NFC East Preview: Off-season Recap and Predictions

NFC East preview

The NFC East is the most successful division in NFL history, and all four teams are looking to add to that success. One team has a new regime in charge, one has a new name, another added major talent, and the last lost some talent. This sets up for an interesting race for the title of NFC East champion. Let’s take a look at all the changes, and how that impacts their seasons in this NFC East preview.

NFC East Preview

4. New York Giants

Key losses – CB James Bradberry, S Logan Ryan, TE Kyle Rudolph, S Jabrill Peppers, RB Davontae Booker, OG Will Hernandez, TE Evan Engram, OLB Lorenzo Carter

Key additions – HC Brian Daboll, OL Jon Feliciano, QB Tyrod Taylor, OG Mark Glowinski, TE Jordan Akins, RB Matt Brieda, P Jamie Gillan, OLB Kayvon Thibodeaux, RT Evan Neal, WR Wan’Dale Robinson, OG Joshua Ezeudu

It was an abysmal season for the New York Giants last season, as they finished 4-13, last in the NFC East. It was Joe Judge’s last season in the Big Apple, as the Giants decided to move on from him. Brian Daboll was brought in to help change the culture and bring a winning team back to New York. However, it’s going to be another rebuild year — but hopefully with some bright spots.

Last year’s Giants offense was a train wreck. They finished 31st in total offense, as they couldn’t do anything right. This means this is most likely Daniel Jones’ last chance as the Giants long-term option at quarterback. His supporting cast won’t help much either. The Kenny Golladay signing is proving to be a mistake and Saquon is still trying to get back to form.  

However, there are two weapons that will be interesting to watch: Kadarius Toney and Wan’Dale Robinson. The two young wideouts are looking to prove their worth in Daboll’s new offense. With two young tackles, the offensive line will look to improve, but the rest of the offensive line is weak. It’ll be another tough year for Giants fans watching this offense. They will look to see if Daboll can bring a spark to this offense.

As bad as the offense was, the defense was a little better. However, it still ranked 21st in total defense. They added rookie Kayvon Thibodeaux to create an up-and-coming pass rush. The interior of the defensive line will be looking for the young edge rushers to make the unit a major threat.

After recently releasing linebacker Blake Martinez, the linebacker corps is one of the worst in the league. Once you get past the defensive line, teams could have a field day running the ball. In the secondary, they have Adoree’ Jackson to lead. Even though the secondary had a solid season last year, losing James Bradberry will hurt. The youth in this secondary will be tested a lot this season. I expect this defense to have another year towards the bottom of the league.

Prediction

After a season with only four wins, I expect the Giants to have another rough season. I have them going 3-14 and 2-4 against the NFC East. Rebuilding doesn’t happen overnight, so Giants fans will need to be patient.

3. Washington Commanders

Key loses – DL Matt Ioannidis, DT Tim Settle, S Landon Collins, OG Brandon Scherff, OG Ereck Flowers, WR Deandre Carter

Key additions – QB Carson Wentz, OG Andrew Norwell, OG Trai Turner, DE Efe Obada

Re-signed – WR Cam Sims (1-year), K Joey Slye (1-year), RB J.D. McKissic (2-years), S Bobby McCain (2-years), S Troy Apke (1-year)

Extensions – WR Terry McLaurin (3-years, $71 million)

The 2021-22 Washington Football Team didn’t get a lot of attention last year around the NFL, but it wasn’t a horrible season. They went 7-10, finishing 3rd in the NFC East. With five one-score losses, this team could’ve had a chance at the playoffs. Wide receiver Terry McLaurin had another fantastic season, and now he has an upgrade at quarterback. This will be a big year for head coach Ron Rivera, as he tries to lead them back to the playoffs.

Last season’s offense ranked 21st in total offense with Taylor Heinicke at quarterback, creating higher expectations now with Carson Wentz. They have a great duo at receiver with Terry McLaurin and Curtis Samuel. This should open the field up for tight end Logan Thomas as he looks to show his worth again coming off of a season, where he played just six games.

The running back room looks solid as well, with Antonio Gibson leading the way. Horrible news broke that rookie running back Brian Robinson had been shot in an armed robbery. We’ll have to wait and see if he plays this season at all. The group protecting Wentz is borderline top ten line with two new acquisitions, Trai Turner and Andrew Norwell, as the guards. This offense will look to improve, and I believe it will finish in the middle of the league this season.

