Written by: Joe Carlino
Previous Matchup: Seattle and Dallas met in Week Three, with the Seahawks forcing three turnovers in a 24-13 victory. Earl Thomas intercepted Dak Prescott twice, including a very impressive one where he pinned it against his lower leg, and Ezekiel Elliott was also stripped on a run deep into Seattle territory. Russell Wilson had 192 yards and 2 TDs on the day, giving the “12th Man” a great show. This will be Seattle’s first trip to Dallas since last season, when they effectively eliminated the Cowboys from playoff contention. Now the true test comes into play: eliminating the Cowboys in their house in the postseason.
Offense: The Seahawks offense has quietly been one of the more dominant offenses in the league, and it starts with Russell Wilson. Coming off a year where his line played terrible and he accounted for 97% of the team’s total touchdowns, he finally has a competent offense that can play to his skills. He finished the year with just under 3,500 passing yards, but he also had 35 touchdowns on 427 attempts, the fewest in the Super Bowl era. Around him, Chris Carson has slowly become the back the organization has wanted since losing Marshawn Lynch to retirement (and later, Oakland), being a major factor in the team averaging 160.0 YPG on the ground. and Doug Baldwin still has that drive and passion to get some of the most contested passes in the league to fall in favor of the Seahawks. The offensive line is also benefiting from the unison, as they haven’t been giving Wilson as much pressure like they did last year, which is a great plus with a mobile quarterback.
Dak Prescott was named the 18th-best quarterback by PFF this season, which is right near the middle of the pack, but an improvement from midseason when he was ranked 25th in the league. He averages 221.1 YPG in the air, but also adds 19.1 YPG on the ground. However, he has been sacked the second-most times in the league, primarily because he holds onto the ball too long. Of course, his success is not without the help of Ezekiel Elliott, who averages 95.6 YPG on the ground and was also the league leading rusher this year with 1,434 yards. His help in the backfield opens up more lanes for Prescott, and with the midseason acquisition of Amari Cooper, the offense just seems to keep on humming. And their guys up front are still one of, if not the best, group of interior linemen in the game today, so you know the opportunities to make big plays happen will be seen.
To most individuals, this game has two offenses which are just too close to call a definitive advantage for. Those people would be right, because both teams rely on establishing the running game to open up more zone-reads and play action passes to keep the defense off guard. Russell Wilson can do just about anything with the football in his hand, and he’s much more of an opposing force than Prescott is. But, it will come down to the boys in the trenches to really set the tone, and despite some injuries to key players, Dallas just has a more imposing core. Both teams are even in offensive terms.
Defense: Seattle had the 16th-best defense in the league this year, giving up 353.3 YPG in their campaign. Bobby Wagner still is the best coverage linebacker in the game today, and he has had to endure a heavier workload since Earl Thomas went down. Tre Flowers has been a good corner this year, finishing with 67 tackles to go along with Bradley McDougald’s 78. Shaquill Griffin also was a good threat in the secondary, so look for him to have some chances to make some plays. Up front, Frank Clark and Jarran Reed combined for 24.5 sacks this season, and the team’s 43 was good for 11th-best.
Dallas has the seventh-best defense in the NFL, surrendering only 329.3 YPG to their opponents. Up front, Demarcus Lawrence has proven his value after a 14.5-sack season last year with another 10.5, demonstrating why the Cowboys can’t let him walk. Along with that, the Cowboys have a great linebacker duo in Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch, who consistently play sideline to sideline and are key in stopping big plays from happening over the middle. Smith was never supposed to play football again following a nasty knee injury, but still has the speed which made him a second-round pick. And Vander Esch, who many critiqued the selection back around draft day has risen so high on the defensive boards, people are impressed. His 140 tackles led the team and were third in the NFL behind Blake Martinez (144) and DROY-frontrunner Darius Leonard (163). Sure, the secondary is still a little suspect, but when they’re holding opposing offenses to 234.7 YPG, something must have been done right.
The Cowboys have the better defense in this contest, and it is because they have a dominant front seven which can attack any team’s best players and essentially nullify them. Not only that, but the Seahawks don’t have much in the pass rushing attack, and Earl Thomas is still on IR and basically on his way out. Because of this, I have more confidence in Dallas’s D than I do with Seattle, because their defense isn’t as intimidating as it once was.
Special Teams: Sebastian Janikowski still kicking in this league proves why his dedication towards success is so paramount in the kicking game. For the Cowboys, Brett Maher has done roughly the same amount of big plays Janikowski has made in his life, including a 62-yarder just last month. Because teams now are ok with leaving it up to the kicker’s leg to send them into the next round, one would think the wily veteran is the safer choice. But to me, these two teams don’t have that Adam Vinateri-like kicker where you know it’s basically an automatic make.
Coaching: Pete Carroll has proven himself this season in the face of major adversity from losing Richard Sherman and having the whole Earl Thomas debacle play throughout the early part of this year. Jason Garrett, however, still can’t win when all the chips are down, which puts him in such a major predicament to win this game. The last time they made the playoffs, they lost to Aaron Rodgers despite putting up 31 points. Because Carroll has done more of what it takes to win in the postseason, he gets the nudge over Jerry’s disciple.
Prediction: There’s always one game in wildcard weekend where it’s just too close to call, or the possibility of an upset has the greatest chance. For me, this is the game of the week with said probability, and it will be close. It’s almost a foregone conclusion though that the winner of this game will have to travel to New Orleans next week, so after this thrilling matchup, they get to play arguably the Super Bowl favorite in round 2. I’d like to see Dallas win and allow the Saints to get revenge from the Thursday night debacle, but it won’t happen, because Seattle is hot, and it’s not easy to cool that team down. Seattle wins by five points, setting up a date with the Saints.
Seattle 29, Dallas 24