The Dallas Cowboys aren't supposed to have trouble at home against a two-win Cleveland Browns team, especially with all Dallas has to play for and considering how much momentum the Cowboys have. But Cleveland's coming off a bye week and has actually won two of its last four games (same as Dallas).
And we've learned with the Cowboys over the years that it's rarely a walk in the park when it's supposed to be. The Cowboys would be making a big mistake if they were to overlook Cleveland.
Here's my final preview of the matchup, along with a prediction.
What Dallas must do to win, offensive edition
Just avoid the mistakes that cost you so dearly earlier in the season. The Cowboys haven't turned it over in back-to-back weeks after averaging nearly three turnovers a game to start the year. If they don't turn it over, I can't see them losing to an inferior Browns team.
What Dallas must do to win, defensive edition
Don't let the very talented but inconsistent Trent Richardson expose your short-handed run defense. In other words, the Cowboys have to force Brandon Weeden to beat them.
How Dallas can lose
It's all about that turnover battle on both sides of the ball. That's the main way in which a favorite like the Cowboys can blow this thing at home.
Five most important non-quarterbacks
DeMarcus Ware, Anthony Spencer, Dez Bryant, Miles Austin, Mackenzy Bernadeau
Ware is a key cog every week, but Spencer is the hottest defender on the team and the Cowboys need him to perform well as both a complement to Ware as well as in run defense with Sean Lee out. Bryant and Austin will be crucial if the 'Boys are going to continue the recent trend of taking more shots downfield. And then there's Bernadeau, who needs to perform well as a run blocker for Dallas to establish balance, especially if they're lacking DeMarco Murray and/or Phil Costa.
Injury analysis, Cowboys edition
They're without Lee for good and probably shouldn't expect to get anything from DeMarco Murray this week, but at least they're going to get Dan Connor back. The run defense will get a boost with that, but with Murray likely to sit and both centers Ryan Cook and Phil Costa hurting, the running game could take a hit.
Injury analysis, Browns edition
Cleveland might not be getting nickel cornerback Dimitri Patterson back just yet, and fellow corners Joe Haden and Buster Skrine are less than 100 percent, too. That's great for the Dallas defense, as is the fact Ahtyba Rubin's still dealing with a calf injury. This Cleveland defense is a mess. Only the 'Boys can beat themselves when on offense.
B/R NFC East Blog prediction
This is the kind of game I'd expect the Cowboys to blow right when they're back in contention, but I believe this offense is about to explode, and the D should feast against Cleveland. The Cowboys won't choke...yet.
Cowboys 30, Browns 13