The NFC East champion Dallas Cowboys meet the NFC West champion and No. 2-seeded Los Angeles Rams at LA Memorial Coliseum on Saturday night with a trip to the NFC Championship Game on the line. Can the Cowboys exorcise divisional-round demons to return to the conference title game for the first time since the 1995 season? Here’s how SportsDay’s panel of experts sees the matchup shaking out:
The sense that the Rams fell apart in December may prove to be mostly a myth. Todd Gurley was hurt, and they did lose back-to-back games. But it all came after they were 11-1 and had locked up the NFC West. This remains one of the great offensive powerhouses of all time, and while I think Dallas’ pressure will disrupt things at times, the Cowboys can’t match the Rams in a big-play for big-play game. Zeke and the offensive line can keep it close into the third quarter but it gets away from them there. Rams 33, Cowboys 21
Finding arguments on how the Cowboys can upset LA isn’t difficult. Seattle ran for 190 and 273 yards in its two games against the Rams. If Ezekiel Elliott takes over, the Cowboys control the clock and the defense forces a handful of three-and-outs, this franchise could be back in the NFC Championship Game after a long absence. All of that being said, the Rams are the better team. They are rested and at home, regardless of how many Cowboys fans infiltrate Memorial Coliseum. One more thing: LA swept the Seahawks this season. Rams 31, Cowboys 27
The Cowboys’ miserable streak of losing in the NFC divisional round will have to end sometime, but not this season, when it extends to six games. While Dallas viewed its matchup in Los Angeles as more favorable than a trip to New Orleans, the Rams were also relieved to see the Cowboys instead of Chicago. The Dallas defense that has been so good this season gives up one too many big plays to QB Jared Goff and Co., and Rams DC Wade Phillips is the master of defensive adjustments. Rams 31, Cowboys 27
The last time the Cowboys were in the divisional round of the playoffs, Dak Prescott played well. Ezekiel Elliott did, too. Dallas scored 31 points. But the defense failed to come up with the big stop late. This Cowboys defense will be the difference Saturday night. Dallas has had its most success this season when the opposing quarterback is kept in the pocket and pressured. Look for DeMarcus Lawrence and Co. to do just that to Jared Goff. Cowboys 23, Rams 20
Wade Phillips said this week that Jerry Jones sent him a Christmas present: an ornament with Jerry’s picture on it. The funny thing was, nobody laughed at the joke. Seemed too real. Anyway, Wade holds the key. If his Rams defense, led by Aaron Donald, can shut down Zeke Elliott and Dak Prescott, the Cowboys’ postseason run stops at one. The Cowboys’ defense will do its job, but the offense will have to come up with at least 24 points. It’ll come close, but not close enough. Wade gets the last laugh. Rams 24, Cowboys 21
The key to the game will be which team imposes its will running the football. Dallas is 7-1 this season — including playoffs — when Ezekiel Elliott rushes for at least 100 yards. The Rams are 6-0 in games that Todd Gurley ran for at least 100 yards. Los Angeles harbors the most talent, but the Cowboys are the more physical team. I think talent will prevail Saturday in what should be an entertaining contest featuring several outstanding individual matchups. Rams 27, Cowboys 20
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