Wildcard Matchup Preview: San Francisco 49ers at Dallas Cowboys

by Jonathan Lange · Matchups Start/Sit

It’s Wildcard Weekend in the NFL, and this matchup has my nostalgia cranked up all the way with these two storied franchises. It hasn’t always been pretty for both of these teams since the mid-90’s, but thankfully we have two talent-rich squads with incredible athletes performing at the absolute highest level. The last time the Dallas Cowboys were in the playoffs was in 2018, where ironically they played two NFC West teams (Rams and Seahawks). The 49ers’ last playoff appearance was in 2019 where they lost to Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs in the Super Bowl. For those doing a fantasy football playoff contest, or even a few DFS contests this weekend, this game will contain two explosive offenses ready to score at will. Let’s take our first look with the number three seed, the Dallas Cowboys!

Dak in the Saddle Again

Dak Prescott‘s 2021 season started out with such a face-melting pace, we forget he was the was the number one overall quarterback in Fantasy Points per Game (27.9 FPPG). This season he finished No. 10 overall among quarterbacks. His game this season has been more measured since the defense has vastly improved with the play off Micah Parsons and Trevon Diggs. He also has the ability to make tight throws when he has to, which is reflected by his 54 mph (37th-percentile) Throw Velocity, comparable to Justin Herbert.

The Dallas offense was in a bit of a rut between Weeks 13-15 where the combined TD:INT ratio was (3 TD:3 INT). Now they have bounced back with three strong performances reflected by Prescott’s combined TD:INT ratio (12 TD:0 INT) over the last three games. Now unfortunately, the Cowboys did lose a piece of fire power late in the season when Michael Gallup went down with an ACL injury. Luckily for Dallas, there are plenty other options available to catch passes.

Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper

With CeeDee Lamb being the No. 1 receiver, we can make the case that Amari Cooper could be the most talented No. 2 on any offense in the NFL. His 10.69 (97th-percentile) Agility Score compares to Tyreek Hill, but fortunately for Cooper, he has Lamb there to take coverage away from him. Not many offenses have two alpha profile wide receivers that can take over at any given moment. The Cowboys rank No.6 in Team Pass Plays Per Game, which is indicative of the trust the coaching staff has with the pass catchers and Dak. Even though Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard are recovering from injury, they can still contribute to the offense to create a win, but it’s appearing as if the wide receivers will be doing most of the heavy lifting.


Cedrick Wilson will be thrust in to replace the number three, and he could make a splash play or two which he has done before in games. When I was navigating through the data of these offenses, a metric that I couldn’t shake was this: Wilson has a 137.46 QB Rating when targeted, above Ja’Marr Chase and Cooper Kupp. While Wilson doesn’t see the volume those guys see; when he does get passes thrown his way, he makes it count. One final note: to see the best of the best going against each other, might I suggest focusing on the offensive line to watch Nick Bosa face off against Tyron Smith? A top ten pass rusher against a top ten offensive tackle will be a sight to see.

Brandon Aiyuk-en

The first two months of the NFL season with Brandon Aiyuk were troublesome to say the least. He had one game with more than 50 Air Yards by Week 8, and crazy theories were being floated around; it was odd to see such a talented player go away so quietly without injury or clear explanation. Fortunately, he righted whatever wrongs there may have been, and it’s been a joy to see him produce on the field.

Aiyuk’s 132.0 (92nd-percentile) Burst Score compares with future NFL Hall of Famer Andre Johnson (132.3). He’s third in line behind George Kittle and Deebo Samuel, yet he can still stuff the stat sheet with numbers. They may look to incorporate a quick passing attack to protect Jimmy Garoppolo and his injured hand, similar to what they did against the Rams, and Ayuik can benefit from that.

Then There’s Deebo

This year, the offense has gone completely unhinged with Deebo Samuel, giving him 59 carries this season. For context, the wide receiver second in carries? Rondale Moore, with only 18.


Samuel also finished with 21.1 (No. 3) Fantasy Points Per Game. He makes plays happen, and honestly, the Dallas defense cannot simply assign a corner to him and wish him well. It’s going to be a fantastic battle to see Micah Parsons going up against Deebo, and the game may hinge on which one of those two can make more plays. Lastly, with the 49ers using a limited Garoppolo, we saw Jauan Jennings have his best game yet this year, turning seven targets into six catches for ninety-four yards and two touchdowns.

Even if Dallas is somehow able to contain all three of the receivers, they still have to deal with George Kittle, who is No. 1 among tight ends in Production Premium. Elijah Mitchell has that explosiveness that Kyle Shanahan loves to see out of the backfield, with a 127.8 (88th-percentile) Burst Score and 107.3 (86th-percentile) Speed Score. This feisty Dallas defense will certainly have its hands full!

Final Thoughts

This game is shaping up with many matchups to watch: Parsons vs. Samuel; Aiyuk vs. Diggs; Smith vs. Bosa; I could keep going on, but we all know this is the beauty of playoff football: great teams, loaded rosters, both teams playing well and ending the season with a win. The powers-that-be in Vegas have given San Francisco three points, so Dallas is the favorite. Last week I predicted that Garoppolo would struggle and it would cause the 49ers to lose the game, but they were able to pull out the victory in overtime with a short passing attack to protect the offense. We will see that same offensive approach by San Francisco, but unfortunately, I have not learned my lesson. Cowboys win, 27-20. Enjoy playoff weekend!