Two legitimate NFL MVP candidates, Cowboys RB DeMarco Murray and QB Tony Romo, have been the keys to the first Cowboys playoff appearance since 2009.
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Nothing says “ready for the playoffs” quite like a 42-7 blowout over the AFC South champion Indianapolis Colts – a blowout so bad the Colts had to bench star QB Andrew Luck in the 3rd quarter after going up 35-0. The Dallas Cowboys with QB Tony Romo, RB DeMarco Murray, WR Dez Bryant and TE Jason Witten have created one of the premier Superbowl contenders and could even clinch a first round bye with a win over Washington and losses by the Seahawks and Detroit Lions. And with a 7-0 record on the road – one of those wins over the defending Superbowl champion Seattle Seahawks – the Cowboys will be the most dangerous team in the playoffs regardless of where they play.
Here are the five biggest winners from Week 16 of the NFL season:
New England Patriots – The Patriots managed to escape nemesis Rex Ryan and his aggressive defense en route to a guaranteed 1st round bye. And with big changes likely to come to the Jets, Dolphins and Bills in the upcoming season, the Patriots still have several years left of legitimate Superbowl contention.
Dallas Cowboys – The Seahawks better hope for a Cowboys win and a Lions loss. Because the Cowboys are far more dangerous on the road than they are at home, which could prove dangerous for the Seahawks if they have to welcome back the same Cowboys team that beat them earlier in the year.
Detroit Lions – The old Lions under Jim Schwartz or the countless head coaches before him would have squandered these last few games, but the Detroit Lions under Jim Caldwell are one win away from an NFC North title, and are already in the playoffs. That defense will take the Lions places for years to come – provided they can find a suitable replacement for DT Ndamukong Suh at year’s end.
Seattle Seahawks – As expected the Seahawks managed to pull the NFC West rug out from under the Cardinals and are now one win away from clinching the NFC West title and homefield advantage throughout the playoffs. RB Marshawn Lynch and QB Russell Wilson are getting hot late in the season – and just in time for the playoffs, when the running game becomes especially important.
Atlanta Falcons and Carolina Panthers – These two teams get lumped together. The Panthers have gone from a 6-game losing streak to a win-and-in scenario, while the Atlanta Falcons have managed to stay in contention despite a 1-9 record outside the NFC South division. In any other year both of these teams would be picking in the top 15 in the NFL draft, but this year one of them gets to host a playoff game.