NFC semifinal

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Dallas (11-6) at Carolina (12-4)

Time: 4 p.m. today

TV: Chs. 45, 5

Line: Cowboys by 3

Vs. spread: Cowboys 8-9; Panthers 12-4.

Last week: Cowboys beat Vikings at home in wild-card game, 40-15. Panthers were idle.

Last meeting: Teams have never met.

Playoff record: Cowboys 32-18; Panthers 0-0.

Cowboys rankings: Offense: rush No. 18; pass No. 20; overall No. 24. Defense: rush No. 10; pass No. 2; overall No. 3.

Panthers rankings: Offense: rush No. 15; pass No. 22; overall No. 23. Defense: rush No. 8, pass No. 12, overall No. 10.

Outlook: WR Michael Irvin and T Erik Williams are expected to play in midst of ongoing police investigation of alleged sexual assault. Another week, another controversy in Cowboys land. Meanwhile, the Panthers, 8-0 at home this season and making the franchise's playoff debut, have a formidable defense waiting for the Cowboys' offense, which had struggled before last week's 40-point outburst. Cowboys QB Troy Aikman has been sacked fewer times than any other NFL quarterback (19), and the Panthers' defense has the most sacks in the league (60). Something has to give. The Panthers' quietly efficient offense, led by second-year QB Kerry Collins, faces its biggest test against one of the league's top defenses.

By the numbers: Aikman is 11-1 in the playoffs. The Panthers' defense has allowed one touchdown and 13 points in the second half at home this season. Panthers RB Anthony Johnson rushed for club-record 1,120 yards and six touchdowns on 300 carries. TE Wesley Walls led Carolina with 61 catches and 10 TDs. Carolina's defense allowed 218 points in 1996, second fewest in the NFL. Panthers DE Kevin Greene led NFL with 14 1/2 sacks. He and LB Lamar Lathon, who had 13 1/2 sacks, were the best sacking duo in the league this season. Collins is 16-9 as a starter.

Injuries:

COWBOYS: Out: DE Charles Haley (back), TE Jay Novacek (back). Questionable: T Mark Tuinei (knee), CB Wendell Davis (knee), LB Randall Godfrey (ankle), QB Wade Wilson (knee). Probable: S Bill Bates (groin), TE Eric Bjornson (ankles), RB Emmitt Smith (ankle), DE Tony Tolbert (knee).

PANTHERS: Probable: LB Duane Bickett (hamstring), T Blake Brockermeyer (thumb), S Brett Maxie (ankle).

Pub Date: 1/05/97

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