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Cowboys vs Seahawks Preview

2006/07 NFL Playoffs
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NFL Playoff Preview - Can Seahawks Carry Winning Mojo Into Postseason?
by: MySportsbook.com

(My Sportsbook) - Both the Seattle Seahawks and Dallas Cowboys enter their NFC Wild Card matchup standing on shaky ground.

One of the enigmatic clubs will finally crumble under the weight of unrealized expectations on Saturday night at Qwest Field. The other will carry some new- found momentum into the Divisional Playoff round.

The reigning NFC champion Seahawks claimed their third consecutive West division title in 2006, but did so in less-than-impressive fashion while playing in what was arguably the league's worst division. Amid extended injury-related absences of key performers like quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, running back Shaun Alexander, and wideout Darrell Jackson, Seattle defeated just one team all season that would finish with a winning record.

The Seahawks avoided carrying a four-game losing streak into the postseason by getting by four-win Tampa Bay (23-7) last Sunday.

Dallas encountered a similar up-and-down regular season, and heads to the Emerald City in an indisputable valley. The Cowboys were 8-4 and had a two- game lead in the NFC East following a win at the New York Giants on Dec. 3rd, but lost three of their last four games (all at home) to slip behind the streaking Philadelphia Eagles in the division.

Bill Parcells' squad gave up an average of 33 points per contest during its concluding four-game stretch, with the most recent indignity coming in the form of a 39-31 loss to the woeful Detroit Lions at Texas Stadium last Sunday.

On Saturday, Dallas will be seeking its first postseason victory since 1996, with the franchise's current nine-season playoff winless streak marking the longest such stretch in the 46-year history of the organization.

SERIES HISTORY

Dallas leads the all-time series with Seattle, 6-4, but was a 13-10 road loser when the teams last met, in Week 7 of last season. The Cowboys won the previous meeting, a 43-39 Monday night thriller at Qwest Field during the 2004 campaign.

The teams have never faced one another in the postseason.

Parcells is 5-5 in his career against the Seahawks, and had a four-game winning streak against Seattle snapped last season. Parcells is 1-1 against the Hawks since taking over in Dallas in 2003.

Seattle's Mike Holmgren has an extensive history with the Cowboys, holding a 4-8 record against them, including a 1-7 mark while with the Packers from 1992 through 1998. That record includes losses for the Pack in NFC Divisional Playoffs following the 1993 and 1994 seasons, as well as a setback in the 1995 NFC Championship.

Parcells is 3-2 in his career against Holmgren, but significantly, the loss came for his Patriots against Holmgren's Packers in Super Bowl XXXI.

COWBOYS OFFENSE VS. SEAHAWKS DEFENSE

The first playoff start in the career of Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo (2903 passing yards, 19 TD, 13 INT) will be among the top storylines in Seattle on Saturday night, as the young signal-caller comes in on the heels of 10 starts that were alternately dazzling and confounding. Romo went 6-4 in those first 10 NFL starts, earning a Pro Bowl citation on the strength of five wins in his first six outings, but looking a bit like Cinderella at midnight in three of the last four. Romo has five games with a passer rating of 100 or better, but has also thrown an interception in five consecutive contests. Though the Eastern Illinois' product's presence has meant more good than bad for wideouts Terrell Owens (85 receptions, 13 TD) and Terry Glenn (70 receptions, 6 TD), who each logged over 1,000 receiving yards in 2006, both players made public complaints about the team's offensive direction during the final month. Owens has a touchdown catch in four straight games, and recorded his third 100-yard day of the season against Detroit. Glenn also went over 100 yards in a losing effort last Sunday. Tight end Jason Witten (64 receptions, 1 TD) has posted at least three receptions in all but one game this year. The Dallas offensive line has had its problems this season, surrendering 37 sacks during the campaign.