The defense ranked one spot worse than the offense, which ended up being 22nd. They lost some key defensive linemen in Tim Settle and Matt Ioannidis, but this defensive line is still a threat. Chase Young and Montez Sweat on the edge will bring the pressure with Daron Payne and Jonathan Allen plugging up the middle. It is easily a top five defensive line.

Cole Holcomb and Jamin Davis need to improve, or it could be a long year for the linebacker group. The secondary should improve this year with William Jackson III in his second year with the Commanders, as well as Kendall Fuller being an underrated cornerback in this league. I am looking to see this defense get back to being a top 10 force, but the lack of offense could keep them on the field a lot this season.

Prediction

While I believe this team has some good talent, I am not a huge fan of Ron Rivera. That causes them to lose more games than they should and go 5-12, and 2-4 against the division.

2. Philadelphia Eagles

Key loses – WR Jalen Reagor, CB Steven Nelson, DT Hassan Ridgeway, LB Alex Singleton, FS Rodney McLeod

Key additions – WR A.J. Brown, DE Hassan Reddick, CB James Bradberry, DT Jordan Davis, FS C.J. Gardner-Johnson, LB Nakobe Dean, C Cam Jurgens, LB Kyzir White, WR Zach Pascal

Re-signed – DT Fletcher Cox (1-year), RB Boston Scott (1-year), DE Derek Barnett (3-years)

Extensions – WR AJ Brown (4-years, $100 million)

The Eagles snuck into the playoffs last season at 9-8, before losing to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. They are looking to do better this year, as they might’ve added the most talent out of any team this offseason. They finished last season winning four out of their last five games, so they’re hoping to keep that momentum going into this season. It should be a new look for the Eagles in 2022-23.

The offense was majorly run heavy, as they led the league in rushing yards per game. The passing side was not ideal, as they ranked 25th in the league. With Jalen Hurts having a new weapon in AJ Brown and DeVonta Smith going into his sophomore season, the passing game will come down to the decision making of Hurts. Tight end Dallas Goedert will also be key, coming off of a season where he took over for former Eagle Zach Ertz.

The run game looks to be amazing again, as they paired Hurts’ legs with running backs Miles Sanders and Kenneth Gainwell. Pair them with arguably the best offensive line in football, and they should be on their way to leading the league in rushing again. After finishing 14th in total yards last season, the Eagles could be a top ten offense.

The Eagles defense last season finished 10th in total defense and got a lot stronger. The front four added rookie Jordan Davis in the first round of the NFL draft, and Hassan Reddick as they look to be dominant up front.

The linebacker corps is going to come down to the impact rookie Nakobe Dean will have, alongside Kyzir White and T.J. Edwards. Their lives will be made easier with improvements in the secondary. Adding James Bradberry creates one of the best cornerback duos in the league. Add in Avonte Maddox in the slot and this could be the best cornerback trio in the league. They didn’t stop there, as they added safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson, a huge pick-up that helps the Eagles become one of the scariest defenses in the league.

Prediction

While the Eagles improved a lot, I need to see more from Jalen Hurts this season. He’s the x-factor that will make or break the Eagles success. I have the Eagles finishing 9-8 and going 4-2 against the NFC East.

1. Dallas Cowboys

Key loses – OT La’el Collins, OLB Randy Gregory, WR Cedrick Wilson, C Connor Williams, K Greg Zuerlein, SS Keanu Neal, WR Amari Cooper

Key additions – DE Dante Fowler Jr., OLB Anthony Barr, WR James Washington, OT Tyler Smith, Edge Sam Williams, WR Jalen Tolbert

Re-signed –  DE Dorance Armstrong (2-years), S Jayron Kearse (2-years), P Bryan Anger (3-years), LB Leighton Vander Esch (1-year), TE Dalton Schultz (Franchise Tag)

Extensions – WR Michael Gallup (5-years, $62.5 million)

The winners of the NFC East last season, the Cowboys are coming off a 12-5 record. After losing in the first round to the 49ers, quarterback Dak Prescott is now 1-3 in the playoffs. He is looking to improve that postseason record as well as make a case for a contract extension this season. Head coach Mike McCarthy is also trying to stay off the hot seat with a strong season in 2022-23.

