NFC Wild-card playoffs
SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (10-6) at DALLAS COWBOYS (10-6)
Saturday 5:15 p.m., AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas
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TV: Ch. 13 v Radio: 710-AM, 97.3-FM.
Line: Cowboys by 2.
The series: Dallas leads the all-time regular-season series 10-9, but Seattle has won the last three meetings while holding the Cowboys to 12, 13 and 13 points. These teams met in the playoffs in January 2007 in Seattle. Tony Romo dropped a snap on a field-goal try late that would have won the game. The Seahawks advanced instead with a 21-20 victory.
Run Carson to set up Wilson’s finish: Everybody that wears a helmet knows the Seahawks will send lead back Chris Carson inside on power runs early and often, to give Seattle’s offensive line a better chance against Dallas’ pass rush later in the game. That’s how Russell Wilson threw a team-record 35 TD passes, tied for third-most in the NFL, while throwing it less than any other starting quarterback. Quietly, the Seahawks believe they have a decisive advantage in poise, experience and performing in the clutch with Wilson against Dallas’ Dak Prescott. Carson’s effectiveness early would make that edge apply late in what should be a low-scoring, tense game.
Zap Zeke, without tricks: In the last couple meetings, when Prescott didn’t have a deep-threat receiver, Seattle could afford to put a strong safety and maybe more nearer the line to defend against Ezekiel Elliott’s runs. Since the Cowboys traded for game-breaking receiver Amari Cooper in October, the Seahawks can’t afford to get too tricky in run defense at the expense of covering Cooper down the field. Base defense — specifically with tackle Jarran Reed, end Frank Clark and linebackers Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright — needs to keep Elliott in better check than the 127 yards and 8 yards per carry he got in September.
Playoff vets rising to shine: Wilson, of course, isn’t the only Seahawks with extensive Super Bowl and playoff experience. Wide receiver Doug Baldwin and Wright, the most-tenured players on the team as 2011 arrivals, plus Wagner, center Justin Britt and left guard J.R. Sweezy have all also played in two Super Bowls and five postseasons. Sweezy (sprained foot arch) is a game-time decision to play, but given his career revival as a Pro Bowl alternate after two lost seasons with Tampa Bay Seahawks trainers may have to nail him to the sideline bench to keep him off the field. Prescott has not won a playoff game and only played in one. Jason Garrett has one playoff victory in his eight seasons coaching the Cowboys. Playoff experience matters in preparation, and when the games get tightest.
The pick: Carson and Elliott’s constant running early set up Wilson and Prescott for a late-game pass-off. And Wilson in the fourth quarter of a playoff game versus Prescott proves decisive. Seahawks 20, Cowboys 16.
No. Name Pos. Ht. Wt. Year
32 Chris Carson RB 5-11 222 second
How he runs is how the offense goes the rest of most games. Have to keep Dallas pass rush honest, off Wilson
3 Russell Wilson QB 5-11 215 seventh
He’s usually best when it’s most tense. Team-record 35 TD passes despite throwing it less than anyone else.
30 Bradley McDougald SS 6-1 215 sixth
Most underrated key player to Seattle’s defense. Huge jobs to tackle Elliott, stay home to help on Cooper--and crossing routes underneath him.
No. Name Pos. Ht. Wt. Year
21 Ezekiel Elliott RB 6-0 225 third
Dallas will pound him to set up Prescott better to throw, just like Seattle does with Carson for Wilson
52 Connor Williams LG 6-5 296 rookie
Likely to play with starter Xavier Su’a-Filo doubtful. Williams started 10 games earlier this season. Seattle DT Jarran Reed will be a huge test.
19 Amari Cooper WR 6-1 2111 fourth
Trade from Oakland has made Prescott, Dallas’ entire offense more dangerous. Dallas will use him all over: slot, outside, crossing patterns, fly routes.