The Seattle secondary is being held up with sticks and glue as the playoffs begin. One week after cornerback Marcus Trufant suffered a high ankle sprain that likely ended his season, the team's other starting CB, Kelly Herndon, was lost for the year with a broken ankle sustained against Tampa Bay. One of his potential replacements, Jimmy Williams, suffered a torn ACL that will render him unavailable for the postseason as well. For a team that ranked near the bottom of the league in interceptions (12) and passing touchdowns allowed (23), the fact that rookie Kelly Jennings (40 tackles, 1 INT) and converted backup safety Jordan Babineaux (55 tackles, 1 INT) will be matching up with Owens and Glenn this week is disturbing indeed. Safeties Ken Hamlin (96 tackles, 3 INT, 2 sacks) and Michael Boulware (39 tackles, 2 INT) will have to lend plenty of support, and a pass rush led by outside linebacker Julian Peterson (10 sacks) will have to place the requisite pressure on Romo. Peterson leads Seattle in sacks, but had just two during the second half of the season. Ends Grant Wistrom (37 tackles, 4 sacks) and Bryce Fisher (46 tackles, 4 sacks) both had quiet years.

In order to make a deep playoff run, the Cowboys are going to require a contribution from a ground game that has often been invisible over the past month. Julius Jones (1084 rushing yards, 4 TD) went over the 1,000-yard mark for the first time in his career in 2006, but has rushed for more than 40 yards just once in his last six starts. Jones carried just 10 times for 27 yards against the Lions last Sunday, and failed to score a touchdown for the eighth time in nine games. Backup Marion Barber III (654 rushing yards, 23 receptions, 16 TD) has been slightly more productive as a scorer, but has himself averaged just 19 rushing yards per game during Dallas' 1-3 stretch. The Cowboys finished the regular season ranked 13th in NFL rushing offense (121 yards per game).

The Seahawks were 22nd in the league against the run (126.8 yards per game) during the regular year, but have more stability in the front seven than in the secondary. Middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu (122 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 1 INT) is headed to the Pro Bowl, as is outside man Peterson (89 tackles, 1 INT), and second-year-pro LeRoy Hill (92 tackles, 2 sacks) was a consistent playmaker as well. Interior line staples Rocky Bernard (35 tackles, 3.5 sacks) and Chartric Darby (37 tackles, 3.5 sacks) have the capability of defending both the run and pass.

SEAHAWKS OFFENSE VS. COWBOYS DEFENSE

Hasselbeck (2442 passing yards, 18 TD, 15 INT) has had a difficult year, just one season removed from making his second Pro Bowl appearance and leading Seattle to its first trip to the Super Bowl. The ninth-year-pro finished with a mediocre 76.0 passer rating in 2006, after leading the NFC with a 98.2 mark a year ago, and has posted a rating of better than 60.0 just twice since returning from a sprained knee in late November. One of those performances came last week, when Hasselbeck completed 17-of-29 passes for 216 yards with a touchdown and zero turnovers against Tampa Bay. The Boston College product will get a break if No. 1 wideout Darrell Jackson (63 receptions, 10 TD) returns on Saturday. Jackson has missed the last three games with a case of turf toe, and is considered questionable for Dallas. Deion Branch (53 receptions, 4 TD) will make his first postseason appearance as a Seahawk, and will be in search of a fifth 100-yard playoff game. D.J. Hackett (45 receptions, 4 TD) has been Seattle's most consistent pass-catcher over the last month, with 19 receptions, 291 yards, and two touchdowns in his past four games combined. Tight end Jerramy Stevens (22 receptions, 4 TD) and veteran Bobby Engram (24 receptions, 1 TD) should also play a role. The battered Seattle line has allowed 49 sacks on the year, more than any other 2006 playoff team.

