With the NFL play-offs fast approaching, Detroit will have to be at their very best in order to stop Dallas' running back DeMarco Murray, while the Colts will be looking to contain the impact of Andy Dalton – a young quarterback who has led the Bengals to four straight play-off appearances.
Dallas Cowboys -vs- Detroit Lions
Something will have to give when the Dallas Cowboys’ dominant running attack clashes with the Detroit Lions’ run-stuffing defence in the wild-card round.
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The Cowboys leaned on the ground game and running back DeMarco Murray all the way to an NFC East title, while the Lions’ front seven was the foundation of one of the league’s top defences.
“If you look at the numbers, they’ll tell you that they run the ball obviously as well as anybody in the league and you look at it statistically for us, we’re right up there at the top in the rankings in terms of stopping the run,” Detroit coach Jim Caldwell said.
“So all in all, I think it’s going to be a real good battle.”
The Lions held opponents to a league-best 69.3 rushing yards per game and allowed just two opponents to cross the century mark – the New York Jets with 132 yards in Week 4 and the Green Bay Packers with 152 yards in Week 17.
Dallas were just as good on the other side of the ball, ranking behind only Seattle with 147.1 yards per game, while Murray led the league with 1,845 rushing yards – 484 yards more than the next closest player.
Though the running game was the focal point of the offence, much-maligned quarterback Tony Romo quietly put together an MVP-calibre season with a league-high 113.2 passer rating.
Dallas’ Dez Bryant was a regular visitor of the end zone down the stretch, scoring six of his league-leading 16 touchdowns in the final three games.
For the Lions, Calvin Johnson struggled with an ankle injury for much of the season and had a down year by his standards, but the memory of him roasting the Cowboys secondary last year still remains.
In Week 8 of 2013, ‘Megatron’ burned Dallas for a career-high 14 catches for 329 yards – the second-most in NFL history.
Dallas suffered all of their losses this year at home in AT&T Stadium.
Indianapolis Colts -vs- Cincinnati Bengals
Two young quarterbacks will square-off in the wild-card showdown between the Indianapolis Colts and Cincinnati Bengals, but only one has plenty to prove.
Andy Dalton has led the Bengals to four straight playoff appearances since being drafted in 2011, but so far has faltered each time in the wild card round.
If the 27-year-old comes up short again to Andrew Luck and the Colts, he would tie Warren Moon for the most opening-round losses by a starting quarterback.
The match-up will be a rematch of the Week 7 meeting, which Indianapolis controlled throughout for a 27-0 blowout win.
In the contest, Luck threw for 344 yards and two touchdowns, picking apart the Cincinnati’s secondary.
The third-year quarterback finished the season with a league-leading 40 touchdown passes and 4,761 yards, trailing only New Orleans’ Drew Brees and Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger.
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