Dallas ranked #1 in the NFL in total yards last season behind almost a 4,500-yard season from Dak Prescott. Now without wide receiver Amari Cooper (traded to Cleveland), and two of their top offensive linemen, this offense has a new challenge.

Prescott still has wideout Ceedee Lamb and will eventually get back Michael Gallup for a solid receiving duo. They have one of the top eight tight ends in the league in Dalton Schultz, so the passing attack should be just as dangerous. The running game could take a small dip from being ranked 9th in the NFL. The duo of Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard has proven to be reliable, and should still be ranked in the top half of the league in yards.

The defense had a tough season last year, ranking 19th in total defense. Losing Randy Gregory will hurt, especially when they didn’t add a great replacement. The defensive line is below average, but has help from Micah Parsons, who is an elite pass rusher as a linebacker. Parsons leads the Cowboys on defense and creates a top ten linebacker corps in the league.

While the Cowboys led the league in interceptions last year, they still have an average secondary. Corner Trevon Diggs is back, and while he looks to replicate his interceptions, he needs to cut down on yards given up. It is unlikely that we see the same turnover efficiency this season, so I expect a just below average defense from Dallas this season.

Prediction

While Dallas got worse this offseason, they have a favorable schedule. I predict they will go 11-6 and 4-2 against the NFC East. It will come down to coaching, as Mike McCarthy could see his last season as a head coach if he doesn’t get the job done.

Ranking All 13 NFL Alternate Helmets

This season, the NFL has allowed teams to have more than one colored helmet to wear. The rule change saw 13 NFL franchises introduce new helmets for their alternate uniforms.

Before I begin, I want to clarify what I ranked these helmets based on. There were three factors that went into my ranking: 1. Does the helmet itself look good? 2. Does the helmet fit with the rest of the uniform? 3. Could the team have done more with the helmet? With that in mind, here is my ranking for these new helmets.

The New NFL Alternate Helmets: 13-6

Chicago Bears alternate helmet for the 2022 NFL season
Photo Credit: Jacob Funk/Chicago Bears

13. Chicago Bears

I attend a school that wears orange helmets with its orange uniforms. It doesn’t work too well. Same thing goes for the Bears. The traditional navy helmet works so much better with any of Chicago’s jerseys, especially its orange one. This alternate helmet is a miss for one of the NFL’s most iconic teams.

12. Arizona Cardinals

The Cardinals messed up big time with their new helmets. Arizona plans to wear these with its color rush uniforms. The red pops out with the black real well with those, so why not do the same with the helmets? If these had a red face mask, this could’ve been one of the better helmets. But instead, they go with a bland, black design.

11. Washington Commanders

I’m glad that Washington didn’t leave the “numbers on the helmet” look behind when it rebranded. However, the execution this time around feels poor. The “W” in the front doesn’t sit well. Maybe a stripe, like the Commanders’ primary helmets, would’ve been better. This helmet isn’t bad by any means, but ten other teams did a better job than Washington.

10. Carolina Panthers

This one might have to grow on me a bit. I like the all black concept the Panthers created, but this helmet feels almost too dark. From the photos, it’s difficult to see the Panthers logo. The colors mesh well together, but nothing pops out to the eye.

9. Houston Texans

The helmet itself is one of the best that have been introduced. What’s upsetting is the Texans plan to wear these with their red uniforms, according to gridiron-uniforms.com. These would look significantly better with their blue-with-red-lettering color rush jerseys. The all-red look Houston plans to wear doesn’t sit with me well.

8. New Orleans Saints

The Saints introduced a new look this offseason, and it’s not bad. The fleur-de-lis down the middle helps this helmet represents New Orleans well, and black and gold go together like bread and butter. However, nothing about this helmet stands out; it’s a bit bland. Maybe a gold face mask would help?

7. New York Jets

Now we’re getting to the helmets I really like. The Jets’ nailed this one. New York’s black uniforms look even better with this helmet. The green on the logo and face mask (take note, Cardinals) pop out and give the uniform more vibrance.

6. Philadelphia Eagles

The Eagles kept their helmet change simple, and I’m all for it. They switched from an already-fresh midnight green and black look to a more fitting all black uniform. A slight change for the better.

