By the Numbers, Matchups to Watch, Fantasy Picks and More for Cowboys-Rams
The Cowboys may have scored their biggest win since 1996 last weekend when they edged Seattle to advance to the Divisional Round. Jason Garrett is now 2-2 in postseason games and has led the Cowboys to the playoffs in three of the past five years. Dallas has lost in all three of their Divisional Round appearances since their early January win in ’96 following the 1995 regular season. Garrett is 3-1 vs. the Rams but lost to them at home last season, 35-30. Dallas has won eight of their last nine games, including the regular season and three of their last four on the road.
This is the second playoff game for Sean McVay and Jared Goff. In last year’s Wild Card Game, they were thoroughly outplayed by Atlanta in a 26-13 home loss. The Rams won the NFC West in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1978-79. Los Angeles was 7-1 at home during the regular season and the Cowboys lost five of eight road games. They did lose back-to-back games to NFC playoff teams Chicago and Philadelphia in Weeks 14 and 15.
The Rams were second in points scored this season, and Dallas was sixth in points allowed. Los Angeles was fifth in passing yards per game and the Cowboys were 13th overall in pass defense. The Rams were third in rushing yards per game and Dallas was fifth in rushing yards allowed. Dallas was 10th in rushing yards per game and the Rams were 23rd against the run, a stat that may stand out in this matchup as the Cowboys look to control the ball and clock as usual. The Rams were plus-11 in takeaway difference, the fourth-best mark in the league, while the Cowboys were plus-three (12th).
Elliott now has 292 scrimmage yards and two rushing TDs in two playoff games. He has rushed for over 125 yards in each postseason game. As noted by SB Nation, the Rams allowed a league-high 5.1 yards per carry to opposing running backs, and allowed 100 rushing yards 11 times during the regular season. Yet they did win eight of those games. There really isn’t much hope for the Rams to stop Elliott, but they must prevent him from making pivotal plays like he did against Seattle last week, when he tore off a 44-yard run at the end of the first half to set up a go-ahead TD. The key for the Rams will be getting important stops on third downs and in the red zone. Los Angeles was just 17th in third down defense this season. The Cowboys were 19th in third down offensive conversions. So the plan may be to concede that Elliott will get his yardage, but to make Dak Prescott beat them when it counts most. That formula ultimately did not work for Seattle last week, but the Rams may learn to bend but not break when it matters after watching the Wild Card Game film.
Prescott limited his errors last week and was highly efficient, completing 66.7 percent of his passes and having one pass intercepted on a superb play by K.J. Wright. Including the playoffs this year, Prescott had just nine interceptions, but he did lose six fumbles. The Rams forced 12 fumbles this season, the second-highest total in the league. Prescott was sacked an NFC-high 56 times this season, but just once in the Wild Card Game. The Cowboys will have to obviously account for Aaron Donald, as he will be moved around frequently and Prescott must get rid of the ball quickly. Look for a quick-hitting passing game, as running Elliott on the perimeter and having Amari Cooper make important catches will be keys to keeping the offense moving. Prescott has the mobility to evade the rush and scramble as well. If the Cowboys can stay in the game with effective outside running and high percentage passing, they will have a chance to win.
The Dallas LBs did a fine job of handling Chris Carson last week, but Todd Gurley is clearly more talented and will test the Cowboys defense on the edges and in the passing game where Seattle often did not. There has been some talk of C.J. Anderson getting some important carries in this one, but his north/south style plays right into the strengths of the Dallas defensive front.
The Rams should be much more successful than the Seahawks were in establishing offensive balance. That can set up play action passing and time to throw for Goff, who does not want to be in adverse passing situations against the likes of fiery MLB Jaylon Smith. Goff also plays much better at home, where he had 22 of his 32 TD passes and only three of his nine interceptions this season. He also had a 68.3 completion percentage at home, compared to 60.9 on the road.
The Cowboys prefer to put top cover CB Byron Jones on the opponent’s No. 1 WR, and it is uncertain whether that will be Robert Woods or Brandin Cooks. Woods is more consistently effective, but it could be dangerous to put Chidobe Awuzie on downfield playmaker Brandin Cooks after Tyler Lockett burned him a few times last week. Goff will also go to Josh Reynolds near the goal line, as the WR had all of his five TD catches in the team’s final seven games. It’s guesswork to predict who Jones will cover, but Cooks does have the big-play gear to demand he draws the top cover guy. Goff may choose to work on Awuzie more, so Woods could be ready to stack up a healthy amount of catches if that is his draw. Dallas may look to simply limit explosive plays and Goff could have to take what the defense gives him with a high percentage approach.
FANTASY TAKES: Elliott is an obvious must-start in a one and done format, and he should be the best RB play of the weekend overall as the matchup is decisively in his favor. Don’t expect much statistical upside from Prescott. Cooper showed last week he can be relied on for important receptions, and if he hits one big play he could have a superb statistical day. But he is a gamble to not advance. Gurley should be very busy, but I would much rather use Elliott and take the risk that he carries the Cowboys on his back into the next round. I don’t see a big day coming for Goff, and I prefer Woods in any PPR format over Cooks. But if the game somehow does end up being more high-scoring, it is worth noting that Goff had seven 300-yard games and six with three or more TD passes this season.
DFS VIEWS: On the FanDuel Saturday slate, I would rather spend up for the AFC QBs, especially Andrew Luck, who is just $500 more than Goff (8,000) and well worth the increase. Elliott is $400 cheaper than Gurley at 8,800. I like Cooper a lot as the fifth WR on the pricing ladder ($6,500). I would prefer players from this game as complements to AFC stacks. On the full DraftKings weekend slate, Prescott is the lowest priced starting QB of the weekend at $5,200, so you have to take the shot on him in some tournaments. Elliott is the highest priced RB at $8,200 but is worth it and you can consider running him and Prescott together in tourney play. Cooks is very friendly at $5,600 but Woods is tempting at just $300 more. If Cole Beasley can play, he is worth punt consideration at $3,700.
GAME PREDICTION: I don’t see this game becoming an explosive affair, as both teams will have to battle for their points. I am taking the under (50), and while I expect the Cowboys to cover (+6.5) I don’t believe that they will have quite enough to advance. The Rams will prevail at home with Gurley being very productive overall and Goff making a clutch play to win the game while Prescott cannot deliver at a key time this week. He may make a key turnover late in the game. Rams 27, Cowboys 23.