Every week during the season, we’ll scout out the Cowboys' next opponent. This week, that opponent is the Atlanta Falcons.
The Opponent: As the final undefeated team in the NFL, the Falcons are the only thing standing between us and some members of the media deciding to give members of the 1972 Dolphis some air time as they pop champagne in recognition of their continued shred of relevance in the big picture. While avoiding that makes the Falcons a team worth rooting for, it would be an awfully nice twist for the Cowboys' season to pull off this win.
The Line: Falcons by 4, which is a pretty clear sign that the Cowboys are at least still respected by bookmakers.
Last Game: The Falcons added to the misery in Philly with a 31-17 win that gave Andy Reid his first ever loss coming off of a bye. It did not mark the end of the Michael Vick era for the Eagles, which would have been some nice symmetry after Vick's pre-prison days as a Falcon.
The Coach: While he is the dean of the rather mediocre Atlanta head coaching fraternity, Mike Smith does not get mentioned much when talking about the league's finest coaches. That's probably because he has never won a playoff game and everything he accomplishes is empty without such a victory.
The Offense: There are moments this season when the Falcons offense seems impossible to stop. Rolling out Tony Gonzalez, Julio Jones and Roddy White as targets for Matt Ryan makes life very difficult for defenses and almost ensures that someone will be open on every big third down as long as Ryan has time to throw. He's been sacked 15 times this season, so it's not like there's been a major problem in that department.
The Defense: Figuring out the best way to attack the Falcons won't be easy for the Cowboys. Atlanta's given up a fair amount of yards on the ground this season, but the Cowboys proved once again last weekend that their offense is much better suited for an aerial assault this season. Attacking that way can bear riches as well, so long as the Cowboys make sure to keep John Abraham from squashing Tony Romo.
Key Matchup: Jones/White vs. Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne - The Cowboys corners are coming off an excellent performance against Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz and they'll need to be on their game again this week. The Falcons can score points in bunches when they get going and the Cowboys don't need to spend another week playing catchup. Shutting down the outside receivers is the easiest way to keep Atlanta from lighting up the scoreboard.