I decided to change it up this week. Instead of focusing on five key matchups across the NFL landscape, like I usually do in this space, I'm going to focus all of my attention on the winner-take-all, NFC East battle between the Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins.
Here are five intriguing matchups to follow:
Dez Bryant vs. DeAngelo Hall
Bryant has put together an outstanding season for the Cowboys with 88 catches for 1,311 yards and 12 touchdowns. He's been on a tear lately, hauling in 10 touchdowns in his past seven games. Bryant enjoyed his biggest game of the year last week against the New Orleans Saints, racking up 224 receiving yards and two touchdowns. Over the course of the season, his explosiveness after the catch has turned several short Tony Romo passes into long touchdowns.
Edge: Bryant. Despite a Dallas loss in the Thanksgiving Day meeting between these two teams, the Cowboys' young wide receiver put up big numbers, catching eight balls for 145 yards and two touchdowns. I expect a similar performance in the rematch.
DeMarco Murray vs. London Fletcher
Murray didn't play in the Week 12 bout between these two teams. The Cowboys' offense has been more balanced and productive since Murray returned from a six-game injury absence. He runs extremely hard and is capable of popping a big gainer at any time. Murray's ability to accumulate positive yards on first down will be a huge key for the Cowboys' offensive attack on Sunday evening.
Fletcher is about as reliable and dependable as any player in the National Football League. The 37-year-old veteran shows no signs of slowing down, and his production is outstanding. He's tallied 128 tackles and picked off five passes through the first 15 games of the season. His instincts and ability to tackle in space are both exceptional.
Pierre Garcon vs. Morris Claiborne
Garcon missed a lot of time in the first half of the season, but since his return in Week 11, the Redskins haven't lost a single game. He is the perfect complement to Santana Moss. Not only does he have the strength to work in the middle of the field, but he's also a dynamic runner after the catch. He had a solid game in the first meeting between these two teams, catching four balls for 86 yards and a touchdown.
Claiborne has had an up-and-down rookie season. The former LSU star has an ideal skill set for the position; he's long, athletic and runs well. The one area he must improve in is his ball reaction down the field. At times, the talented rookie panics and grabs his man instead of locating and attacking the football.
Edge: Garcon. This is a matchup the Redskins will look to exploit early and often Sunday night. Garcon's combination of speed, strength and savvy will present a very difficult challenge for Claiborne.
Trent Williams vs. DeMarcus Ware
Williams has shown this season why the Redskins snatched him up with the No. 4 overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft. He's been outstanding as both a power run blocker and finesse pass protector. On Wednesday, Williams earned a Pro Bowl invitation, and it should be the first of many. He is one of the NFL's few offensive tackles who have the quickness to handle a player of Ware's caliber.
Ware is no doubt a future Hall of Famer. Despite battling nagging injuries this season, he's still managed to rack up 11.5 sacks. The eighth-year pro plays with tremendous effort from snap to whistle on every down; he sets the tempo for the Dallas defense. This week provides a very difficult challenge for Ware, as he must deal with both a talented offensive tackle and an elusive quarterback.
Edge: Williams. I'd give the nod to a healthy Ware, but that's not what he is at the moment. Bothersome elbow and shoulder injuries have limited Ware to just two sacks in his past six games.
Kyle Shanahan vs. Rob Ryan
Shanahan clearly got the better of Ryan in the first meeting this season. The Redskins' offensive coordinator designed a creative game plan that produced 437 total yards and 38 points. He was able to get RG3 into a rhythm early in the game, and the talented rookie finished the contest with 304 passing yards and four touchdowns. With Griffin's mobility somewhat limited following a recent knee injury, Shanahan won't be able to dial up as many quarterback runs on Sunday evening.
Ryan's loud personality and sideline antics always attract a lot of media attention. As a defensive coordinator, he has produced just one top-10 defense during his career. This Cowboys unit is currently ranked 19th in total defense. Ryan loves to utilize creative blitzes to generate pressure on opposing quarterbacks, but the results haven't materialized this season. The Cowboys are tied for 17th in sacks; just three other teams have produced fewer turnovers.
Edge: Shanahan. The Redskins' offensive coordinator dominated this matchup in the first meeting, and I'm giving him the edge in the rematch.