Wild-card weekend is finally here. The Dallas Cowboys, champions of the NFC East Division, host the Seattle Seahawks on Saturday night (7:15 p.m., Fox) in a rematch of a Week 3 meeting that Seattle, the host then, won 24-13. How different will the result be this time around? Our panel of experts make their picks for the NFC playoff opener.
Do the Cowboys owe the Seahawks one because of their regular-season loss in Seattle, or that playoff defeat there 12 years ago in their only postseason meeting? Regardless, the Cowboys need revenge and should get it. While both teams were very good in the second half of the season, the Cowboys’ offensive strength (Ezekiel Elliott) fits like a glove against a defense that was 30th in average against the run (4.9 yards). That should allow Dallas to find balance and prevail in a tough-to-score game. Cowboys 20, Seahawks 12.
This marks the third time the teams have faced each other in 19 games. The last two encounters have not been kind to Dallas. Seattle’s defense has forced six turnovers and limited the Cowboys to a total of 25 points. Why should this game be any different? Well, the Seahawks have lost safety Earl Thomas and the Cowboys have added Amari Cooper since their last meeting. And this game it is at AT&T Stadium, where the Cowboys are 7-1 this season. Cowboys 23, Seahawks 17.
Both team enter the playoffs riding hot streaks. The Cowboys have won seven of their last eight games and the Seahawks have won six of their last seven. But Seattle actually has the better rushing team with a quarterback in Russell Wilson who has won a Super Bowl and is 4-1 against Dallas. Also, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll has never lost his first playoff game in his six previous postseason appearances leading Seattle. Cowboys coach Jason Garrett, meanwhile, is 1-2 in the postseason. The Cowboys are a young and rising team, but with little playoff experience. That will be the difference in the end. Seahawks 24, Cowboys 20.
It’s awfully hard to pick against Pete Carroll and Russell Wilson in the postseason. The two reasons I’m doing it, anyway: Amari Cooper and the Cowboys’ run defense. The Dallas receiver is due for a big day after three quiet games, and he should have one-on-one looks against Seattle. The Seahawks lead the league in rushing, but Rod Marinelli’s group has the talent to limit RB Chris Carson. Jason Garrett gets his second-ever playoff win. Cowboys 21, Seahawks 20.
Like the Cowboys, everything for the Seahawks starts with their rushing attack. Led by Chris Carson, Seattle averaged an NFL-best 160 yards per game on the ground. Dallas has been very good at stopping the run, especially at home. In eight games at AT&T Stadium, Cowboys opponents are averaging 70.3 rushing yards per game. The only team to go over 100: Tennessee, the Cowboys’ only home loss. The Seahawks won’t get to 100. Cowboys 20, Seahawks 17.
A lot has happened since the Cowboys lost to Seattle in the fall. Leighton Vander Esch. Marc Colombo. Xavier Su’a-Filo. Michael Gallup. Amari Cooper. Blake Jarwin. Each has made a significant impact since that miserable loss. Seattle has gotten better, too, but it won’t reap the advantage of its considerable 12th man. The Cowboys have created their own home-field advantage this year. Another thing in their favor: They don’t have to beat the Seahawks twice. Cowboys 21, Seahawks 17.
The improvisation of Seattle’s offense is problematic for all of its opponents. Losers of the last three head-to-head matchups, the Cowboys know firsthand the types of challenges the Seahawks bring to the table. Dallas is a different team at home, but Seattle’s offensive and defensive schemes have given the Cowboys fits. The Cowboys’ last victory against the Seahawks came in 2014. Seattle won the only postseason meeting between the clubs. This weekend, I expect the Seahawks to improve to 2-0 against the Cowboys in the playoffs. Seahawks 21, Cowboys 17.
Brett Maher’s shaky performance the past four games (5 for 8, including misses of 28 and 34 yards) is a significant Cowboys concern entering a game that probably will be decided by a handful of plays. Ultimately, though, Dallas’ defense and regained home-field swagger (7-1 this season vs. 3-5 last year) will tilt the game in the Cowboys’ favor. Cowboys 28, Seahawks 24.