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Los Angeles Rams vs. Dallas Cowboys divisional playoff preview: The case of Jared Goff v. Dak Prescott

The two quarterbacks made their professional debuts in a preseason game against each other back in 2016 but have had very different paths to get to Saturday’s game.

Dallas Cowboys v Los Angeles Rams
Jared Goff made his professional debut against the Dallas Cowboys in August 2016. Goff will look to get his first postseason win against the Cowboys on Saturday.
Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

In the 2016 NFL Draft, the Los Angeles Rams and Dallas Cowboys drafted quarterbacks to lead their respective teams for years to come. One quarterback came with expectations that were high and immediate while another was supposed to learn from a veteran presence until their number was called.

August 13, 2016: Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum

Eight months and a day prior to this game, NFL owners settled on a deal to allow the Rams to relocate to Los Angeles, the city they called home from 1946-1994. So in August of 2016, the Rams hosted the Cowboys and owner Jerry Jones, who is largely credited with providing the necessary persuasion among his fellow owners to allow the Rams to relocate, in a relatively meaningless preseason game.

These two teams also featured prominent rookies at quarterback. Rams QB Jared Goff was the top pick in the draft and entered the game as QB Case Keenum’s primary backup. Goff had a lackluster performance, completing 4 of 9 passes while tossing an interception. Lining up under center for the Cowboys was fellow rookie Dak Prescott, a fourth-round pick out of Mississippi St. Prescott went into camp as the third-string quarterback behind Tony Romo and Kellen Moore . Moore broke his ankle in camp elevating Prescott to the QB2 spot. Romo, a veteran and recent injury risk, was inactive for the preseason opener, giving Prescott the start. Prescott looked like a seasoned veteran going 10-12 and throwing a pair of touchdowns. The Rams won the game with a late comeback, 28-24, but Prescott came out of the game with much more praise than his #1 overall counterpart.

2016 season

The 2016 season was a surprising success for the Cowboys, who leaned on Prescott for the entire season when Romo suffered a broken vertebrae in their third preseason game. Prescott led the Cowboys to a 13-3 record and an NFC East title winning offensive rookie of the year for which he and fellow Cowboys rookie RB Ezekiel Elliott combined for 49 of the 50 votes. Their season was cut short in the Divisional Round where they lost to the Green Bay Packers.

Meanwhile, 2016 was rock bottom for a struggling Rams team. Head coach Jeff Fisher was fired mid-season after a 4-9 start. Goff would assume starting duties from Keenum in Week 11, finishing the season 0-7 as a starter and the Rams as a team would finish 4-12. The Rams averaged 14 points per game, the lowest mark in the NFL that season.

October 1, 2017: AT&T Stadium

Week 4 of the 2017 season represented a turning point for the Rams.

The offense was invigorated under new Head Coach Sean McVay, but the Cowboys represented a true test. The Rams entered the game 2-1, but victories against underwhelming Indianapolis Colts and San Francisco 49ers teams weren’t nearly as convincing as a victory against a recognized powerhouse like the Cowboys would be. And after falling behind 24-13 just before halftime, the Rams were tested. After a field goal to close out the half, the Rams outscored the Cowboys 19-6 in the second half. Goff, who was quick to be labeled as a bust from his underwhelming season, threw for 255 yards and 2 touchdowns including a 53-yard pass to RB Todd Gurley for the go-ahead score.

Goff and the Rams came out of that game with a level of legitimacy that the club hadn’t seen in nearly a decade helping them achieve their first playoff berth in 13 years. For the Cowboys, regression from Prescott and the Elliott suspension, which he had appealed into the second half of the season, resulted in the Cowboys finishing the season 9-7, missing the playoffs.

2018 Season

The first half of the 2018 season began to exaggerate the difference between Goff and Prescott’s development even more. The Rams started the season 8-0, with a lot of the praise directed towards Goff. Even as late as Week 11’s Monday Night shootout with the Kansas City Chiefs, Goff carried legitimate MVP consideration. The Cowboys started 3-5, with Prescott averaging a paltry 207 passing yards and throwing only 10 touchdown passes.

While it isn’t exactly clear what happened that led to Goff’s dip in production, it largely coincides with the loss of WR Cooper Kupp to a torn ACL. His most brutal stretch was in Weeks 13-16 during which he threw only 2 touchdown passes in four games as the Rams saw their hopes of home-field advantage slip away. While Goff’s production declined, the Cowboys’ acquisition of WR Amari Cooper seemed to greatly benefit Prescott. The Cowboys would go 7-1 over their last 8 games to take the NFC East. Prescott’s first playoff win last weekend against the Seattle Seahawks has brought them to the Divisional Round for the 2nd time in 3 years.

January 12, 2019: Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum

The next chapter for these two quarterbacks has yet to be written, but a bid for the NFC Championship is on the line. Can Jared Goff return to his MVP-caliber ways from earlier this season, or will the day belong to Dak Prescott and his revitalized offense?

While this is their biggest game to date, these two quarterbacks may be seeing a lot of each other in the coming years.

And for fans of the game, that would seem to be a very good thing.