Hasselbeck could have a field day attacking a Dallas pass defense that has been terrible over the past month. Cornerbacks Anthony Henry (81 tackles, 2 INT) and Terence Newman (63 tackles, 1 INT) deserve some of the responsibility for that showing, but safeties Roy Williams (62 tackles, 5 INT) and Pat Watkins (36 tackles, 3 INT) have truly been the weak links. Last week, the group allowed Detroit quarterback Jon Kitna to torch them for 306 yards and four touchdowns on 28-of-42 passing. Watkins had the secondary's lone highlight of the day, an interception that led to a go-ahead touchdown in the second quarter. The pass rush struggled at times down the stretch, though outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware (71 tackles, 11.5 sacks, 1 INT) comes off a three-sack effort against Detroit. Rookie Bobby Carpenter (19 tackles, 1.5 sacks) is expected to start at the other OLB slot in Dallas' 3-4 scheme this week. The Cowboys were 24th in the league against aerial attacks during the regular season (219.1 yards per game), and their 25 passing touchdowns allowed were tied for 25th in the NFL.

Seattle failed to feature a 1,000-yard rusher in 2006, the first time since 1997 that has occurred, but did make some strides on the ground when Shaun Alexander (896 rushing yards, 7 TD) returned from his six-game absence due to a cracked bone in his foot. Alexander averaged 112 yards per game and scored five times in the Hawks' final six games of the year. In last week's victory over Tampa Bay, Alexander and backup Maurice Morris (604 rushing yards) combined for 131 yards on 38 carries. Alexander has five career touchdowns against the Cowboys. Seattle was 14th in the NFL in rushing offense (120.2 yards per game) in 2006.

Dallas finished 10th in the league against the run (103.7 yards per game) during the regular season, but is just two weeks removed from allowing over 200 ground yards in a loss to Philadelphia. The three-man line of Jason Ferguson (46 tackles) at nose tackle and Chris Canty (33 tackles, 1 sack) and Marcus Spears (45 tackles, 1 sack) at the ends will be asked to slow Alexander at the point of attack, and inside linebackers Bradie James (101 tackles, 1 INT) and Akin Ayodele (84 tackles, 2 INT, 1 sack) will be required to make some plays behind them. Ferguson was tops on the Dallas line in tackles during the regular season, while James and Ayodele were 1-2 on the club in stops overall.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Parcells is likely praying that the game doesn't come down to a last-second Dallas field goal, since that would put the spotlight on the notoriously erratic Martin Gramatica (7-9 FG). Gramatica hit a 46-yarder to beat the Giants back on Dec. 3rd, but has missed kicks of 44 and 43 yards in his five games with Dallas. Punter Mat McBriar led the league with a 48.2 average, and earned his first career Pro Bowl citation on the strength of that showing. Miles Austin (26.0 avg.) has been handling kickoff returns for Dallas of late, while Terence Newman (10.1 avg., 1 TD) scored on a 56-yard punt return against the Lions last Sunday.

Seattle's Josh Brown (25-31 FG) has been the NFL's most clutch kicker in 2006, hitting no fewer than four game-winning field goals to help Seattle to the playoffs. Brown is 10-of-14 on kicks of 40 yards or longer. Rookie Ryan Plackemeier (45.0 avg.) was among the NFL's leaders in gross punting average. Wideout Nate Burleson has been handling both punt (9.5 avg., 1 TD) and kickoff returns (24.7 avg.) over the second half, and made a big play with a 90-yard punt return for a touchdown against the Rams in Week 10.

OVERALL ANALYSIS

The Cowboys have talent and no chemistry. The Seahawks have remained together as a team but have a lack of personnel at several key positions. Who rises above their deficiencies? Bet on Dallas, which mailed it in during the final month of the regular season but sports a bunch of veterans (including their head coach) who are likely to offer a 100 percent effort now that the team's back is truly against the wall. Romo and the Cowboy passing game should be effective against a Seahawks defense that doesn't make many big plays, and the Dallas defense will catch a break against a Seattle offense that hasn't boasted anything close to 100 percent health since the first month of the season.

Jets vs Patriots Preview
Seahawks vs Cowboys Preview
Giants vs Eagles Preview
Chiefs vs Colts Preview


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