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2023 NFL Season, Week 17: Four things to watch for in Lions-Cowboys on Saturday night

Detroit Lions
2023 · 11-4-0
Dallas Cowboys
2023 · 10-5-0
  • WHERE: AT&T Stadium (Arlington, Texas)
  • WHEN: 8:15 p.m. ET | ESPN, ESPN 2, ABC, ESPN+, ESPN Deportes, NFL+

The final Saturday NFL game of 2023 is a matchup featuring two NFC playoff-bound teams in the Detroit Lions and Dallas Cowboys.

Detroit (11-4) is coming off a 30-24 win over the Vikings and clinched the NFC North, winning its first division title since 1993. Head coach Dan Campbell has turned around the organization since he was hired three seasons ago. 

Campbell's squad has seen contributions from four rookies, who have been critical on both sides of the ball for Detroit. Running back Jahmyr Gibbs and tight end Sam LaPorta are safety blankets for Jared Goff, while linebacker Jack Campbell and safety Brian Branch are difference makers on defense along with Aidan Hutchinson

If the Lions win out their last two games, Detroit is guaranteed at least the NFC’s No. 2 seed, per NFL Research.

Saturday’s matchup does have playoff seeding in play with Dallas (10-5). The Cowboys currently sit at the No. 5 seed in the NFC playoff picture, trailing behind the Philadelphia Eagles (11-4) in the NFC East. Despite two straight losses, Dallas secured a playoff berth in Week 15. 

This season, Dak Prescott and the Cowboys have a 7-0 record at home. Dallas has taken care of business at AT&T Stadium, scoring a league best 39.9 points per game and a 10-plus turnover differential at home. 

With a victory on Saturday, the Cowboys will extend the NFC East title fight for one more week.

Here are four things to watch for when the Lions visit the Cowboys on Saturday night:

1. Can Dak Prescott and the offense get back on track at home? After going on a five-game winning streak, the Cowboys have dropped their last two games (at Buffalo and at Miami). During Dallas' win streak, the offense averaged 40.2 points per game and 437.4 total yards. The last two weeks, it's been a struggling unit. Mike McCarthy's offense has averaged 15 points per game and 267 total yards. With Dallas hosting a Detroit defense that has allowed 23.7 points per game, it's an opportunity to turn things around. Despite the recent struggles, Prescott's push as an MVP candidate could unfold in the final two regular season games. In 2023, the Cowboys QB currently leads the league with 30 pass touchdowns, throwing for 3,892 yards and seven interceptions. No. 1 receiver CeeDee Lamb has reaped the benefits from Prescott's play. Lamb, who ranks second with 1,424 receiving yards, has been a reliable option along with Brandin Cooks and tight end Jake Ferguson. The Cowboys have a chance to maintain a perfect home record against the visiting Lions on Saturday.

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2. Jared Goff is finding his groove at the right time. The Lions are trending in the right direction in December, with a 3-1 record and an average of 35 points in their three wins. Heading into the matchup against Prescott, Goff is 3-2 in his career when the QBs go head-to-head. Those matchups go back to when Goff was with the Rams. Goff's play has been consistent, completing 67.7 percent of his passes (on pace for a career-best), throwing for 3,984 yards, 27 TDs and 10 INTs. Amon-Ra St. Brown has had his best season as a pro. The third-year wideout has career-highs in receiving yards (1,281) and receiving TDs (8). However, Dallas is one of the top defenses when it comes to disrupting the quarterback. Micah Parsons, who's been one of the top pass rushers in the league, is half a sack away from 40 in his career Thanks to Parsons' ability to smoother QBs, Dallas ranks No. 1 in pressure rate (43.4%), per Next Gen Stats. If Goff's offensive line can keep Parsons away and DaRon Bland can't force a turnover, Detroit has a chance to rise in the NFC standings to solidify potentially another home playoff game in the Divisional Round.

3. Tony Pollard needs to find his footing in the run game. The Cowboys moved on from long-time running back Ezekiel Elliott this past offseason to make Pollard the true No. 1 RB. The 26-year-old back has been up and down as the lead back behind the high-paid Cowboys offensive line. Coming off a Pro Bowl season, Pollard has only rushed for 100-plus yards once this season, dating back to Week 3. Backup RB Rico Dowdle, who is dealing with an injury, was ruled out for Saturday's game. Pollard could be a workhorse against the Lions' top-five rushing defense. When given a workload this season, Pollard has put up numbers of an RB1. The Cowboys have a 7-1 record when Pollard has 16-plus touches in games this season. Pollard won't likely get all the snaps in the backfield against the Lions, but if given the green light, expect the Cowboys RB to get more touches than the last two weeks with Dowdle out.

4. A true one-two-punch RB duo forming in Detroit. The combination of rookie running back Jahmyr Gibbs and veteran David Montgomery has been a nightmare for opposing defensive coordinators to game plan for. Heading into Week 17, Gibbs and Montgomery are the only RB teammate duo to have 1,000-plus scrimmage yards this season, per NFL Research. Gibbs leads all rookies with nine rushing touchdowns, while Montgomery ranks in the top 10 with 11 scrimmage touchdowns. Since Week 15, the Cowboys have allowed an average of 178.5 rushing yards per game to their opponents, which ranks 30th in the league. During that span, Detroit has averaged 141.7 rushing yards (third in the NFL). Gibbs hasn't been the only rookie to contribute on offense in Detroit. Sam LaPorta leads all tight ends with nine receiving TDs. He ranks top five among tight ends in receptions (74) and receiving yards (776). In the last couple of games, Detroit rookies have stepped up and delivered results, and Campbell will rely on Goff to continue the trend on the road.

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