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PLAYOFF MATCHUPS | NFC : FIRST LOOK: NEXT WEEKEND'S
PLAYOFF GAMES

DALLAS (11-6) at CAROLINA (12-4)

December 30, 1996|T.J. SIMERS

Sunday, 1 p.m., Ch. 11

* STORYLINE: The team that has won three of the past four Super Bowls against the team that will be participating in its first playoff game. The two-year Panther franchise, which has gone 19-8 since opening 0-5, has flourished because of its veteran defensive unit, one of only three teams in the league to primarily play a 3-4 defense. Carolina is 8-0 in Ericsson Stadium, and has given up only 13 points in the second half at home this season. The Cowboys' offense ranked No. 24 in the league, but busted loose against Minnesota and appears to have a healthy Emmitt Smith back in form. Question: If Coach Barry Switzer loses to the expansion Panthers, does Jerry Jones start looking for a new coach?

* DALLAS UPDATE: The 49ers figured they had the decisive edge on Carolina a few weeks ago because their offense could score points and the Panthers could not. But Kerry Collins developed seemingly overnight into a play-maker, and now with an extra week of study time will be trying to step to a new level against one of the league's best defenses. Dallas will have the edge because the Cowboys have yet to falter in a game they must win, and if the Packers surrender to the 49ers, the Cowboys will play the 49ers in Dallas for the opportunity to go to the Super Bowl. No team has started the season 1-3 and won a Super Bowl. The Cowboys may be the first. They came out of Saturday's game against the Vikings injury free, except for a sprained ankle suffered by rookie linebacker Randall Godfrey. "It was the game we needed," said fullback Daryl Johnson. "Maybe it gave us the confidence we need to get to the Super Bowl."

* CAROLINA UPDATE: Anthony Johnson, who emerged as a 1,000-yard rusher for Carolina, has to pound a Cowboy defense that has yet to be tested up the middle since the suspension of defensive tackle Leon Lett.

* THE LINE: Dallas by 3 1/2.

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