Yes, somehow, someway, New Orleans is mathematically still alive.
Here’s everything you need to know about what’s sure to be one of the most-anticipated matchups of Week 16.
Where: Cowboys Stadium in Dallas, Texas
When: Sunday, Dec. 23 at 1 p.m. ET
Listen: Sirius XM Radio: 92 or online at Audio Pass
Betting Line: Dallas by 3, according to Bovada
What’s At Stake?
A late vacation.
Both teams still have playoffs on the mind, Dallas more so than New Orleans. The Saints need a miracle of historic proportions to sneak in while the Cowboys control their own destiny.
Saints Injury Report (via ESPN, as of Dec. 18)
Chris Ivory, HB, Questionable
Cowboys Injury Report (via ESPN, as of Dec. 17)
Morris Claiborne (head), CB, Out
Jay Ratliff, DT, Questionable
Dez Bryant (finger), WR, Questionable
Fantasy Start ‘Em, Sit ‘Em and Sleeper
Start: Dez Bryant
Who needs an unfractured finger?
An injured Bryant dodged surgery to catch four balls for 59 yards and a touchdown on Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Against the Saints’ 31st-ranked pass defense, he’ll be in prime position to score in his seventh straight game.
Sit: Both Defenses
Dallas’ defense is mediocre. New Orleans’ is downright pitiful. There’s no reason to sit any offensive player on either side, but on the flip side, both offenses are capable of delivering a point total of zero to your defense.
Sleeper: Mark Ingram
Ingram rushed for 90 yards and a touchdown last week against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Dallas’ front seven has been vulnerable at times this season—allowing 115.2 yards per game—so the former Alabama back could equal his efforts.
What They’re Saying
CBS Sports reported Cowboys’ troubled defensive lineman Josh Brent won’t be watching the game with his teammates on Sunday:
The Cowboys have reportedly booted Josh Brent from their sideline for the rest of the year: cbsprt.co/BrentSideline— CBSSports.com (@CBSSports) December 18, 2012
Jeff Darlington of the NFL Network noted that it has been quite a while since the Saints’ defense shut anyone out:
Do you know when the last time Saints pitched a shutout? 1995. During that game, the Jets benched Boomer Esiason in favor of Bubby Brister.— Jeff Darlington (@JeffDarlington) December 17, 2012
Saints Player to Watch: Darren Sproles
Sproles is the Saints’ X-factor. He’s capable of giving defenses trouble on the ground and as a receiver out of the backfield on top of his punt-returning ability.
He has scored three touchdowns in the past two contests so he’s guaranteed to play a factor on Sunday in one form or another.
Cowboys Player to Watch: Tony Romo
Romo is always the Cowboys’ player to watch.
Fans have been calling for his head throughout the past couple years, but more recently he’s hushed his critics with five wins in Big D’s last six games. This past week against what was the Pittsburgh Steelers’ No. 1 defense in the NFL, Romo completed 30-of-42 passes for 341 yards, two touchdowns and, most importantly, no interceptions.
Key Matchup: Drew Brees vs. Brandon Carr
With the worst defense in the NFL taking the field when he heads to the sideline, Brees is literally New Orleans’ only hope. He’ll be tested on Sunday by Carr, the Cowboys’ best cover corner.
This past offseason, Carr signed on with Dallas as a free agent and his addition has actually made its secondary somewhat respectable. He leads the team with three interceptions and is the Cowboys’ best chance to slow Brees.
On the Hot Seat: Jason Garrett
It’s pretty simple—or at least, it should be: If the Cowboys make the playoffs, Garrett keeps his job.
If they fall short, he gets shown the door.
Now, is that guaranteed to happen? No, you never know with Jerry Jones. But let’s just say that if the Cowboys choke with control of their destiny yet again, there’ll be strong fan support for Sean Payton.
My instant reaction is to predict a Cowboys loss. After all, losing must-win games has become a niche for them over the years.
But in this game, they enter with more momentum and what seems like a hungrier ballclub. And their at home, no less. There, I talked myself into it.
Dallas by 3
David Daniels is a featured columnist at Bleacher Report and a syndicated writer.