The San Francisco 49ers served up an upset over the Los Angeles Rams in Week 18 to book their passage into the NFC Wildcard round as the sixth seed. Their reward: the Dallas Cowboys.
The Cowboys clinched the No. 3 seed after a 51-point demolition of a watered-down Philadelphia Eagles side that was resting players on Saturday.
Bookmakers have gone to press with an initial serving of NFL playoffs odds. Dallas is installed as the firm favorite to win outright while the point spread is delicately poised on a field goal with multiple top-rated sportsbooks.
Cornering this game with the Cowboys should come as no surprise to anyone. The Cowboys finished the season with a solid 12-5 record, won the NFC East title, and they will have home advantage in the first round of the playoffs. These are big ticks for any team hoping to make a deep run in the postseason.
By comparison, the 10-7 Niners squeezed into the frame literally in the eleventh hour, after eking out the 27-24 win in overtime at SoFi Stadium. The Niners endured an uneven season and finished third in the competitive NFC West division. Above all this, quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (thumb) isn’t 100%. These could be considered red flags.
Nevertheless, Garoppolo led the Niners in a come-from-behind win against the NFL odds Sunday. That impressive feat against one of the league’s Super Bowl 56 favorites raises the intriguing possibility of another upset. Arguably, one that would be a much bigger deal. Heady stuff, indeed.
Whichever way bettors will slice this game when settling on NFL picks, this matchup has all the hallmarks of being THE marquee game of the NFC playoffs.
San Francisco 49ers vs. Dallas Cowboys
Sunday, January 16, 2022 – 04:30 PM EST at AT&T Stadium
Niners Rally to Clinch
General Manager John Lynch’s celebration summed it all up. After falling behind 17-0 early, the Niners launched an epic comeback in the second half of their regular-season finale to clinch the 27-24 win over the Rams. It marked a series sweep and a sixth-straight win for the Niners over the Rams. But, most importantly, the Niners were playoff-bound!
Little went right for the Niners on the offensive side of the ball in the first half. Garoppolo struggled to get the offense going, he was under constant pressure and threw one of his two interceptions on the day.
Fortunately, the Rams didn’t capitalize on that turnover, largely thanks to the Niners defense, which did its part to prevent the Rams from running away with this game early. Two of the five sacks on Matthew Stafford came in the first half.
Garoppolo finally settled into a rhythm in the second half, leading his side’s first touchdown-scoring drive that was capped off with Deebo Samuel finding the endzone on a 16-yard sprint. Samuel set up the Niners’ second touchdown of the game when he took a handoff and threw a 24-yard touchdown to a wide-open Jauan Jennings.
Los Angeles took its second lead of the game after converting on a Niners turnover with less than two minutes left in the game. But the Niners miraculously tied the game as Garoppolo marched his side down the field for a last-gasp, game-tying touchdown. In overtime, the Niners received the opening kick and drove down the field for a field goal.
Not getting a game-winning touchdown meant the Rams got the ball back; it was Los Angeles’ game to win or lose at that point. So, with the game on the line, the worst thing that could happen happened. Stafford’s errant passing reared its ugly head again. Stafford’s pass to a sprinting Odell Beckham Jr. was intercepted by rookie Ambry Thomas. Thus, ending the game with a Niners win.
Cowboys Beat Up on Inferior Opponents
Dallas capped its season off with another commanding win over an inferior opponent. On paper, the eye-popping 51-29 score looks impressive. In reality, with the Eagles resting starters and fielding a second-tier side, it was anything but.
One could trot out the stats for this game, but it would be painting a deceiving picture. The win marked the second 50-plus game for the Cowboys in the last three weeks, but both came against mostly backups. The Cowboys beat the shorthanded Washington Football Team 56-14 in Week 16.
More importantly, in between those results, the Cowboys lost to the Cardinals 25-22 in Week 17. That loss against Arizona is a source of concern and represents a persistent theme throughout the season that raises more questions about whether the Cowboys are as good as their record suggests or only as good as their opponents were bad.
Four of their last six wins came against divisional opponents. The other two were against the Atlanta Falcons and the now eliminated New Orleans Saints. While three of their four losses in the last ten games have come to playoff contenders – the Kansas City Chiefs, the Las Vegas Raiders, and the Cardinals.
Dallas’ defense has impressed. Considering how bad the defense was in 2020, Dan Quinn deserves credit for revamping the defense and turning it into a bona fide unit that can make some noise in the playoffs. The defense has played well no matter the opponent and that is an auspicious sign.
If there’s an area of concern on this side of the ball, it’s the run defense that ranks in the bottom half of the league’s standings. That could be an issue against the run-inspired Niners.
Are the rest of the Cowboys playoff-ready, though?
Dak Prescott has cooled off somewhat after a hot start to his comeback season. He’s talking the talk, confident of his side’s chances against any opponent in the playoffs. But it remains to be seen whether the Cowboys will back it up. The Niners aren’t going to be a cakewalk.
NFL Predictions and Picks
Dallas may well prove to be the popular NFL pick over San Francisco for a number of reasons. But the early lean in this game is to back the Niners at +3, Kyle Shanahan’s side is a legitimate dangerous floater that can pull of the upset.
Granted, Jimmy G.’s injury is a concern. Nevertheless, he showed impressive grit and determination to lead the Niners in the come-from-behind win in Week 18. In fact, he’s shown that steadfastly in the second half of the season as the Niners turned around their campaign down the stretch.
That experience will be invaluable, along with the fact that it was a win over a legitimate contender. That speaks to a game toughness that could be deciding.
It’s worth noting, Prescott hasn’t been in a similar situation – down points against a noteworthy opponent – since Week 1 when the Cowboys lost 31-29 to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
NFL Pick: Niners +3 (-110) at Caesars Sportsbook