The Seattle Seahawks were supposed to be a third-place team in the NFC West this year.
The Los Angeles Rams were expected to be the best team, and they finished on top in impressive fashion. The San Francisco 49ers were the other pick in the division because they had thrived with Jimmy Garoppolo at quarterback in 2017, and they had him from the start in 2018.
Unfortunately for the Niners, Garoppolo got hurt early in the year. However, based on the way the Seahawks played, they would have had a difficult time getting past Seattle this season even if the quarterback had stayed healthy.
The Seahawks finished with a 10-6 record after a slow start, and they earned the No. 1 wild-card spot in the NFC.
Wild-Card Game at a Glance
Game: Seattle Seahawks at Dallas Cowboys
Date: Saturday, January 5
Time: 8:15 p.m. ET
The NFC East was expected to belong to the defending Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles, but it was clear from the beginning of the season that Philadelphia was not the same juggernaut it was in 2017. The division was wide-open, and after some solid play from the Washington Redskins early in the year, the Dallas Cowboys asserted themselves and took control of the division and won the NFC East title.
The Seahawks are a powerful team on both sides of the ball, as they have a hard-nosed running game with Chris Carson on offense and a nasty defense led by middle linebacker Bobby Wagner.
They also have one of the best quarterbacks in the league in Russell Wilson, who has the speed and quickness to avoid the pass rush, buy time for his receivers and make plays once the coverage breaks down. Wilson has completed 280 of 477 passes for 3,448 yards, 35 touchdowns and just seven interceptions.
Carson's productivity has helped make life easier for Wilson because opponents must respect Seattle's ability to run the ball. Carson gained 1,151 yards and scored nine rushing touchdowns during the regular season, and he has the ability to wear down opposing defenses.
Tyler Lockett has explosive speed and is a legitimate deep threat, while Doug Baldwin is one of the toughest receivers in the league. Lockett has caught 57 of 70 targets for 965 yards and nine touchdowns, while Baldwin will go over the middle to make tough third-down catches. He has 50 receptions for 618 yards and five touchdowns, and he will win the battle for the ball at the most important moments.
It's difficult to sack Wilson, but the Cowboys must put pressure on him. They will need rookie outside linebacker Leighton Vander Esch and pass-rusher Demarcus Lawrence to step up. Vander Esch leads Dallas with 138 tackles, while Lawrence has a team-best 10.5 sacks. Jaylon Smith is also a key player who has the speed to cause havoc for Seattle's offense. He has 121 tackles and 4.0 sacks.
Dallas depends on quarterback Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott to trigger their attack. Prescott has completed 67.8 percent of his passes with a 22-8 TD-interception ratio. Elliott can make an argument for being the best running back in the league after rushing for 1,434 yards and six touchdowns. He is also an outstanding receiver with 77 receptions for 567 yards and three touchdowns.
Amari Cooper, acquired from the Oakland Raiders in October, is a big-play threat. He has caught 53 passes with the Cowboys for 725 yards and six scores.
Wagner is a tackling machine for the Seahawks, and he led the team with 138 stops and also had 11 passes defensed. More than the numbers, Wagner is a non-stop engine who regularly outworks the opposition.
The Seahawks also depend on defensive end Frank Clark, who has a team-high 13.0 sacks and is a relentless fighter when he goes after the quarterback.
This game will start off as a defensive battle, with the Seahawks making a big effort to slow down Elliott while the Cowboys try to do the same to Carson.
At some point, Wilson will assert himself by leading a couple of drives to give the Seahawks an early lead, but the Cowboys will bounce back to make this a one score game in the fourth quarter. Dallas is a two-point favorite, per OddsShark, and will win this game by three points.
Wilson will throw for 250 yards and two touchdowns, while Carson will rush for 75 yards. Lockett will catch one TD pass and have 75 receiving yards, while Baldwin will also score and have 60 yards.
Prescott will fare better in the second half than the first, and he will throw for 240 yards and two scores. Elliott will rush for 85 yards and score.
The elite running back will also catch one of Prescott's TD passes, and so will Cooper, who will have 90 receiving yards and catch five passes.