NFL Alternate Helmets: The Top 5

Dallas Cowboys bring back the alternate uniforms and helmets for 2022
Photo Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

5. Dallas Cowboys

The Thanksgiving uniforms worn in the late 2000s and early 2010s are iconic. Dallas finally gets the chance to bring them back this year. The simplicity of the helmet gives the Cowboys an old school look, something that somewhat resembles a cowboy. The white pops out with the rest of the uniform, and I love it.

4. New York Giants

The Giants’ white throwback uniform has been a staple amongst fans for a few years now. It’s about time they brought the blue back. The darker shade of blue on the helmet gives the uniform a more classic look. On top of that, the “GIANTS” along the side is significantly better than the block “NY”. A perfect helmet for a classic uniform.

3. New England Patriots

The Pat Patriot look is back! The red, white, and blue look has long been one of the best looks in football. The white stands out with the red jersey really well, giving New England a patriotic look. As someone who watched many Patriots games growing up, I’m so happy to see these back in action.

2. Cincinnati Bengals

Finally. Ever since the Bengals introduced their all-white uniforms, fans have been screaming for the Bengals to wear while helmets. Everyone’s wish came true, and this looks so clean. The new helmets put these uniforms in the conversation for the best in the NFL.

1. Atlanta Falcons

When the Falcons got new uniforms in 2020, I was disappointed they went with black helmets instead of red. Now you see why. The red and black look with a sliver of gold bring back ’80s nostalgia, a more authentic throwback, and one of the cleanest looks in the NFL. It’s about time Atlanta brought these back. These are, without a doubt, the best of the NFL alternate helmets

Browns Get Amari Cooper

The Browns traded a 5th and a 6th round pick for Amari Cooper and a 6th round pick. Amari Cooper is on the third year of a 5 year, $100 million contract, with no guaranteed money going forward. The Browns could very well rework the contract to lower the cap hit but add to his guaranteed money. Cooper is entering his age 28 season, so he is still in his prime.

Browns Wide Receivers

Former Cowboys WR Amari Cooper has been traded to the Cleveland Browns
Photo Credit: Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

The Browns previously only had two wide receivers under contract: Donovan Peoples-Jones and Anthony Schwartz. Schwartz was disappointing in his rookie season. Early in the season, Schwartz showed flashes, but his performance greatly declined, as did the entirety of the Browns’ passing game. Schwartz struggled as a route runner and will more likely than not end up as a specialty player, used on jet sweeps, screens, and other quick plays.

Peoples-Jones is a solid X receiver who is decent down the field. At best, he will end up as a wide receiver two, but more likely as a wide receiver three or four. Even with the addition of Amari Cooper, the Browns still need one more high-level receiver and another depth receiver after that. Jarvis Landry has been cut, but there is a small possibility that he is back on a more cap-friendly deal.

Amari Cooper on the Browns

Amari Cooper provides an excellent route runner and overall good receiver for the Browns. Cooper has no fit issues, as there is no one nearly on the same level as him. The only thing the Browns want out of him that he is not good at is blocking. Cooper is an okay blocker, mainly due to the fact that he is willing to do it. Overall, Cooper gives the Browns a number one option, and that is the most important part of the trade.

The Dallas Cowboys X-Factors vs The San Francisco 49ers

Dallas Cowboys San Francisco 49ers
Credits: Getty Images

The Dallas Cowboys are slated to take on the San Francisco 49ers this Sunday at 4:30 ET at home. This will be the Cowboys first home playoff game since the 2018 season. And The 49ers pose an interesting match-up this Sunday. They have a very unique offensive style. It highlights their almost position-less weapons combined with a head bending and rule-breaking scheme designed by head coach Kyle Shanahan.

In this article, I will highlight three players who could be key components in a Cowboys victory. Whether they take over the game, come up with a big play in a meaningful spot, or just do their job!

X-Factor 1.  Tony Pollard, RB:

Stats: 130 carries, 719 yards, 5.5 YPC, 2 TDs

Tony Pollard, is the 1b to Ezekiel Elliott’s 1a. Pollard is the lightning, game-breaking speed, and big-play ability to Zeke’s headstrong, physical, beat you down running style. Pollard’s five and a half yards per rush this year ranks second in the NFL. Combined with a pretty stout 3.61 yards after contact per attempt, and 17 explosive runs, that makes him one of the most underrated big-play threats in the NFL.

