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Rivals on Sunday, Cowboys and Seahawks share playoff desperation and common holiday wish list

With identical 8-6 records, preseason conference favorites both need a win in Week 16 and similar results in NFC South and North to qualify for the tournament

Dallas Cowboys v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

The Seattle Seahawks and Dallas Cowboys have seen very different shapes to their seasons: Despite having the same 8-6 record heading in to Week 16’s showdown in Dallas, these combatants on Sunday have only won in the same week four times all year:

The Cowboys started unfortunately after their 13-3 romp through the league in 2016, with three losses already by week five. Seattle was 3-2 at the same point with its L-W-L-W-W sequence mirroring exactly opposite Dallas’s W-L-W-L-L record. Both teams then had Week 6 byes and righted their early going with two more wins coming out of the break. But then Ezekiel Elliott got suspended for six games and the Cowboys lost three in a row, dropping them to 5-6 and nearing obsolescence. The Seahawks handled their midseason better, reaching 8-4 after feasting on NFC West opponents. But while Seattle lost two and a row, Dallas rallied with three straight wins to bring them back into pseudo-contention. For what it’s worth each team would be a lot better off had it beat the Los Angeles Rams at home, and as a result of a 10-team pileup in the conference postseason chase both projected Super Bowl aspirants now face playoff elimination with a seventh loss on Christmas Eve.

So there’s a lot at stake in this matchup and, as RJ Ochoa wrote over at Blogging the Boys, the clash is somewhat fitting given some of the volatile shared history between these clubs. Ochoa mentions the lone playoff encounter in 2006, of course, with its memorable ending when rookie Tony Romo mishandled the snap on a game-winning field goal attempt before getting dragged down short of the goal line by Jordan Babineaux. Ochoa also features the 2014 moment when Romo converted a miracle heave on 3rd and 20 to beat the Seahawks in Seattle as well as the 2016 exhibition that ended Romo’s career, launched the Dak Prescott era and also happened to be Elliott’s Cowboys debut.

To those I would add perhaps a decisive 29-3 victory at Husky Stadium in December 2001—not a game with grand historical significance considering both teams missed the playoffs that year and Dallas was only 4-8 at the time, but it was somewhat of a bellwether win for the Mike Holmgren Seahawks who had wallowed to a 6-10 record the season prior after collapsing in 1999 but then won three of four to finish 2001 an encouraging 9-7. It also turned around the dynamic between the franchises that had been dominated by the Cowboys 5-1 in the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s.

Also this 43-39 barnburner in 2004, again in December, a topsy-turvy affair that saw a Vinny Testaverde-led offense turn a 14-3 first quarter deficit into a 29-14 lead early in the third, then Seattle charge back ahead by 10 with 2:45 left only for Dallas to answer with two touchdowns inside the two-minute warning aided by an onside kick. That game included Julius Jones scoring three times as a Cowboy and Jerry Rice catching eight passes for 145 yards as a Seahawk—and was probably Matt Hasselbeck’s greatest-ever game too, with 414 yards passing on 70 percent completions and three touchdowns with no interceptions.

Finally, there’s that game’s aesthetic opposite, the 13-12 Christine Michael Bowl in 2015—most notable for ending Ricardo Lockette’s career on a scary hit during punt team.

But however I already described this tilt as a must-win with both squads playing the role of “stalking horse” behind the conference leaders, even the winner could end up as a wheeler, harnessed into the trailing position if the right things don’t break their way. Apart from the slim shot at the Rams losing their final two to cede the West to Seattle, Dallas’s and the Seahawks’ identical records mean they need the exact same circumstance of outside assistance to reach the playoffs as a Wild Card.

And what’s worst, either team could fall victim to the same unfortunate scheduling snare if Week 17’s Atlanta Falcons-Carolina Panthers matchup gets flexed into the primetime slot. Once again, Ochoa has already done the work here, explaining the intricacies of the situation over at Blogging the Boys:

Of the three NFC South teams jostling for playoff posts, the Falcons look most likely to suit Seattle’s needs given it plays both the other contenders in the remaining two weeks, while the Panthers and New Orleans Saints each get to face the miserable Tampa Bay Buccaneers, losers of four straight. So assuming Seahawks fans want the Saints to beat Atlanta this weekend to keep that chance alive, it presents a scenario where Carolina at Falcons could become the most attractive pairing for late night television on New Years Eve.

But that could have the unintended effect of producing a meaningless outcome for the Panthers, assuming New Orleans also takes care of business versus Tampa earlier in the day, leaving the Falcons playing for their playoff lives against Carolina’s scrubs.

That’s not the only possibility, naturally. If the Cowboys beat the Seahawks and the Philadelphia Eagles haven’t clinched homefield advantage already, NBC would almost certainly select that game for its beloved East Coast viewers. Of course in that situation, Seattle is already cooked. Awful Announcing suggests the best year-end Sunday Night Football matchup might be, incredibly, Jacksonville Jaguars at Tennessee Titans—the type of rock bottom AFC South fodder reserved in recent years for midseason Thursday trash. But that game could indeed have a division title on the line or, alternatively, see the Titans going for a Wild Card while the Jaguars fight for the top seed or a first round bye.

Leaving Panthers-Falcons at the same time as Bucs-Saints keeps Carolina motivated to win, and produces greater possibility the Seahawks could take advantage of an NFC South team stumbling to leap over, in this case, Atlanta.

Regardless of all these convoluted hypotheticals they have in common interest, or any resonance of past collisions, Seattle and Dallas first need to get past each other to keep their 2017 futures hopeful.