Dallas Cowboys vs. San Francisco 49ers: 3 keys to the NFC divisional round NFL playoff game

Dallas Cowboys vs. San Francisco 49ers: 3 keys to the NFC divisional round NFL playoff game

Updated: 9 days, 7 hours, 45 minutes, 17 seconds ago

The NFL divisional playoff round concludes Sunday at 6:30 p.m. ET when the San Francisco 49ers host the Dallas Cowboys at Levi's Stadium. San Francisco is riding an NFL-best 11-game winning streak dating back to Week 7 of the regular season.

The Niners' Brock Purdy is set to become the 10th rookie quarterback to start a divisional playoff game since the 1970 merger. The 49ers offense amassed 505 total yards in last week’s 41-23 wild-card win over the Seattle Seahawks. San Francisco had the highest scoring output and widest margin of victory of any team in the wild-card round.

Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott compiled 305 passing yards and four touchdowns, resulting in a 143.3 passer rating in last week’s 31-14 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Cowboys defense shut out Tampa Bay in the first half. Dallas’ defense is led by linebacker Micah Parsons, who had 65 tackles, 13.5 sacks, three pass deflections and three forced fumbles during the regular season.

These two franchises are very familiar with each other in the postseason. The 49ers and Cowboys will tie an NFL record by squaring off for a ninth time in the postseason. San Francisco defeated Dallas most recently in the 2021 playoffs.

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Here are three keys to Sunday’s divisional playoff finale:

Battle in the trenches

The 49ers have one of the best offensive lines in football led by All-Pro left tackle Trent Williams. San Francisco’s stout O-line helped the offense have the NFL’s eighth-best rushing attack and the unit ranked fifth in total offense.

On the other side of the ball, San Francisco’s defensive front seven is arguably the best in the NFL. They are led by NFL defensive player of the year candidate Nick Bosa and All-Pro linebacker Fred Warner. The 49ers offensive line and defensive front seven overwhelm opponents with their physicality.

San Francisco dominated in the trenches in the last playoff meeting between the two clubs. The 49ers gashed Dallas for 169 rushing yards and two touchdowns on offense and the San Francisco defense sacked Prescott five times and tallied 14 QB hits.

The 49ers offense gained 181 rushing yards (5.5 yards per carry) and the defense sacked Geno Smith three times and had 16 pressures last week versus Seattle.

Dak Prescott and Cowboys offense versus NFL's top defense

Led by first-team All-Pros Bosa, Warner and safety Talanoa Hufanga, the 49ers defense finished the regular season ranked No. 1 in total defense (300 yards per game) and points allowed (16 points per game) and were tied for first in total interceptions (20). The 49ers also had a league-best plus-13 turnover differential.

Bosa led the NFL with 18.5 sacks, Warner had a team best with 130 tackles and has had five straight seasons with at least 100 tackles, and Hufanga tallied 97 tackles, nine pass deflections and four interceptions in the regular season.

Prescott and the Cowboys offense were able to pick apart Tampa Bay’s defense last week, but San Francisco poses a more difficult challenge.

If the Cowboys can slow down San Francisco’s pass rush and contain the team’s front seven, the Cowboys have some matchup advantages on the outside. The 49ers corners are the weaknesses to an overall stout defense.

Dallas wide receivers CeeDee Lamb, Michael Gallup and tight end Dalton Schultz combined for 16 catches, 209 receiving yards and four touchdowns versus the Bucs. Prescott and the Cowboys pass catchers need a similar performance at Levi’s Stadium if they want to pull off the huge upset.

49ers offense against Cowboys defense

49ers wide receiver Deebo Samuel runs with the ball against the Cowboys during last season's wild-card playoff game.49ers wide receiver Deebo Samuel runs with the ball against the Cowboys during last season's wild-card playoff game.

49ers wide receiver Deebo Samuel runs with the ball against the Cowboys during last season's wild-card playoff game.

Purdy passed for 332 yards and three touchdowns in his first playoff start. He had the most passing yards by a rookie in their first playoff game since 1937.  San Francisco’s three best playmakers – wide receiver Deebo Samuel, running back Christian McCaffrey and tight end George Kittle – combined for 338 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns versus Seattle.

Niners coach Kyle Shanahan is one of the smartest offensive minds in the NFL. He designs plays that maximizes the talents of Samuel, McCaffrey and Kittle. Simultaneously, the 49ers aren’t dependent on Purdy. The 49ers ask him to manage the game, make timely precise throws and minimize costly mistakes. He’s done everything the team's asked, going 6-0 (including the playoffs) in his starts.

Can Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn design exotic blitz packages and a defensive game plan that can rattle the rookie quarterback and limit the production from San Francisco’s three primary playmakers? The answer to that question will likely determine the outcome of the game.

Bonus: Cowboys must minimize mistakes

Cowboys kicker Brett Maher missed four extra point attempts in the team’s 31-14 wild-card win over Tampa Bay. The Cowboys tied an NFL playoff record with 14 penalties in their playoff loss to the 49ers last season. Dallas can’t have those type of miscues versus San Francisco in this year's divisional round.

Follow USA TODAY Sports' Tyler Dragon on Twitter @TheTylerDragon.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Cowboys vs. 49ers NFC playoff preview: Keys to NFL divisional game