If the Cowboys start to struggle early don’t be surprised if they turn to Pollard to ignite the offense. Hopefully he will be given opportunities to break the game wide open. If given a fair share of touches he could do tons of damage and provide the offense with a spark

X-Factor 2.  Blake Jarwin, TE:

Stats: 16 targets, 11 receptions, 96 yards, 8.7 YPR, 2 TDs

Blake Jarwin has had a pretty disappointing past two seasons of football. After signing a 4-year, $22 million contract before the start of the 2020 season. Starting off the 2020 football campaign Jarwin went down in week one with a non-contact ACL tear, absolutely brutal. With sights set high on 2021 pairing him with Dalton Schultz who gained valuable playing time in Jarwin’s absence.

He looked to set his sights on having a fantastic year, only to have a grueling hip injury and contracting COVID-19 sideline him for 10 weeks. Jarwin made a Week 18 return and is ready to add his skillset to the multitude of playmakers the Cowboys already have.

Blake Jarwin being 6’5 with deceptive seam stretching speed is his best ability. That exact ability is what Dallas was looking for in games this year when teams committed to stopping Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb on the outside. Look for Jarwin to get a favorable matchup against a linebacker or strong safety and attack the seam. I’m not expecting a break-out performance from him. But, a few timely catches and possibly a red-zone touchdown could be huge for the Dallas offense.

X-Factor 3.  Jayron Kearse, Safety:

Stats: 75 solo tackles, 16 assists, 30 stops, 2 INTs, 9 PBUs, 2 TDs

Jayron Kearse is a journeyman who has played on three teams in his six years in the NFL coming out of Clemson. He unexpectedly not only became a physical presence as a box safety, but became the green-dot for the Cowboys defense.

Kearse this week in media interviews was tired of hearing about who he will be matched up against in this game. In response after calling George Kittle one of the best TEs in the NFL, per Jon Machota, Kearse said, “He has to go against me, too. I kind of get ticked off when I’m being asked Kittle this and Kittle that. He has to play me, too. We’ll see how that shakes out.”

I’m not going to lie that’s bold for a mostly unknown 6-year vet to go at a top player in the NFL. But I am never going to be against a player having confidence in himself.

Dan Quinn, the Cowboys defensive coordinator, has used Kearse in the box a ton this year, using Kearse as a run defender and a tight end eraser. Facing this offense, it will be paramount for him to do his job. He will need to be a physical force setting the edge, attempting to tightly cover Kittle, and being a sure tackler.

The 49ers as a team lead the league by a mile in yards after contact. They thrive off of short passes that allow their playmakers to get in space and force you to bring their guys down in the open field. This task is no walk in the park with players like Kittle and Deebo Samuel coming at you. I believe this will be how Kearse makes a huge impact on Sundays game.

Conclusion:

These X-Factors for the Dallas Cowboys vs The San Francisco 49ers game are not the household, big-name stars that most know. If the Cowboys do walk out of AT&T Stadium with a victory, these players will be of the utmost importance to their success.

Prediction: Cowboys 31, 49ers 27.

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New England Patriots vs Dallas Cowboys Preview

Patriots versus Cowboys breakdown in typical “who has the advantage when…” format loaded with facts and snippits about the Pats season.

New England Patriots
(Photo by Matthew J. Lee/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

The New England Patriots’ victory against the Texans was U-G-L-Y. While fans were not impressed, players and coaches were impressed with the team’s effort to fight through adversity. While it wasn’t a dominant effort, these ugly wins sometimes provide momentum. Case in point? 2001, Week 5. Patriots are 1-3 coming into the game and trail by 10 in the fourth quarter. A certain young QB threw his first career touchdown pass before the Pats won the game in overtime, 29-26.

This year? Pats are 1-3 entering week 5, trail by seven entering the fourth quarter, and get the comeback. The league, especially the AFC, is loaded with top-end-talented teams this year; maybe the comeback against Houston gets this team rolling. The Pats have shown to have the talent to lock down the Buccaneers and exhibit incredibly balanced offensive talent; they just need to execute better. If they do, watch out.

