The NFC playoffs will get underway with a primetime matchup between the Dallas Cowboys and Seattle Seahawks. Kickoff is set for 8:15 EST on Saturday, January 5, at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. The game can be seen nationally on Fox.
The Cowboys are listed as 2.5-point favorites at home. The over/under for the game is set at 43 points. Click here to check out all of this week’s Wild Card betting lines.
It’s hard to believe that the Cowboys were just 3-5 at the midway point in the season. But following a terrible loss to the Titans on a Monday night, Dallas was able to turn everything around, winning seven of their last eight games to finish 10-6 and win the NFC East title. This will be their third time in the playoffs in the last five years. In their last playoff game, they lost a home game to the Packers despite going 13-3 during the regular season, so there is definitely some pressure on Jason Garrett and company to make the most out of this postseason opportunity.
As for the Seahawks, they were also one of the hottest teams in the NFL during the second half of the season. Seattle won six of their last seven games to finish the season 10-6 and claim the top wild-card spot in the NFC. After a one-year hiatus, the Seahawks are back in the playoffs for the seventh time in Peter Carroll’s nine seasons in Seattle. Carroll is 9-5 in the playoffs with Seattle, including their Super Bowl win. Perhaps more importantly, the Seahawks have won at least one playoff game each time they’ve made the postseason under Carroll.
This game is a rematch of a Week 3 game that the Seahawks won 24-13 at home. Dallas turned the ball over three times in that game, including two interceptions by Dak Prescott. Of course, neither team bears a strong resemblance to the team they were that early in the season. Also, the Cowboys will have the benefit of home-field advantage this time around.
In many ways, these two teams are mirror images of one another, which should lead to a close game. To me, that gives the edge to the underdog. I also like Carroll’s history of postseason success compared to Garrett, who has never maximized the potential of his teams. I think the Seahawks will find a way to win on the road and advance.
The Seahawks finished the regular season as the best rushing team in the NFL, gaining 160 yards per game. Running the ball effectively is something that all teams must do if they want to win in the playoffs. This isn’t a concern with Seattle, as Chris Carson has rushed for over 100 yards in each of the last three games. That has helped open things up for Russell Wilson, who has six touchdown passes to one interception during that span.
Of course, the Dallas defense is one of the stingiest against the run. The Cowboys limit opposing teams to 3.8 yards per carry, so they won’t make it easy for the Seahawks to control this game with their rushing attack. That being said, the Cowboys were gashed by Saquon Barkley and the Giants on the ground last week. The same is true for their game against the Colts in Week 15. Overall, the Dallas defense has been good this season. But the Cowboys are giving up over 25 points per game over the final four weeks of the season, so that unit isn’t exactly peaking right now.
The good news for the Cowboys is that they are a much different offensively than when they met the Seahawks in Week 3. The mid-season acquisition of Amari Cooper has given the Cowboys a receiver who can’t be defended one-on-one. Just having that kind of threat on the outside has made it easier for Ezekiel Elliott and the running game. Elliott alone gained over 95 yards per game this season, including 127 yards when these teams met earlier this season.
The Seahawks were vulnerable against the run this season, which doesn’t bode well knowing that they have to be concerned about Cooper just as much as Elliott. Seattle also conceded an average of 27 points per game over their final three games of the season. Considering they played both the 49ers and Cardinals during that stretch, there’s some reason to be concerned.
However, one area where Seattle has an advantage that could decide the game is in the turnover department. The Seahawks had the best turnover differential in the NFL this year. Part of that is due to Wilson being able to protect the ball. But it’s also due in part to an opportunistic defense. Prescott, meanwhile, threw seven of his eight interceptions this season in games against playoff teams. Clearly, he’s more turnover-prone against quality teams, and that’s something that can’t be overlooked.
In the end, Seattle’s ability to run the ball and win the turnover battle makes me like them in this matchup. Those are two things teams must do to win playoff games, especially on the road, and Seattle is reliable in both departments. I expect the Cowboys to put themselves in a position to win. However, I think Carroll’s playoff experience will win out in the end and send the Seahawks to the next round.