On the surface, Sunday’s matchup between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Dallas Cowboys is a juicy one, rife with playoff implications, featuring two of the premiere franchises in the National Football League.
As a diehard football fan, that’s enough to get me excited.
But, if you dig a little deeper, you’ll find that Sunday’s game is a microcosm of the NFL’s most underrated rivalry.
That ratchets up the excitement to another level.
It’s just like the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Dallas Cowboys to meet in a critical game. Throughout their history, you can make the argument that no two teams have played in more important contests, as they’re the only teams to play each other in three Super Bowls.
Despite the ridiculously-even nature of the series—both teams have won 15 games apiece—the Steelers have won more when it’s mattered, winning two of the three Super Bowl meetings with Dallas.
The Steelers have won both times this millennium, including a come-from-behind 20-13 victory in 2008 that both contributed to Dallas missing the playoffs and catapulted the Steelers towards their sixth Lombardi Trophy.
One pair is ticketed for the Hall of Fame. The other wakes up in the middle of the night sweating profusely, having had nightmares about fourth-quarter clock management.
With the history being what it is, and the coach and quarterback for both teams being who they are, this should be an easy call.
I’m here to tell you it isn’t. Throw history out the window.
The Dallas Cowboys have the upper hand going into Sunday’s game, and they will defeat the Pittsburgh Steelers.
To any lifelong fan of the National Football League, the thought of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Dallas Cowboys locking horns sends shivers down the spine.
They have a combined 11 (six for Pittsburgh, five for Dallas) Super Bowl championships.
They have a combined 37 (25 for Pittsburgh, 12 for Dallas) Hall of Fame inductees.
Think about some of the luminaries involved: from quarterbacks Terry Bradshaw, Roger Staubach and Troy Aikman to skill players Lynn Swann, John Stallworth, Franco Harris, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin to coaches Chuck Noll and Tom Landry.
Few teams have the national appeal of the Steelers and Cowboys. It’s why you see so many terrible towels at opposing stadiums, why the sea of blue stars is so prevalent on the road.
It’s what makes every contest between the two teams even more special than otherwise.
Recently, there’s been a role reversal between the two franchises.
In the last two weeks, the Cowboys have saved their season, winning in come-from-behind fashion against the Eagles and Bengals. Last Sunday, Dallas showed the kind of moxie that few thought it had, when it erased a nine-point, fourth-quarter deficit, to beat Cincinnati, 20-19.
As for the Steelers, they’re coming off one of the worst losses of the Tomlin era, an inexcusable 34-24 home defeat to Norv Turner and the San Diego Chargers, who are playing out the string before their inevitable organizational upheaval.
When it comes to Sunday’s game, the stakes are equally colossal for both teams.
For the Steelers, a Week 16 matchup against the Bengals looms large. Pittsburgh can make a statement to the rest of the league that it's still a force to be reckoned with, and capable of making a run at its seventh Super Bowl title.
If the Cowboys are able to vanquish their rivals on Sunday, it would prove to me that they’re capable of both qualifying for the tournament and potentially winning games in January once they get there.
Unbelievably, it’s Dallas who has all the mojo right now. Its win in Cincinnati was beyond impressive. It’s the kind of game that the Cowboys always lose. Either Jason Garrett mismanages the clock, or Tony Romo throws a crippling interception.
Neither happened in Cincinnati.
Romo didn’t throw an interception. Garrett didn’t have a grotesque coaching error.
Perhaps the biggest reason for the Cowboys' recent fortunes has been the return of DeMarco Murray.
Murray has done wonders for the Cowboys offense. His mere presence takes some of the pressure off Romo’s shoulders. Murray’s first-down run towards the end of the game against the Bengals was the most important play of the day, setting the Cowboys up in position for Dan Bailey to win it.
I expect Murray to keep the Steelers defense honest, allowing Romo to find playmakers Jason Witten, Dez Bryant and Miles Austin.
As for the Steelers, I’m worried that the loss to San Diego was the start of something troubling. You just don’t see Pittsburgh lose games like that, not with Mike Tomlin and Ben Roethlisberger employed.
The Cowboys have the momentum. The Steelers have the history.
On Sunday, momentum wins out.
The Dallas Cowboys will defeat the Pittsburgh Steelers.
After the game, we’ll have more memories to add to this rivalry, one of the very best in NFL history.
For this football fan, there’s nothing better.
Nick Kostos is the executive producer of the "SiriusXM Blitz," hosted by Rich Gannon and Adam Schein, on SiriusXM NFL Radio. You can follow Nick on Twitter.