One of the more intriguing games of the NFL playoffs takes place between the San Francisco 49ers and the Dallas Cowboys, who feature a couple of impactful former Clemson defenders.
A game of two fairly-even teams, at least according to oddsmakers, could produce a close finish. Both teams rely heavily on the run, and nobody in the NFL scored more touchdowns than the Cowboys during the regular season.
When: Sunday at 4:30 p.m. (CBS)
Betting line: Cowboys -3, total 51 at FanDuel Sportsbook.
How they got here
Sixth-seeded San Francisco 49ers (10-7): The NFC West wild-card team hung tough in one of the most competitive divisions in football. Los Angeles Rams and Arizona finished ahead of the 49ers, but they still earned the sixth seed in the conference, thanks to a stellar performance in their final game of the regular season. San Francisco rallied from a 17-point deficit to beat the Rams 27-24 in overtime. Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo threw for 314 yards and former South Carolina receiver Deebo Samuel totaled 140 yards and scored one touchdown in the comeback win that put the 49ers into the postseason.
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Third-seeded Dallas Cowboys (12-5): This storied franchise easily won the NFL East to lock down a playoff spot. The Cowboys went 6-0 in the division to finish three games ahead of the Philadelphia Eagles and five games in front of the Washington Football Team. Dallas won six consecutive games after starting 0-1 and then ended the regular season with five wins in their final six games, including a 51-26 rout of the Eagles in the finale. The Cowboys are led by quarterback Dak Prescott, running back Ezekiel Elliott and one of the better receiving corps in the NFL, but the defensive turnaround in the first year under coordinator Dan Quinn has been a huge reason why Dallas is back in the playoffs looking for just its fifth postseason victory since winning its last Super Bowl in 1995.
Former Clemson players
Jayron Kearse: Coming over from Detroit, the former Vikings' seventh-round draft pick has enjoyed the best season of his six-year pro career. Kearse, who helped Clemson get to its first College Football Playoff in 2015, has recorded a career-high 101 total tackles in 15 starts at safety. The Dallas playmaker has two interceptions, one fumble recovery and a sack this season. He'll probably play close to the line of scrimmage to help against the talented 49ers running game and star tight end George Kittle.
Carlos Watkins: Like Kearse, Watkins is in his first season with the Cowboys, and he's also had his best season in the NFL. The former Clemson defensive tackle who won a national title with the Tigers in 2016 has recorded a career-high 32 total tackles. Watkins had an interception earlier this season that he returned 29 yards for his first NFL touchdown. He's also been credited with one sack and one fumble recovery in 14 starts this year. He'll see plenty of action Sunday.
Mitch Hyatt: The former Clemson star left tackle suffered a knee injury during the offseason that's kept him on the injured reserve list in 2021.
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