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Dallas Cowboys vs San Francisco 49ers: 4 bold predictions for NFC Divisional playoff game

Another chapter of the storied rivalry between the Cowboys and 49ers unfolds on Sunday.

San Francisco 49ers
Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

The San Francisco 49ers will renew their longtime rivalry with the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday at Levi’s Stadium for the ripe opportunity to advance to the NFC Championship game.

To the surprise of likely no one, it sure didn’t take all that long to rekindle the ever-ready fire between these two rabid fan bases.

In fact, as soon as the clock hit zero in Tampa following the Cowboys’ dominant win over the Buccaneers, ticket prices skyrocketed nearly instantaneously. According to ESPN reporter Nick Wagoner, the prices went up 85 percent after Dallas notched its first playoff victory on the road in 30 years.

It’s even gotten to the point that at least one 49ers season ticket holder has decided to test just how deep this passionate fandom runs, putting their tickets up for sale on StubHub at a whopping $55,505 each.

That’s all fine and great for the NFL, as well as for FOX executives who likely did a spirited tap dance knowing that any Cowboys-49ers game — let alone one with extremely high stakes — will do monster numbers in the ratings.

But with all the bells and whistles heading into the game, including endless montages of both past and recent history, the most significant thing is what happens between the lines. That’s exactly what we are here to talk about.

The ‘Niners are currently the favorites, but not by much, and that’s probably because there are a whole lot of things hanging in the air that not even Vegas can comfortably predict.

So with all of that said, let’s dive into four bold predictions for the NFC Divisional playoff matchup between the San Francisco 49ers and the Dallas Cowboys.

Micah Parsons wreaks havoc on 49ers’ right tackle Mike McGlinchey

Dallas Cowboys
Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

There’s little doubt that Cowboys All-Pro linebacker Micah Parsons will be seen lining up all over the place come Sunday in Santa Clara. The ridiculous versatility of Parsons, the man responsible for 26.5 sacks over his first two NFL seasons, lends itself to having this rare convenience of allowing Dallas defensive coordinator Dan Quinn being able to pick his spots for Parsons when dialing up a scheme for opposing offenses.

But in this particular case, the 49ers have their own convenience in being able to line up Trent Williams — arguably the top left tackle in the NFL — on that side of the line.

The right side of the line, however, is a vastly different story.

To put it succinctly, right tackle Mike McGlinchey tends to be inconsistent. And when he makes a mistake, like a false start, by all accounts it quickly becomes a mental game and he often carries it with him to the next play, and possibly throughout the course of a game.

The five-year veteran out of Notre Dame probably takes more heat from 49ers fans than he deserves. But it’s a pretty tough gig whenever you have a guy like Williams, who is likely headed to the Hall of Fame, lining up on the other side.

Having said that, the Cowboys making a point to pounce on McGlinchey and test him early — specifically with Parsons — seems to be a no-brainer.

If the 49ers force their hand by predominantly focusing on a variety of schemes from the left side with the 18-wheeler that is Trent Williams leading the imposing charge, Parsons will have to adjust.

While adjustments from both sides will be essential in this chess match, even when you throw in the factor of rookie quarterback Brock Purdy’s innate ability to move around the pocket and extend plays, it would be surprising if Parsons doesn’t get to him at least a couple of times.

A talent like Parsons will always be difficult for any offensive line to shut down completely, so Purdy should be prepared to see some disruptive output from him one way or another.

Presuming that reality, ball security would be a wise thing for Purdy to prioritize.

Christian McCaffrey runs and catches his way to two TDs

San Francisco 49ers
Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

When it comes to the 49ers’ offense, there are very few football film room junkies who would even attempt to underscore the amount of talent surrounding Purdy at every key play-making position.

We have said it time and again, but having a traditional running back in Elijah Mitchell paired with a true wide receiver like Brandon Aiyuk while being able to throw in the Swiss Army Knife duo of Deebo Samuel and Christian McCaffrey wherever head coach Kyle Shanahan pleases is more than enough to drive any defensive coordinator bonkers.

