Dallas Cowboys Micah parsons DMN

Dallas Cowboys outside linebacker Micah Parsons (11) celebrates after sacking Washington Football Team quarterback Taylor Heinicke during a game on Dec. 26.

If a teammate asks Micah Parsons for a nickname, the Cowboys’ rookie, do-everything linebacker has got him covered.

Cornerback Trevon Diggs was seeking a nickname. Parsons told him: “You’re an eagle, bro. You’re in a league of your own. Eagles only fly with other eagles. No other bird can reach their altitude.

“So he’s the eagle, and I’m the lion,” Parsons said.

Sunday afternoon, Parsons, the self-proclaimed lion, and Diggs, the eagle, will face Arizona in a game with playoff seeding implications.

Quarterback Kyler Murray, the high school football legend from Allen, has never lost at AT&T Stadium. He’s 7-0. Undefeated. Undisputed.

His sprite-like abilities have made him difficult to defend, whatever level he’s played at.

Parsons has a nickname for him, too.

“Kyler’s a cheetah,” Parsons said. “The cheetah’s the fastest animal, but I mean a lion doesn’t just go by himself. It’s a lot of lions and lionesses, so if you’ve got a pack of lions then I like the lion over the cheetah any day of the week.”

The Cowboys’ defense has led this team over the last four weeks while the offense dealt with a malaise.

Last Sunday, a four-game win streak was punctuated by a 56-14 smashing of Washington at AT&T Stadium, with the offense and defense contributing to the romp.

In the win streak, the Cowboys’ defense, while playing its best football of the season and maybe in years, faced the following quarterbacks: Taylor Heinicke (twice), Mike Glennon, Jake Fromm, Kyle Allen and Taysom Hill. The defense compiled 12 sacks, 10 interceptions, three defensive touchdowns, 30 quarterback hits, six forced fumbles and 31 pass breakups against these quarterbacks.

Murray is not the type of quarterback the Cowboys have seen the previous four weeks.

He brings something different.

“I think the first thing is the extension of plays that you talk about when you’re facing a quarterback with his escapability,” defensive coordinator Dan Quinn said. “You’re really defending two plays. So, the first one may start in a regular drop-back, and then the second one, if he wants to get outside and we call the word ‘plaster,’ where you have to turn into man-to-man on those moments.”

Coach Mike McCarthy’s description of Murray: “He’s so quick and fast and twitchy with his decision-making. It’s a dynamic offense. It’s definitely a big threat when he comes in here.”

Arizona has its share of problems, however.

After a 7-0 start and hopes of claiming the No. 1 playoff seed, Arizona isn’t even in first place in the NFC West after a three-game losing streak has pushed it a game behind the Los Angeles Rams.

Yes, Arizona has clinched a playoff spot, but that’s the only positive thing it has going currently. If the postseason started today, the Cardinals would be the No. 5 seed and would visit the No. 4 seed, the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers, on wild card weekend.

And much can occur Sunday in terms of playoff seeds and division titles.

The easiest way for the Rams to clinch the NFC West is to beat Baltimore and have Dallas defeat Arizona.

The Cowboys, just a game behind Green Bay for the No. 1 seed, would like to maintain their No. 2 spot. But the Packers would clinch the No. 1 seed in the NFC with a victory over Minnesota and a Dallas loss to Arizona.

“I think this is a week for us to make a statement,” Parsons said. “This is obviously a high-profile team in our conference, a team we could potentially see in a couple weeks. I think we need to make a statement here. These type of games really define how you are going to go. We come out here and do what we are supposed to do, we will put everyone on notice.”

So it’s the cheetah against the lion on Sunday. What a nice way to spend the first Sunday of the New Year.

“It’s January, it’s January football,” McCarthy said. “And these are the kind of games that are a privilege to play in. This is what we’ve been working for since April. That time is upon us. I know to a man, we’re excited about this opportunity. This is an opportunity to get to 12 wins. They’re fighting for advancement in playoff seeds, and it’s no different for us. I think it will be a heck of a contest Sunday.”

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