NFL Week 16: Indianapolis Colts (10-4) at Dallas Cowboys (10-4) matchup focus.

Ah, Week 16. The season is almost over, and the playoff picture is getting clearer by the minute. Okay, so maybe it’s still incredibly muddy, and it could get even muddier before this game officially kicks off. But, It’s been several weeks since I have done a matchup focus, but I felt as if this game deserved one. Okay, so maybe I was writing my predictions, when realizing that my preview for this game was long enough to be its own article. So, here we go. 

The Colts have slowed down lately, despite winning four straight. Since getting embarrassed by the New England Patriots on November 16, barring the Redskins game from three weeks ago, the Colts have put up 23, 25 and 17 points. Those performances came at home against the Jaguars and Texans, and the 25 point output was a come from behind victory over the Cleveland Browns. In those three games, star quarterback Andrew Luck has thrown just five touchdowns to three interceptions.

Meanwhile, the Cowboys have turned the stride after a recent dive. They began the season 6-1, being a top the NFL power rankings on many “expert” lists. They followed up by losing a pair of home games against the Washington Redskins and Arizona Cardinals, and suddenly, people started hating on them again. They won against the Jacksonville Jaguars in London, then won a classic game at New York, but their 33-10 Thanksgiving Day loss to the rival Philadelphia Eagles washed the goodwill away.

Well now, the Cowboys have won two straight road games, at Chicago and against those very same Eagles. They put up a combined 79 points in those games, the offense is rolling, and with Philly’s loss at the Redskins yesterday, a win for the Cowboys today or next week will give them the division.

The problem with this game is that the Cowboys have been subpar at home, not only this season, but ever since Jerry Jones bought that billion dollar wasteland. It’s a great tourist attraction, but as a home stadium, it offers more of a home field opposition than advantage. The Cowboys are 3-4 at home, a vast difference from their unbeaten road record. In fact, they’ve only eclipsed the 17-point mark at home on three occasions, and one required overtime!

The big issue everyone seems to be pointing out for the Cowboys is the health of running back Demarco Murray. Often cited for his injuries, Murray went unscathed all season, until he required hand surgery last Monday. As a result, his playing situation for this game is still in doubt. If he sits, Joseph Randle and Lance Dunbar will have to carry the load. His absence could sink the Cowboys.

However, let’s not act as if the Colts are fully intact as of now. Their most dynamic running back, Ahmad Bradshaw, is out for the season. TY Hilton is continuing to become one of the league’s top 15 receivers, but he may not play today. Defensively, the team’s lone reliable cornerback, Vontae Davis, is also questionable. If he cannot go, Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant could have a field day. Oh, and as I mentioned, Andrew Luck is stumbling.

Truth be told, I have no faith in either squad prevailing in this game. Both are very good, but if recent history matters, the Cowboys should be the team that’s expected to win the game. Why? Because they are facing a squad that they  know how to beat. They won the last time the two sides played in Dallas, winning 21-14 in Romo’s fourth career start, a few months before the Colts eventually won Super Bowl 41.

A few years later, in 2010, the Cowboys forced four Peyton Manning turnovers, returning two for touchdowns. They led 17-0 early in the second quarter, and were up 27-14 after three quarters. Despite blowing both leads and seeing the game tied at 35 after regulation, the Cowboys punted, before picking Manning off for the final time. Over three minutes later, kicker David Buehler nailed a 38-yard field goal, and the Cowboys won 38-35.

What’s most impressive is that tis game took place after Tony Romo’s infamous collarbone injury, in the season which the ‘Boys started 1-7. It was The Cowboys’ third win in four games afterwards, and the fourth game coached by Jason Garrett.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, in a game where both teams feature high-powered offenses and are in a position to do big things in the postseason, there are multiple facets that can help predict this game, regardless of who plays. The Cowboys do well in Week 15, they have a good recent history against this team, and the Colts are not playing their best football. That said, Demarco Murray’s health is still crucial to predicting this game. So, as I have done on very few occasions, here’s a split prediction. If Murray plays, 34-28 Cowboys. No Murray, 27-20 Colts. 

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