoff bracket, and the Cowboys have every right to have a “Why not us?” mentality.

But for as flashy as the offense has been at times, it’s going to be the defense that determines how far this team goes. The Cowboys not only lead the NFL in total takeaways (34), but they’re also tied for first in turnover differential at +14. Simply put, their turnaround from last year’s historically bad unit has been absolutely remarkable. That knack for forcing turnovers will need to continue, though, for the Cowboys to have a realistic shot at a prolonged run.

It may come as a surprise to some–it did to me–but the 49ers and Cowboys both boast a top-10 rushing attack in the league. The main discrepancies between the two teams are passing offense and total defense. The Cowboys were 2nd in the NFL in passing yards, while the 49ers ranked 12th. As far as team defense is concerned, San Francisco holds an edge at number 11, while Dallas clocks in as the 16th overall unit.

In other words, I wish I could sit here an predict an easy win for the Cowboys. Barring a rash of turnovers, I don’t see that happening. In fact, the matchup on Sunday afternoon has the potential to be yet another classic chapter in a decades-long litany of them between these two storied organizations. We’re here again, friends. We all know the drill. We’re merely days away from discovering whether or not the Dallas Cowboys are for real.