The Cowboys know when they will play. They don’t know who they will play.
But the Cowboys have familiarity with whoever ends up coming to AT&T Stadium for a divisional-round playoff game Jan. 15.
The Cowboys will watch the wild-card round closely this weekend. They know they can’t play the third-seeded Seahawks, with the lowest seed among the Packers, Giants or Lions drawing the Cowboys.
The Cowboys (13-3) are 2-2 against those three teams this season.
Dallas lost to the Giants 20-19 at AT&T Stadium in the season opener and 10-7 on Dec. 11 at the Meadowlands. The Cowboys beat the Packers 30-16 at Lambeau Field on Oct. 16 and topped the Lions 42-21 at home on Dec. 26.
“All of that’s out of our control,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said Monday. “It’s probably similar to playing division opponents. Certainly, we know them, but they know us. We’ve played against each other. We’ve prepared for each other. So the biggest thing we have to do is focus on us, and by Sunday night, we’ll find out who the opponent is and we’ll get to work on our preparation.
“We’ll spend some time this week working on all three of the possible opponents in all three phases. But we have played them. We have recent history with them. We’ll go back through that and try to prepare ourselves as well as we can this week and then we’ll find out who we play and hone in and get ready for normal preparation leading up to a ballgame next week.”
Here is a primer on the other five teams in the NFC playoffs:
Last time vs. Cowboys: The Falcons beat the Cowboys 39-28 at AT&T Stadium in Week 3 last season, the first time in 2015 Dallas played without the injured Tony Romo.
Why they are a contender: Matt Ryan has earned MVP consideration, leading the league with a 117.1 passer rating. His yards per attempt (9.26) also led the league as he threw 38 touchdowns and seven interceptions.
Their Achilles’ Heel: Only five teams allowed more than the 406 points the Falcons gave up. They allowed 25.4 points per game and scored at a 33.8 per game clip. The Falcons finished 25th in total defense, including 28th against the pass.
Last time vs. Cowboys: The Seahawks beat the Cowboys 13-12 on Nov. 1, 2015, at AT&T Stadium.
Why they are a contender: The Seahawks are 6-2 in the playoffs the past three seasons. They won the Super Bowl to end the 2013 season, lost to the Patriots in the Super Bowl to end the 2014 season, and they lost to the Panthers in the divisional round last season. Pete Carroll and Russell Wilson know how to win big games.
Their Achilles’ Heel: The injury to safety Earl Thomas has hurt the Seahawks’ defense, which has allowed 54 points the past two games. But the bigger problem remains a season-long problem — their inability to run the football. They rank 25th in rushing.
4. Green Bay
Last time vs. Cowboys: The Cowboys beat the Packers 30-16 at Lambeau Field on Oct. 16.
Why they are a contender: The Packers are the hottest team in football, having won six in a row, with the hottest quarterback in football. Aaron Rodgers might have sealed the MVP award with his play Sunday night. He finished the season with a league-best 40 touchdowns.
Their Achilles’ Heel: The Packers have played with a patchwork secondary all season. They put their best cornerback, Sam Shields, on injured reserve after a Week 1 concussion, and Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins missed time with groin injuries. Green Bay finished 31st in the league against the pass.
5. New York Giants
Last time vs. Cowboys: The Giants beat the Cowboys 10-7 on Dec. 11 at the Meadowlands.
Why they are a contender: The Giants rank 10th in total defense, but they have played even better than that the second half of the season. Big Blue has held opponents under 300 yards three of the past four games.
Their Achilles’ Heel: The Giants may have found the answer to their running game, which finished 29th in the league this season, in rookie Paul Perkins. But Eli Manning still is Eli Manning, and he arguably is the worst of the six quarterbacks in the NFC playoffs. Manning threw 26 touchdowns and 16 interceptions and had an 86.0 passer rating.
Last time vs. Cowboys: The Cowboys beat the Lions 42-21 at home on Dec. 26.
Why they are a contender: Matthew Stafford was an MVP candidate for much of this season, but since injuring his right middle finger, the Dallas Highland Park product hasn’t been the same. In the 15 quarters since his injury, Stafford has thrown five interceptions. He threw only five in the first 12-plus games before the injury. The Lions need him to be MVP Stafford again to give them a chance.
Their Achilles’ Heel: The Lions limp into the playoffs with three consecutive losses, all three to playoff teams (Giants, Cowboys, Packers). They rank 30th in rushing and 18th in total defense, which is not a good formula for beating the Seahawks in Seattle.