They’ll get their first chance to do so this Sunday against a very talented Dallas Cowboys team. Everybody knows the Cowboys tout an extremely talented core of offensive players, but their defense has been stealing headlines throughout the season. While it’s an extremely improved group over last year, their passing defense is surviving on takeaways. New England fans will appreciate that effort but know the dangers in playing that sort of game.

The only difference? Dallas has been truly elite in taking the ball away. Weird stat for this one? The Cowboys won the first seven matchups between these two teams before the Pats ripped off six straight of their own: historical standings head-to-head? 7-6, Cowboys. We’ll dive more into this in the breakdown below. So, without further ado and continuing the “who has the advantage when…” format, the breakdown!

The New England Patriots’ Passing Attack

Two shocking stats about Mac Jones and the Patriots passing game; Mac Jones has more 20+ yard completions than Patrick Mahomes this season and according to PFF, Mac only had two turnover-worthy plays against Houston. That second stat certainly felt like a lot more.

Jones hasn’t been an unstoppable downfield thrower, but he has become an opportunistic downfield shot guy and as long as he stays smart with the ball, the Pats’ offense is in good hands. The biggest complaint is McDaniels conservative playcalling once the Patriots enter the red zone. After his dime of a touchdown throw to Henry on Sunday, hopefully, Mac has shown enough to stop the three consecutive screen calls.

The Cowboys have given up yards in the passing game, ranking 31st in the league in passing yards allowed. However, their ability to get the takeaway is incredible. They have an incredible ten (!!) interceptions through their first five games. CB Trevon Diggs has six of the ten interceptions. It would be wise for Mac to look elsewhere in the passing game.

The good news? Diggs does not often travel into the slot meaning security blankets Jakobi Meyers and Hunter Henry should draw favorable matchups. The Cowboys often engage their opponents in high-scoring affairs and part of that is the plethora of yards they let up through the air.

Advantage: New England Patriots (as long as Mac avoids Diggs on the outside)

The New England Patriots’ Run Game

For how loose the Cowboys are against the pass, they are equally stingy against the runs. The Cowboys feature the fifth-best rushing defense while the Pats boast the sixth-worst rushing offense. While the Cowboys are allowing 4.2 yards per carry, this is not an area the Pats want to have to rely on to win the game.

The offensive line was a pleasant surprise last week and the return of Shaq Mason and Mike Onwenu hopefully means even more success. Ted Karras did a wonderful job standing in at LG against the Texans and perhaps a shuffle might lead to better results for the Patriots’ offense. Sliding Onwenu out to RT where he starred as a rookie and keeping Karras at LG might be the lineup the Pats need to move the ball on the ground while also being sturdy in pass protection.

The Cowboys feature an active LB corps and a stalwart along the defensive line in Demarcus Lawrence. The Pats had a ton of success of play-action against the Texans and should try to establish the run game if only for this reason. Mac has been fantastic off of play-action throughout the season, continuing that aspect of the game will benefit everyone in the Pats offense.

Advantage: Dallas Cowboys

The Dallas Cowboys’ Passing Attack

Before the season most fans would’ve been extremely concerned to hear that Jalen Mills was the key to the pass defense while playing CORNER. Mills’ absence was apparent last week as the Texans picked on Joejuan Williams, eventually forcing slot man Jonathan Jones to play to the boundary. Mills’ return this week is going to be a must for the Pats.

Dallas’ talented WR trio of Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb, and Michael Gallup is a big test. In the last matchup, Stephon Gilmore erased Cooper while JC Jackson mirrored Gallup. They won’t be able to do that this year with Gilmore gone. The Pats should utilize a similar game plan as they did against the Bucs with “cat” coverage across the board. Jackson should draw Cooper, Jones on Lamb, while Mills’ return asks him to cover Gallup. It should be a battle on the outside all game long.

Safety Devin McCourty had an extremely rough game against the Texans and a return to the norm for him will go a long way towards the Pats defense having success on Sunday. The safeties will be involved in limiting the suddenly productive Dalton Schultz at tight end. He has become a security blanket for Prescott, seeing seven or more targets in the last three weeks, hauling in six in each of those contests.