Given CMC’s workload since arriving in San Francisco, save for just 10 carries against the Cardinals, his usage on Sunday should be high and the versatile star will probably be targeted more frequently in the passing game as well.

The 49ers are facing a supremely talented Cowboys defense and one would assume they’re all well-versed on this topic by now, so an uptick in catches for McCaffrey would hardly be surprising assuming the ideal outcome is to continually keep the Dallas defense off-balance and in a constant state of confusion by way of Shanahan’s signature use of misdirection.

If it’s not McCaffrey, it will be Samuel doing the damage. And if it’s not Samuel, it will be George Kittle. And on and on we go with which player on the 49ers’ offense ends up eating the most.

49ers’ defense forces Dak Prescott into a fumble and an interception

Dallas Cowboys
Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

The 49ers’ defense led the NFL regular season with a +13 turnover differential, snatching away 20 interceptions and recovering 10 fumbles.

While Cowboys star quarterback Dak Prescott did have an exceptional game to send Tom Brady directly to the golf course — or perhaps to happy hour in Thailand with old buddy Kliff Kingsbury — he has been in a rut when it comes to turnovers lately, tossing eight interceptions over the Cowboys’ last six games.

Three of them happened to go the other way in the form of a pick-six. With defensive back Charvarius Ward looking to make a major rebound after a rough experience covering DK Metcalf last Saturday, he may just be the guy to lure Prescott into a mistake.

In regard to fumbling the ball, Prescott only gave up the ball twice this season, but San Francisco’s defense has a knack for forcing fumbles when quarterbacks linger around the pocket a little too long.

Since Prescott tends to do that very thing — and it’s exactly what we saw happen to an indecisive Geno Smith in the 49ers’ 41-23 opening-round win — don’t be shocked if Nick Bosa, Arik Armstead, or someone else on that tireless defensive line manages to come up with a fumble recovery.

Tony Pollard’s unique skillset will see success and lead to a touchdown

Dallas Cowboys
Credit: Raymond Carlin III-USA TODAY Sports

One of the unsung heroes of the Dallas Cowboys 2022 campaign has been running back Tony Pollard, who is probably most celebrated in fantasy football circles due to his ability to thrive in not only the running game but the passing game as well.

That aspect of Pollard’s unique skillset has become the perfect yin to Zeke Elliott’s yang.

While Elliott also possesses the ability to catch short passes and create for himself, he’s more of a traditional running back in addition to being an outstanding blocker. So he’ll absolutely get his touches as he always has, it’s just that Zeke doesn’t necessarily bring the same level of unpredictability to an opposing defense that Pollard has exhibited throughout the course of the season.

Stopping the run along with limiting the YAC from the ‘backs is a likely lock to be near the top of the “to-do” list for the game plan of 49ers defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans. So it’s probably a safe bet that Ryans, All-Pro Fred Warner, and the rest of San Francisco’s deep linebacking corps have zeroed in on Pollard and watched a boatload of game film, seeking ways to reduce his impact.

Sure, some might call Pollard a boom-or-bust player. And that could be true, but with recency bias in play — 15 carries for 77 yards and four catches against Tampa Bay — the 25-year-old running back is looking a lot like the X-factor when it comes to the success of the Cowboys offense on Sunday.

Prediction

The sense is that San Francisco’s diverse set of offensive weapons and ability to seemingly run the ball as they please will eventually punish a tired Cowboys’ defense into submission. Similarly, the 49ers’ defense has the ability to wear down an offensive line and by doing so, create turnovers. When it comes down to it, turnovers are everything in playoff football and that’s what will likely tip the scales in this one. It’s a tough call when the Cowboys’ bizarre “Jekyll and Hyde” act is taken into consideration. But due to that very factor and with Dallas being on the road in a hostile environment, the official call here is 49ers 34, Cowboys 20.