The Dallas Cowboys and Pittsburgh Steelers are fighting for their playoff lives this week, which means stakes are high in Big D.
With an old cross-conference rival coming to Cowboys Stadium and playoff implications on the line, this game is sure to have a gritty throwback feel to it.
Both teams are in prime position to either win their division or secure a wild card position sitting at 7-6. In order to better the chances of either those scenarios happening, however, these squads both realize that this is indeed a must-win scenario.
Where: Cowboys Stadium, Arlington, Texas
When: Sunday, Dec. 16 at 4:25 p.m. ET
Live Stream: NFL Sunday Ticket
Radio: KTXX-FM (Dallas) or WDVE-FM (Pittsburgh)
Betting Line: Pittsburgh (-1), according to Bet Online
Injury Report (Via CBS Sports)
*As of 12/11/12
WR Emmanuel Sanders, Shoulder
CB Ike Taylor, Ankle
LB LaMarr Woodley, Ankle
WR Dez Bryant, Finger
CB Morris Claiborne, Face
S Charlie Peprah, Foot
NT Jay Ratliff, Groin
What's At Stake?
In the immortal words of Jim Mora Sr., "playoffs!" The Cowboys are continuing to fight to disprove the old stigma that they can't win in December. The Steelers are trying to rally behind the return of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and make their way into the postseason.
The Steelers are two games out from the No. 1 spot in the AFC North division and have two more division battles before the regular season ends. Pittsburgh split its two meetings with current division leader Baltimore, so it'll be a battle of who has the best record to capture the crown.
The Cowboys are just one game behind the NFC East-leading Giants but are also tied with the Redskins for the division's second spot. Dallas needs to win in order to keep pace with Washington and better the chances of jumping New York for the top rank in the east.
Pittsburgh Steelers: WR Mike Wallace
Wallace has been a rather large disappointment this fantasy season, but when Big Ben returned, so did his No. 1 receiver's numbers.
Roethlisberger is fully aware of Wallace's big-play abilities and made him his go-to target in Week 14 against San Diego. Wallace recorded six catches for 112 yards and two touchdowns in his team's loss to the Chargers.
He's a risky play in what is likely many managers' postseason matchups, but the fact that Roethlisberger is back makes him much more playable. Wallace's owners drafted him because he's the Steelers' premier deep threat, and that hasn't changed despite his lackluster numbers.
Dallas Cowboys: RB DeMarco Murray
With Bryant not at 100 percent and head coach Jason Garrett's recommitment to the running game, Murray is a fine start this week.
The Cowboys' No. 1 running back hasn't had a 100-yard rushing game since returning from injury which is slightly disappointing. However, he has posted a touchdown in each of his last two games which makes up for his lack of rushing yards.
If you've kept an eye on Dallas throughout this season, it's easy to see the team's offense is far more balanced with Murray in the backfield. Garrett wants to get the ball into Murray's hands far more than he does Felix Jones', and that should result in a touchdown this week.
The Steelers do own the NFL's fifth-best rushing defense, which will likely keep Murray's yard total down again this week, but he'll make up for it by sneaking into the end zone.
What They Are Saying
Scout.com's Mike Fisher is reporting that Bryant has decided to play despite likely needing surgery on his finger. Dallas' No. 88 told the website "It would take more than this to take me out. No way. They'd have to break my leg to keep me out."
It appears that the Cowboys will indeed have their explosive wide receiver available for this crucial contest.
"Looking ahead at Dallas, is about Tony Romo and the quality of the pass catchers he has to throw to" Coach Tomlin— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) December 11, 2012
Key Matchup: Dallas passing attack vs. Pittsburgh secondary
The Cowboys have one of the most high-profile passing attack's in the league, yet they have struggled to put up points early with those players.
Quarterback Tony Romo's unit hasn't scored more than a field goal in the first quarter of their last three games. Dallas will have Romo slinging the football to Bryant, Miles Austin and Jason Witten early and often to better ensure a win over one of the team's oldest rivals.
The Steelers do own the NFL's best passing defense, so it won't be an easy task to accomplish. Still, the Cowboys will need to overcome more than a few tasks to reach the postseason. Pittsburgh's stout defense is on that list of obstacles to overcome on that road to the playoffs.
The Steelers are the healthier team and have the better defense, but Dallas' offense will come through in this contest for its home crowd.
This is a team that has found out what it takes to win in the month of December and now has a running game to keep the offense balanced. Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan will be able to put just as stingy a game plan together as Dick LeBeau, which will leave this game to be decided by which offense can move the chains more.
Both teams need this win, but Dallas has been on an upward trend whereas its opponent have been the opposite recently. The Cowboys will keep their recent winning ways alive this Sunday and get a much needed victory.
Prediction: Cowboys 28, Steelers 26