Cowboys QB Dak Prescott has been fantastic in his return from a brutal ankle injury last year. To have success against him, the Pats must get pressure while also maintaining containment-something they have struggled with this season. Matt Judon continues to be a force on the outside, leading the league in tackles for loss (8), second in sacks (6.5), and sixth in QB hits (10). He’ll need to be at his best for the Pats to be disruptive here.

Rookie DT Christian Barmore is slowly rounding into form, and while his stat line remains quiet, he’s impacting the game elsewhere. He drew two holding penalties last week while facing the second-most double teams in the NFL. Sacks will eventually come for the talented second-rounder. Jamie Collins quickly reacquainted himself to the New England defense getting a sack in one of his three snaps. He should see more action this week.

Advantage: Dallas Cowboys (but not by as much as expected)

The Cowboys Run the Ball

This is where the game will be decided. The Cowboys are second in the NFL in rushing yards (864) while the Patriots are 15th against the run. The Patriots run defense comes as a surprise as they’ve been a sieve against the run thus far. The good news? Dont’a Hightower is rounding into form, playing his best game on Sunday. Hightower had five tackles, including four run stuffs. Hightower rounding into his normal disruptive forms will help immensely in steadying this defense down the stretch.

Thumper Ja’Wuan Bentley’s return will also boost the Pats’ run defense but expect to see some matchup utilization out of the Pats’ linebacking corps. With Elliot and his bruising running style on the field, expect Hightower and Bentley to man the middle. When the Cowboys deploy change of pace back Tony Pollard, Van Noy should draw the card and see some playing time.

The Cowboys no longer have All-Pros all along the offensive line but do have a sturdy group that can do the necessary dirty work. The Patriots’ defensive line doesn’t need to blow up every play but they must slow the offensive linemen from getting upfield. If the d-line can keep the linebackers clean, expect the Pats to be stingy.

They must also be disciplined in staying in their run fits to contain Dak and the designed QB runs and from keeping Dak from pulling it on an option read and skirting around the edge. The Pats won’t be able to completely stop the Cowboys running game but must contain it and limit the damage.

Advantage: Dallas Cowboys

Special Teams

The Cowboys have attempted only four kickoff returns this season, good for second least in the NFL. The Pats should try to take advantage of the lack of experience with a few kickoffs short of the goal line. The same goes for the Cowboys in the punt return game, only attempting five here as well. The Cowboys have struggled in the kicking game going 9/11 in field goals and 17/19 on PAT’s. The Pats would be wise to have the Cowboys going into the open end of the stadium in the fourth quarter in case it comes down to a field goal.

For the Patriots, Nick Folk has been incredibly consistent since joining the Pats last year and has continued to be this year. His four made field goals last week, including two from 50+ earned him AFC Special Teams Player of the Week honors. Folk now joins Stephen Gostowski as the only Patriots kickers to make two 50+ field goals in one game. It was also his third time as a Patriot with four made field goals in a game. And in a “brag about your kicker” kind of way, he’s second in the league in points scored.

Belichick’s affection for special teams is well known and the mismatch here might allow for the Pats to steal a possession or get some very important hidden yards.

Advantage: New England Patriots

Coaching

The stuff of legends: Mike McCarthy vs. Bill Belichick. Just kidding. McCarthy was scared to answer questions from Boston Media on Wednesday for fear of Belichick gaining valuable information. While McCarthy isn’t a rookie coach, he has been prone to making rookie decisions. His decision-making process for going for two or going for it on fourth down is not based on analytics or old-school football knowledge but more in a “well why not now?” sort of way. As we saw last week, some coaches can’t help but get out of their own way against Belichick. There should be a couple of situations that fall into this category on Sunday.

Advantage: New England Patriots

Prediction

Despite obvious concerns regarding the New England Patriots, it feels like a “trap game” for Dallas. Essentially, the Pats will do just enough to get an ugly, if not signature win. Mac Jones has been steadily progressing and may be on the verge of putting it all together. Hightower rounding into form with the talent of Judon, Van Noy, and Collins will assist a typical Patriots defense while Belichick shows that the Texans game was a mere blip on the radar (he was honestly extremely proud of the teams’ effort last week, something that hasn’t been making the national media rounds).

A loss on Sunday would drop the Pats to 0-4 at home this season, something that feels unprecedented. The offensive line keeps Mac mostly clean while the defensive game plan reverts to the old bend-but-don’t-break.

Pats win 26-24