Seahawks (+2) over COWBOYS/UNDER (43): The acquisition of wideout Amari Cooper from the Raiders after the first game against Washington made a critical difference in Dallas’ second-half performance levels. Just 3-4 prior to that judicious move, the Cowboys have gone 7-2 since, beating the Saints, Eagles and Titans (and the ramped-up Giants) during that stretch.
More to Dallas’ advantage is Seattle’s below-par rushing defense (allowing 5 yards per carry). But head coach Jason Garrett is now 1-2 in the playoffs (78-61 overall), accounting for fully half of Dallas’ postseason victories since 1997. Seattle beat Dallas in September without ace receiver Doug Baldwin, but he’s expected back for this. The Seahawks are notoriously pesky, not beaten all season by more than eight points (by the Chargers) and defeated by double digits over the past four seasons just three times (twice by the Packers). Dallas QB Dak Prescott’s next playoff win will be his first.
A proven leader since his days at North Carolina State and Wisconsin, Russell Wilson has gone 8-4 in 12 playoff games for the Seahawks since his rookie season (2012). The Cowboys have won two playoff games (and lost eight) since the 1997 season. The Seahawks’ management system and player-evaluation methods are of sustained, demonstrable worth. The Cowboys have much to prove, under prevailing stewardship. One squad has done it … the other hasn’t — since Super Bowl XXX, when Barry Switzer cashed in on Jimmy Johnson’s body of work.
Colts (+1¹/₂) over TEXANS/OVER (48¹/₂): Deshaun Watson’s successful seasonal return to Houston’s helm is matched by the respect accorded the storybook return of Andrew Luck as Colts signal-caller. Following chronic shoulder issues, Luck’s heartening return to top form in 2018 (finishing 9-1 after a rocky start) drives Indianapolis’ momentum. Without the sustained services of these standout field generals, both franchises went 4-12 last season.
Since their 0-3 start, the Texans have done little wrong, climbing off the mat, losing only at home to the Colts in Indy’s divisional-revenge effort — and to the Eagles in that wild shootout in Philadelphia’s home finale.
Neither side’s pass rush is reluctant, but we would be negligent to ignore the fact Indy won the overall sack battle (12-6) within the two games this closely matched pair staged this season. Indy owns the series 26-8, with this their first postseason pairing. Luck appears to have Houston’s number and should be able to frustrate the Texans’ rush with sufficient frequency to escape with the win. Indy head coach Frank Reich has made the most of his current coaching opportunity, and it’s interesting the Eagles are one of the teams that provoked defensive grief upon the Texans this year, given Reich’s recent history heading Philly’s attack unit.
Expect Luck to prevail in this rubber match.
Last week: 5-11
Follow Richard Witt on Twitter: @rich_witt1