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Cowboys TNF date with Seahawks more than just a final tune-up before rematch with Eagles

Thursday night is massive for the overall NFC playoff picture.

Dallas Cowboys v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Tom Hauck/Getty Images

Ever since their week nine loss at the Philadelphia Eagles, the Dallas Cowboys have been playing like a team determined to prove they can still be taken seriously as NFC contenders and play their best football down the stretch. They’ve done so with wins against the Giants, Panthers, and Commanders, hardly moving the needle much on the narrative that they can’t hang with the NFL’s elite - even with an average margin of victory of 30 points over this three-game win streak.

This is where the Seattle Seahawks come into play. The Cowboys and Seahawks will square off for the third time since 2019, with Seattle coming to AT&T Stadium on a two-game losing streak but still sitting at 6-5 overall. The Seahawks being a game over .500 is relevant to the Cowboys, as all of their remaining opponents besides the Commanders are at least .500 or better currently. Whether or not the Cowboys have just been good enough to bank wins they’re supposed to have, or something much more by way of their recent dominant performances in all three phases, will start to be realized Thursday night with a 13-game home winning streak on the line.

Like the Cowboys, the Seahawks played on Thanksgiving, losing 31-13 at home to the 49ers. The Seahawks allowed 377 total yards, went 3-11 on third down with an interception and three three-and-outs in the first half, and trailed 24-3 at halftime. They will be hoping the short week is the right situation to flush a forgettable loss, with their two most recent meetings vs the Cowboys being one-score games.

One of these games was the 2018 Wild Card game in Dallas, which was Dak Prescott’s first playoff win. It took a fourth quarter comeback sparked by two short rushing touchdowns by Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott for the Cowboys to advance 24-22. Amari Cooper was the Cowboys leading receiver while Michael Gallup caught the only receiving touchdown.

It was a balanced offensive effort that helped Dallas best a Russell Wilson-led Seattle team, with Prescott completing 22 of 33 attempts and Elliott carrying 26 times for 137 yards. Fast forward to this Thursday’s meeting between teams with similar identities but new personnel, and it may take a similar performance from Mike McCarthy’s offense for the Cowboys to earn their ninth win of the year. This will be the first home game in a while where the expectation for the Cowboys isn’t an electric point output that their opponent simply can’t keep up with. The Seahawks have allowed 20 points or less five times this season.

Dallas Cowboys v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

The Dan Quinn defense may not be seeing the same Geno Smith that had a resurgent year in 2022 with the Seahawks, but paired with DK Metcalf, Tyler Lockett, and RB Zach Charbonnet, Seattle is built to play the possession style game needed to hang with the Cowboys.

Metcalf is a big-bodied receiver that went for 110 yards and a touchdown in a Seahawks win in Seattle between these teams in 2020. If the Cowboys try to match up in man coverage like they did on Thanksgiving against the Commanders, they’ll need the pass rush to come alive and affect Smith, who was sacked six times in last Thursday night’s loss. The matchups on the edge will be there for Micah Parsons, Sam Williams, and DeMarcus Lawrence, but how the interior can push the pocket with Osa Odighizuwa and Johnathan Hankins while also holding up against a run game that isn’t afraid to go between the tackles is key.

Of course, the talk of the Cowboys defense being a catalyst for a win is nothing new for not only this season, but recent memory, as it was in that 2020 Seahawks win 38-31 in week three. McCarthy made headlines before the game by saying the plan was to not back down from a track meet type of game against Wilson, and backed this up when Prescott threw the ball 57 times for 472 yards and three scores. However, the Seahawks scored 14 points off of turnovers and sealed the game with a sack and Ryan Neal interception on the final drive. With a former Seahawks DC, Dan Quinn, now calling the Cowboys defense, the expectation around the outcome Dallas will get if they score 31 points this season has changed drastically. With Seattle not breaking 20 points in three of their last four games, a few extra possessions or short fields generated on defense could be all the Cowboys need to make their loudest statement of the season from home.

Smith also has four games under 200 yards passing this season, and the Seahawks are 1-3 in these games with blowout losses to the Rams, Ravens, and most recently 49ers. Keeping the ball out of harm’s way is a big part of the Seahawks offense when on script, but when trailing they’ve fallen into mistakes and turnovers. The same can be said about Prescott in full command of the Cowboys offense, making a hot start for both quarterbacks on Thursday another point of emphasis. The Cowboys would do well to make the Seahawks play from behind and be one-dimensional in this game, while also knowing they may need a full four-quarter performance for the first time in a while from home.

Washington Commanders v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images

For two teams not in the same division, it sure feels like every time the Cowboys and Seahawks get together there is some higher stakes at play, and the games are always competitive with Dallas holding a slight 11-10 lead in the all-time series. While nobody around The Star is waving the white flag on the Cowboys playing their way back into NFC East contention, starting with a win over the Seahawks and taking this streak into a Sunday night home rematch vs the Eagles, the likely path again for Dallas is as the NFC’s five seed. This would likely set up a playoff game against the NFC South winner for the second year in a row, this time without the threat of Tom Brady in that division. The Cowboys hold the inside track to this five seed right now, but the Seahawks sit at sixth in position to pass them with a TNF upset.

A win against Seattle may not completely shake the narrative that Dallas is an ultra-talented team, still in search of a signature win this late in the season. No matter if it comes with style points or not though, this is still a crucial game for McCarthy’s team to remain focused on and keep all playoff possibilities alive.

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