When you look at the 2018 metrics of both the Dallas Cowboys and the Los Angeles Rams, there's no reason Dallas should win this Divisional playoff game.
By overall DVOA the Cowboys are by far the worst remaining playoff team, 20th overall in the league, while the Rams sit comfortably in the top 10. When comparing the production of the two offenses, that of the Rams dwarfs that of the Cowboys. And when you look at the numbers behind the Cowboys ability to stop the strength of the Rams offense (the play action pass), there's little to support fans' hope for an upset victory.
But doesn't it just feel like the Cowboys can do it?
Yes, it does. And there is reason and logic behind this belief. In fact, you can look at the Cowboys' own history to see where they may find an advantage this Saturday night.
Let's flashback to 2007. Divisional round.
The 13-3 Dallas Cowboys were the talk of the NFC all season. They featured a high flying young offense, led by an exciting quarterback in Tony Romo. The play caller? An up-and-coming offensive “guru” Jason Garrett, who was garnering attention for head coaching jobs around the league.
They were loaded with weapons offensively, and are arguably the best team the Dallas Cowboys have had since the mid-1990's. The league seemed set for a Cowboys-Patriots showdown in the Super Bowl.
Their first playoff opponent, the New York Giants, were much less threatening on paper. Like the 2018 Cowboys, they were the worst remaining playoff team by DVOA, while the 2007 Cowboys sat in the top 3. They had a young quarterback in Eli Manning who, despite his high draft positioning, hadn't “proved it” yet in the league.
They were really built on the back of their defense, particularly their defensive line. Tenacious pass rushers like Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora led the way, with a punishing run game and dangerous number-one receiver helping their young quarterback on the offensive side of the ball.
Dallas was expected to not only beat, but potentially roll the New York Giants that Sunday. In fact, Dallas was a 7 point favorite at home that Sunday.
Does any of this sound familiar?
Let's recap. A 13-3, 7 point home favorite who's top 10 in DVOA and has one of the most explosive offenses in all of football versus a 10-6 underdog led by their pass rush and defense, but is largely considered the “worst” remaining playoff team.
Sounds like this Cowboys/Rams match up to me.
Like the Giants that afternoon, the Cowboys need to stay true to their identity this Saturday night. They need to make the game as ugly as possible, ugly enough to make all of the national fans complain about how bogged down and slow the game feels.
This is where the Cowboys excel. Where they can pound the ball against a less-than-average run defense and keep that explosive offense watching from the sidelines.
I know the comparison isn't perfect, but the play style Dallas needs to mimic matches rather well. If the Dallas Cowboys can force the Rams to play their brand of football, rather than the style Los Angeles has become accustomed to all season long, they could find themselves in the NFC championship game next Sunday.