NFL Sunday Night: Redskins vs Cowboys

by Aaron Fischman
Follow @aaronhartf on Twitter

Sunday Night Football – Redskins and Cowboys

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Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys: for the Playoffs

The winner of the NFC East will be determined by the highly anticipated head-to-head matchup between the Redskins and Cowboys.

The Cowboys’ path to the postseason requires a Sunday night victory. For the Redskins, a loss could still produce a playoff berth if both the Bears and Vikings lose their respective games.

On Thanksgiving, these teams pulled no proverbial punches as the Redskins hung on for a 38-31 victory in a game they led 28-3 at the half. A total of 895 yards were gained by the NFC East foes that evening.

In the four weeks since the Thanksgiving encounter, each team has allowed 350 or more yards on three occasions. Both teams simultaneously have explosive offensive players and defenses that surrender a bunch of yards and points.

Fittingly, not much separates the teams. In more than 10,000 AccuScore simulations, the Redskins won 50.8 percent of the time with each team’s average score hovering around 27 points.

Both teams have very reliable running backs whose preseason expectations could not have been more different. After a successful rookie campaign including a 253-yard game, the Cowboys’ DeMarco Murray was widely labeled the next big thing. Unfortunately, a sprained left foot sidelined him for six games this season. Murray, however, has recovered nicely from the injury, gaining an average of 95 yards from scrimmage each game since his return.

Alfred Morris was drafted in the sixth round and seemingly came out of nowhere to rank fourth in the league in rushing. Morris has not only been a workhorse, but a consistent workhorse racking up 75 rushing yards or more in all but two of his 15 starts. The rookie out of Florida Atlantic seems to be getting better as the year progresses. Over his last four games, Morris is averaging 109 rushing yards and a touchdown per game.

AccuScore projects Morris and Murray to rush for 77 and 75 yards, respectively, while giving Morris a slightly better chance of getting into the end zone (Morris averaged 0.6 touchdowns per simulation, Murray 0.4). Simulations also expect quality performances by the quarterbacks. Tony Romo is projected to throw for 2.2 touchdowns, 0.8 interceptions and nearly 323 yards. Robert Griffin III is expected to throw for nearly 253 yards, 1.8 touchdowns and 0.5 interceptions. In addition, AccuScore projects 58.3 rushing yards for RGIII along with an average of 0.5 rushing touchdowns.

For very different reasons, there is immense pressure on each quarterback to win this game. During Romo’s first six seasons as Dallas’ starting quarterback he only won one playoff game. If Dallas loses Sunday night, the Cowboys will be eliminated from playoff contention with another highly anticipated season culminating in utter disappointment for “America’s Team.” Although Griffin is probably under less pressure than Romo, the home crowd will surely be expecting its prized quarterback to lead the team to the playoffs, a gift fellow rookies Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson have already delivered to their fans.

In Pierre Garcon’s first year with Washington, he’s played well when he’s been healthy. Over his last five games, Garcon has caught 30 the 47 balls thrown in his direction for an average of 85.8 receiving yards per game over that stretch. Make no mistake about it; the Redskins are predominantly a running team. With that said, they can and will go deep with 10 plays of 40 yards or more this season (tied for eighth in the league). AccuScore projects Garcon to haul in nearly six catches for 78.5 yards and 0.7 touchdowns Sunday night.

Romo’s leading receiver is expected to be Dez Bryant with five receptions for 81.4 yards and 0.7 touchdowns. Bryant is nursing a broken index finger on his left hand, but that didn’t stop the third-year receiver from shredding a weak Saints defense for 224 yards and two touchdowns in Week 16. Besides Bryant, Romo will also be looking for Miles Austin and tight end Jason Witten, who are projected to amass a combined 147 yards.

This game could go either way, but I like the Cowboys by a hair. We already know the Redskin secondary can’t stop Romo, but if Dallas can integrate Murray into its offense early and often, the Cowboys will be that much more dangerous. Remember, Murray didn’t play in the first head-to-head meeting. Washington has won six straight and proven that it can win tight games, but Dallas has also won some nail-biters en route to five wins of their last seven. Give me the Cowboys in a 34-31 victory.

If the Cowboys lose, heads will roll. If the Redskins lose and don’t get into the playoffs, D.C. will obviously be disappointed, but two tremendous rookies will have at least transformed a five-win team into a nine-win one. While partisan bickering may go on for the foreseeable future in Washington, the future of football is awfully bright in our nation’s capital.