Toying around with ESPN’s Playoff Machine late Sunday night, I discovered that with precisely the right clicks, I could catch a glimpse of not only what the 2019 NFL playoff seeding would look like, but what a few of the games would look like as well. After hours and hours poring over my laptop, with nothing but Doritos and Code Red Mountain Dew for sustenance, I was able to pull three game recaps from the future. It paints a tale so shocking in regards to the NFC, I was compelled to share with the world.
Warning: 2019 NFC playoff spoilers ahead.
Cowboys clinch NFC East, final NFC playoff spot
December 23, 2019
The NFC East’s season-long exercise in futility thankfully came to a close on Sunday Night Football. Flexing Mitchell Trubisky out of prime time seemed the obvious choice for the NFL, but unfortunately, that just forced the world to watch the mess that was a 12-7 Cowboys win.
Dallas force-fed Ezekiel Elliott all game even with Dak Prescott on his way to setting the franchise record for best QBR in a single season. Owner/general manager Jerry Jones said after the game:
“I told him [head coach Jason Garrett] I wasn’t paying $90 million to watch some new-fangled forward pass football, I’m paying it to watch our running back do that funky little dance with the fake spoon after every four-yard gain. Have you seen that? It’s delightful stuff.”
Elliott finished with a whopping 51 carries for 148 yards.
The Cowboys’ lone touchdown came on an 80-yard bomb from Dak Prescott, who got an earful from Garrett after audibling out of what can only be assumed was another power run against a loaded box look from the Eagles.
Carson Wentz got his chance to take over the game in the fourth quarter, getting the ball back on Philadelphia’s own 12-yard line with 1:47 left to play and trailing by a field goal. It all came to a quick and somewhat karmic conclusion for an extremely disappointing Eagles team when former Eagle Michael Bennett sacked Carson Wentz in the endzone on the first play of the drive for the game-sealing safety.
The Cowboys clinch the division at 7-8, and need a win against Washington next week only to avoid becoming the third team in this decade to make the playoffs with a losing record.
Seahawks fall to the 49ers in Week 17 battle for the NFC West
December 30, 2019
For the second straight week, the Seahawks saw their chances to clinch the NFC West slip through their grasp. The Week 16 loss at home to the Cardinals seems unavoidable in hindsight, as the rain poured, melting Russell Wilson’s hands down to sizes unknown to any NFL quarterback not named Jared Goff.
Wilson bounced back from his miserable 13/29, 142-yard outing last week to completely dominate an elite 49ers defense. After falling behind 14-0 early, Pete Carroll was forced to let Brian Schottenheimer let Russell Wilson cook, leading to a career-high 519 passing yards and 6 touchdowns for MVP favorite Wilson.
Leading 42-39 with just under two minutes to play, Seattle got the ball back after an ill-advised Jimmy Garoppolo throw on fourth down sailed through linebacker KJ Wright’s hands for the 18th time this season. Needing just one more first down to ice the game, Schottenheimer opted to let Pro Bowl running back Chris Carson finish it out. On third and four, with the win in sight, San Francisco linebacker Fred Warner barrelled through Joey Hunt and punched the ball loose before Carson even made it back to the line of scrimmage. Richard Sherman was there to scoop up the loose ball and took it back 44 yards for the game-winning touchdown and the first scorigami loss of Pete Carroll’s Seattle tenure.
All in all a tough loss to swallow for the Seahawks, but not a damning one. Seattle will head to Dallas on Wild Card Weekend to take on the 7-9 Cowboys after the improbable 31-14 shellacking laid upon them by Washington in Week 17. The Seahawks have been perfect on the road in 2019 and will need to continue that streak in order to reach the Super Bowl in February.
An instant classic in Dallas
January 5, 2020
The Seahawks came into this game heavily favored against the first 7-9 team to make the playoffs since they themselves did so in 2010.
This game got off to a hot start for the underdogs, as Michael Bennett, the hero of the division-clinching Week 16 Cowboys win, found himself in the backfield untouched by right tackle Germain Ifedi on the first play from scrimmage. A quick strip sack of Russell Wilson erased all ideas that this would be a blowout for the visitors. Bennett described the play postgame as “the best strip sack I’ve had since that Christmas present I gave my wife last year.”
The Cowboys, who were without Jason Garrett to due an unexpected battle with mono, were helmed by offensive coordinator Kellen Moore for the entirety of this contest. Moore let Dak Prescott loose early, which many believe was the reason Garrett was seen shaking his fist in anger from the hospital bed that had been wheeled into Jerry Jones’ suite for the game. Prescott’s first throw was a floater just over the head of Mychael Kendricks to Amari Cooper for the game’s opening touchdown.
Not to be outdone, Russell Wilson immediately followed up with a scoring drive of his own in which zero run plays were called. Fans were shocked to see the hurry-up offense this early from the Seahawks, but it became less of a mystery when it was revealed that the headset communications in Wilson’s helmet were malfunctioning. Interviewed at halftime, head coach Pete Carroll described the issue as “legit” and “something we’ll keep an eye on moving forward,” which most fans knew meant the headset was done for the year.
The game continued on in a fashion not seen since the historic Monday Night Football duel between the Chiefs and the Rams last season. Prescott, unable to find any open receivers on Shaquill Griffin’s half of the field, picked on the linebacker core tasked with covering slot receiver Randall Cobb. Wilson kept pace, tossing touchdown passes to DK Metcalf not once, not twice, but thrice, setting the rookie record for most touchdown receptions in a playoff game.
Six lead changes later, Seattle found itself facing a 4th and 3 from their own 40 yard line, trailing by four points with time winding down in the last quarter. Carroll, unmoved by the waves the Baltimore Ravens have made with aggressive 4th down play calls, elected to trot out his all-pro punter Michael Dickson.
“That’s our identity, you know, we don’t want to come out there looking too desperate,” said Carroll. “We were all really fired up about it, we knew Dicko was going to pin them deep.”
Dickson’s punt was tipped at the line and bounced out of bounds at the Dallas 33 yard line.
Up 34-30, with under four minutes to go, Kellen Moore elected to take his foot off the gas in an attempt to take more time off the clock and called for Ezekiel Elliott’s third carry of the day. Elliott found a gaping hole up front, avoided a tackle attempt by Bobby Wagner (who by all accounts was worn down to the point of exhaustion by chasing Cobb all day), and broke away from the pile toward the sidelines. For one fleeting moment, it appeared that Tre Flowers would make the stop around the Seahawks 40-yard line, just outside of field goal range. But it was not to be, and Elliott stiff-armed Flowers into the next dimension on his way to a game-deciding 67-yard touchdown run.
Dallas now heads to New Orleans, and it is yet to be decided if Jason Garrett will be well enough to make it back for this contest.
Seattle, meanwhile, will likely head into an offseason full of rumors and suspicions of coach Pete handing off the torch to the next coach Pete. A second straight disappointing exit to an inferior Cowboys team, even with Russell Wilson unleashed, has to leave Seahawks fans wondering.
How can the Cowboys keep getting away with it?