The Dallas Cowboys (4-5, 1-2) return home to Arlington to host the Cleveland Browns (2-7, 0-4) in an exciting AFC North vs. NFC East matchup. Both teams have fallen short of expectations to this point and it appears to be yet another disappointing season for the team from Cleveland.
After starting out with a season-opening upset over the defending Super Bowl Champions, the Cowboys have went just 3-5, winning just one of three home games so far. The Browns are winless on the road.
Dallas’ running game has been slowed due to a lingering foot injury sustained by DeMarco Murray but have a dynamic back in Felix Jones to make up for it. Cleveland has trouble with running backs like Jones, who have the quickness to cutback against their defensive front and gash into the second level for intermediate to big gains.
If the Browns are served a heavy dose of Jones, they’ll be susceptible in the secondary with a unit that has given up close to 250 yards per game. However, they’ve improved remarkably after the return of Joe Haden from a four-game suspension in Week 6.
Where: Cowboys Stadium, Arlington, Texas
When: Sunday, Nov. 18 at 1:00 p.m. ET
Live Stream: N/A
Betting Line: Dallas (-8), according to Bovada
Dallas Cowboys Injury Report via CBS Sports (as of Nov. 13)
WR Dez Bryant
LB Dan Connor
CB Mike Jenkins
DB Matt Johnson
RB Felix Jones
DE Sean Lissemore
RB DeMarco Murray
DT Jay Ratliff
Cleveland Browns Injury Report via CBS Sports (as of Nov. 13)
WR Josh Cooper
DB Tashaun Gipson
DB Dimitri Patterson
DT Ahtyba Rubin
What's at Stake?
The 4-5 Cowboys are still legitimately in the running for the NFC East crown after collapses by both the Washington Redskins and Philadelphia Eagles in recent weeks. New York has also lost its last two games convincingly and is struggling to do much offensively. If Dallas can swing the upset, it can pull within one game of the division-leading Giants who have the week off.
For Cleveland, it has struggled as a result of youth and inexperience but have put together a competitive resume against a pretty challenging schedule to this point. While not mathematically eliminated from playoff contention, the Browns basically already are looking ahead to next season. Barring the winning every remaining game of the season, Cleveland is playing for evaluation of its talent and for pride at this point.
Cleveland RB Trent Richardson
The Cowboys are right around in the middle of the league when it comes to fantasy points surrendered to opposing running backs (18th most). On the flip side, they’ve been much stingier on opposing quarterbacks wide receivers. That doesn’t bode well for rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden and his average group of targets.
Your best bet if you’re going to play a Browns player this week would be to employ Trent Richardson with confidence. Cleveland is coming off of a bye week and is in desperate need of a road win. The only way they go into Dallas and accomplish that is by riding the hand of Richardson all day.
Dallas WR Dez Bryant
With two potent wide receivers in Miles Austin and Dez Bryant, the Browns won’t have the luxury of strapping top cornerback Joe Haden to Bryant for the afternoon. Even if they do, Haden’s been beaten at times and isn’t a sure-thing fantasy doom for your fantasy matchup.
Cleveland’s pass rush is improving, but there are still gaps in the secondary. The Browns will need to play a great game, one of their best, in order to keep a talent like Bryant quiet for an entire four quarters.
What They're Saying
Early in the week there were rumblings about outgoing Browns President Mike Holmgren’s desire to coach in Dallas following the end of his term in Cleveland. Those notions were dismissed by Holmgren himself, according to Marty Gitlin of CBSSports.com, as well as by Cowboys’ owner Jerry Jones who expressed a vote of confidence in current head coach Jason Garrett.
Cleveland’s defensive line has been banged up this season. It’s forced mid-to-late round picks Billy Winn and John Hughes into starting positions. The youngsters have held their own and their experience will definitely help bolster the depth of this unit.
With Phil Taylor back from the PUP list, the team’s other starting tackle Ahtyba Rubin hopes to be ready to play this week against Dallas, according to Daryl Ruiter of 92.3 The Fan in Cleveland.
Darren Rovell of ESPN’s sports business department posted (via Twitter) an “old school” T-shirt the Cowboys are marketing in anticipation for this weekend’s matchup.
The Cowboys are selling a T-shirt marketing this weekend's matchup against the 2-7 Browns twitpic.com/bcow0y— darren rovell (@darrenrovell) November 12, 2012
Key Matchup: Ball security
Cleveland’s defense gives up yards, there’s no denying that. It ranks in the bottom third of the league in both rushing and passing yards per game given up. That makes ball security imperative for Tony Romo and the Cowboys. If they can avoid the costly mistakes and finish drives, they’ll be able to score and win.
Both teams have a positive turnover ratio. Cleveland is 13th in the NFL with a plus-one ratio while the Cowboys are 10th with a plus-four mark.
If Cleveland can win the turnover battle, it still faces an uphill battle. If the Browns lose it, however, it’ll likely kill any chances they have to coming out with a win in this one.
Dallas boasts a pretty stout defense that’s run by former Browns defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. Personnel has completely changed in Cleveland, so there is no familiarity advantage for either side. Still, the Cowboys defense has undergone some significant injuries and may be without their first and second string middle linebacker if Dan Connor is unable to go again this week (Sean Lee is out for the season).
If that Cowboys' defensive front cannot contain Richardson, it’ll be a long day for the ‘Boys. At the same time, Romo is going to have to be on top of his game and not make costly makes against an opportunistic Browns secondary. He should be able to keep his team on track as they have a lot more riding on this one than the Browns do. There isn’t a huge talent gap, but the Cowboys hold an edge and will likely do enough to win at home in this one.
Cowboys 23, Browns 17
Mike Hoag Jr. is a Breaking News Team writer and NFL featured columnist for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: