A storied history: Pros and cons of 49ers renewing playoff rivalry with Cowboys
Another 49ers-Cowboys playoff matchup is all set for those storied franchises, with each desperately seeking its first Super Bowl championship since their 1990s battles.
The No. 2-seed 49ers (14-4) will host Sunday’s divisional-round game at 3:30 p.m.
The No. 5 Cowboys (13-5) advanced with Monday night’s 31-14, wild-card win over seven-time champion Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who were the No. 4 seed but also 2 ½-point underdogs.
At stake Sunday is a spot in the NFC Championship Game on Jan. 29, and, ultimately, the chance to win what would be either franchise’s sixth Lombardi Trophy on Feb. 12 in Glendale, Ariz.
The 49ers’ last Super Bowl win came in the 1994 season, after they knocked off the two-time reigning champion Cowboys 38-28 for the NFC Championship. The Cowboys rebounded to win the next season’s Super Bowl, and they haven’t been back on that stage since then.
The Cowboys’ first road playoff win since January 1993 at Candlestick Park finally came on Monday. A year ago to the day, the Cowboys lost 23-17 in the wild-card round at home — to the 49ers.
“They took us out last year. We know what we have ahead of us,” Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott said after Monday’s win on ESPN.
The 49ers are riding an 11-game win streak, which they extended with Saturday’s 41-23 wild-card win at home against the Seattle Seahawks.
Here are the pros and cons of a rematch, from the 49ers’ perspective:
1. LINE SHUFFLE: Left tackle Jason Peters left the Cowboys’ win before halftime because of a hip injury, and that could intensify the 49ers’ pass rush from Nick Bosa (NFL sack king), Charles Omenihu (two sacks Saturday), Arik Armstead, Jordan Willis and others. Do the Cowboys keep Tyler Smith as Peters’ replacement,
or shift Tyron Smith back there from right tackle? Regardless, it’s not a healthy line, not to mention center Tyler Biadasz is battling through a recent high-ankle sprain.
2. KICKER DIFFERENCE: Brett Maher missed four point-after kicks Monday night for the Cowboys, who surely will look for an upgrade this week. In stark contrast, the 49ers’ Robbie Gould has been historically automatic in 14 career playoff games, making all 25 of his fieldgoal attempts and 37 point-after kicks.
3. HOME-FIELD ADVANTAGE: Not only do the 49ers get the benefit of an extra day of rest and no travel, they get to play on a home field where they’ve won 13 of their past 14 appearances. This will be the Cowboys’ fourth straight game on the road since Dec. 29; they’re 5-4 away from AT&T Stadium, 8-1 at home. Of course, the 49ers Faithful gladly will recall home playoff wins over the Cowboys en route to the franchise’s first Super Bowl crown (1981 season) and their last one (1994).
1. DEFENSIVE MOMENTUM: As prolific as the 49ers have become in scoring over 30 points (eight times in this 11game win streak), it will take a dominant defense to stop them. Could that defense be the one that smothered Brady and the Bucs? Micah Parsons limped off the field just before halftime but otherwise served as a menace all game. Defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, who got his NFL coaching start with the 49ers 20 years ago, is expected to interview for the Denver Broncos’ head-coaching post on Friday, a day after 49ers counterpart DeMeco Ryans. Parsons and other defensive starters stayed in to finish off Monday night’s rout, which may be ill-advised when they need to keep up Sunday with the 49ers’ fresher legs.
2. RED-HOT DAK: Dak Prescott opened with three incompletions on Monday night’s three-andout opener, then caught fire in “the best game of his career,” ex-Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman said on ESPN’s broadcast. Prescott avoided his regular-season penchant of throwing interceptions (NFL-high 15) and instead spun four touchdown passes and totaled 305 yards for a 143.3 passer rating. Tight end Dalton Schultz had two touchdown catches, and the 49ers have struggled at times this season against quality tight ends. Prescott could look to him again while the Niners’ cornerbacks focus on CeeDee Lamb and Michael Gallop, each of whom had a touchdown against the Bucs.
3. RUSHING THREAT: Tony Pollard has burst, and he has a Pro Bowl spot that the 49ers believe should have gone to Christian McCaffrey. Pollard and Ezekiel Elliott form a 1-2 punch, one that the 49ers shut down to the tune of 57 yards on 16 carries in last season’s playoff game. That Cowboys’ duo combined for over 100 yards before the fourth quarter Monday night. Prescott ran for a fourthand-goal touchdown to remind everyone of his mobile capabilities, though his scramble and slide ate up the final seconds of last year’s playoff loss to the 49ers. Although these 49ers had the NFL’s No. 2-ranked run defense in the regular season, they gave up 54 yards to Kenneth Walker III before halftime Saturday, they looked vulnerable two weeks earlier against the Raiders, and they give up lanes to mobile quarterbacks.