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Big Picture: 5 Storylines for Cowboys & 49ers

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For the first time since 2018, the Cowboys are back in the playoffs and are matched up with an old foe. Dallas (12-5) hosts the red-hot San Francisco 49ers (10-7) at AT&T Stadium in the eighth all-time playoff bout between the two storied franchises.

The 49ers have won four of their last five while Dallas enters with five wins in their last six games as well.

Here are five additional storylines for each team heading into the Wild Card round on Sunday afternoon in Arlington.

49ers

  • Entering the final week of the regular season, San Francisco was uncertain what their playoff destiny would hold. The 49ers needed a win over the Rams to secure their sixth seed in the NFC playoff picture. San Francisco had to work from behind to get there but got the job done and closed out their fourth win in five games to complete a turnaround from a team that was 3-5 entering Week 10 of the season.
  • The 49ers sealed their playoff fate with a 27-24 comeback win in overtime against the Los Angeles Rams in Week 18. Down 17-0 in the second quarter, the come-from-behind effort was the largest of Kyle Shanahan's coaching tenure. It was capped off by a game-tying touchdown in the final minute of the fourth and a game-winning field goal in overtime. Deebo Samuel was the 'x-factor' for San Francisco with 130 yards from scrimmage with a rushing touchdown and a passing touchdown (off a flea flicker).
  • Unlike Dallas, San Francisco has had plenty of playoff success in their recent trips as the 49ers have reached either the NFC Championship game or the Super Bowl in their last four trips to the postseason. Their most recent trip ended in heartbreak as the 49ers led by 10 entering the fourth quarter of Super Bowl LIV before Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs rattled off 21 unanswered points to steal the title.
  • While these two organizations have quite the history between the two sides, the recent history is not nearly as extensive. Sunday marks the eight all-time meeting in the playoffs with Dallas taking all but two meetings. However, their most recent playoff meeting came in the 1995 NFC Championship game, a game where Steve Young and the 49ers outdueled Troy Aikman and the Cowboys on their way to a Super Bowl title. As for the quarterbacks in this matchup, it'll be Jimmy Garoppolo's first start against the Cowboys while
  • It won't be the first meeting, but it will be the most significant one as 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan faces defensive coordinator Dan Quinn. Shanahan served under Quinn as the Atlanta offensive coordinator in 2015 and 2016 before taking the head job in San Francisco. The two met in late 2019 as the 49ers were 11-2 and on the road to a Super Bowl berth while Quinn's Falcons were 4-9 and reeling late in the year. However, Quinn's struggling Falcons rallied to beat the 49ers 29-22 thanks to 19 points in the fourth quarter.

Cowboys

  • The Cowboys route to the playoffs was not nearly as nail-biting and suspenseful as San Francisco's, but it is still significant. Dallas wrapped up their playoff spot and NFC East title before their Week 16 bout with Washington. Dallas finished with 12 wins, their most since 2016 when they went 13-3 and earned a first-round bye.
  • There were three priorities for the Cowboys in their final week of the regular season. Stay healthy, get the offense back on track, and win the game. It's safe to say that Dallas achieved all three of those things in a 51-26 beat down of the Philadelphia Eagles on Saturday Night. Dallas walked out of the game mostly healthy and were able to rest multiple starters for significant portions of the second half. Additionally, Dak Prescott set a new career high in touchdown passes and broke Tony Romo's single-season touchdown record with his 37th passing score.
  • On top of emerging without any major injuries, Dallas was without several key players like Micah Parsons, Trevon Diggs, Anthony Brown, Jayron Kearse, and Tony Pollard. Each of which are expected to make a return to the practice field and the active roster early in the week of preparation. The only injury concern from the Eagles matchup centers around Keanu Neal who suffered an upper-body injury late in the second half and did not return to the field. His status is officially questionable entering the week, but Mike McCarthy said he expects him to do work on the field this week.
  • Dallas is making their first appearance in the playoffs since the 2018 season when they finished 10-6 and defeated the Seattle Seahawks in the Wild Card round. However, Dallas was still unable to end their conference championship appearance drought as they fell in the Divisional round to the Los Angeles Rams. Since their Super Bowl win in January of 1996, the Cowboys have just four playoff wins to go along with 10 losses
  • This will be the first playoff appearance for McCarthy as the head coach in Dallas after appearing in the postseason nine times in 13 seasons with Green Bay. Additionally, it'll be his first try in the playoffs since his defensive coordinator Dan Quinn defeated his Packers in the 2016 NFC title game. McCarthy holds an all-time playoff record of 10-8 and has one Super Bowl title to accompany his four conference championship appearances.

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