By Michael Ferro
The Detroit Lions went into New York with a five-game winning streak and the top spot in the NFC North. While they still hold first place in their division, they managed to fall hard in a tough 17-6 loss to the Giants as the playoff race tightens. Dallas, meanwhile, lost over a week ago, breaking their own 11-game winning streak, yet followed it up with a commanding performance from rookie running back Ezekiel Elliot to take down Tampa Bay 26-20 in Week 15.
The Green Bay Packers are just one loss behind the Lions in the NFC North and looking to steal the lead. With Detroit heading down to play the Cowboys on Monday Night Football in week 16, eyes around the nation will be upon the Lions to see if they have what it takes to actually make it to a rare playoff appearance.
Cowboys Season Record: 12-2
It’s no secret that the Dallas Cowboys are probably the best team in the league right now. After their aforementioned 11-game winning streak came to an end, the Cowboys responded by nabbing another win to give them a league-best 12-2 record. Upon the national stage in the Monday night spotlight, Dallas will be looking to prove that they are the odds on favorite to win this year’s Super Bowl.
Meanwhile, the Lions have plenty to prove on their own. Should they manage to win out their last two games, they’ll win the division and have a chance to snap their playoffs losing streak. For the Lions, having to take down the Cowboys in Dallas on a Monday night will be the biggest challenge thus far for a team that struggled mightily against the Giants in week 15.
Cowboys on Offense
The Cowboy’s offense is one of the best in the NFL — there’s no denying that. Despite their recent loss to a very good Giants team, the Cowboys have repeatedly proved throughout the season that the combo of rookie running back Ezekiel Elliot on the ground and fellow rookie quarterback Dak Prescott threading the needle is a winning mix.
While Dak hasn’t always been as lights out dominant as someone like Lions QB Matthew Stafford, he has enough talent around him to make up for any errors that he might make. Watching someone as electric as Elliot commanding the ground game should give Lions fans heartburn, too, knowing just how anemic Detroit’s running game has been.
Cowboys on Defense
Though the Cowboy’s defense did look a little sluggish at times during their win over Tampa Bay, Dallas still demonstrated that when it comes to making the big plays in key moments, there’s nothing for them to fear. The Cowboys are able to exert pressure on opposing quarterbacks and sacked Buccaneers QB Jameis Winston four times in that game.
Matthew Stafford threw a number of picks over the last two games for Detroit — a rarity for him — but, it’s something that should make Lions fans wary. Dallas’ defense nabbed three interceptions during their last game that could bode disaster for a pressured Stafford if he’s unable to find his targets.
Players to Watch: RB Ezekiel Elliot & WR Cole Beasley
The need for the Lions to attempt to contain a runner like Ezekiel Elliot early in the game is painfully obvious; once Elliot gets going, there seems to be no stopping him. He leads the NFL in a number of categories this season and is one of the top reasons that Dallas could be a Super Bowl contender. The rookie already has more than 1,500 yards rushing and 13 touchdowns.
Wide receiver Cole Beasley didn’t take the spotlight during the Cowboys’ win over Tampa Bay, but that doesn’t mean that he’s not primed to vault back during a big Monday night game. Beasley leads the team with 68 receptions for more than 750 yards this season and remains a top target for Dak Prescott.
Look for Dallas to make an impact early against Detroit in this game. As the fourth quarter comes around and the nation watches for what might end up being another dramatic Lions comeback, keep an eye out for a dominant Dallas defense to try to smother Stafford as the seconds tick off the clock. Winning this game could mean everything for the Detroit Lions in terms of the playoffs, especially with Green Bay only one game behind.