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A popular theory this week is that the Dallas Cowboys' latest off-field problems could be too much of a distraction as they prepare for today's NFC semfinal against Carolina.

The Panthers aren't biting."We know better," Carolina quarterback Kerry Collins said. "They deal with this stuff all the time. They'll show up. They'll be ready. So will we."

A 23-year-old woman alleged Tuesday that Dallas wide receiver Michael Irvin and tackle Erik Williams held her at gunpoint and forced her to have sex.

Irvin and Williams have denied any wrongdoing. The continuing police investigation has led to a circus-like atmosphere at the Cowboys' practice complex as various allegations and rumors are aired through the media.

"Those types of things can work for you sometimes," Carolina coach Dom Capers said, "because they can become a rallying point."

Distractions are nothing new for the Cowboys, who have had several players targeted in criminal investigations, but still have won three of the last four Super Bowls.

"We've handled things like this before, so I'm sure we'll be ready to play," coach Barry Switzer said. "It's just another day around the block with these guys."

Switzer said he's more concerned with Carolina's dominance at Ericsson Stadium, the $187 million facility the team opened this season in downtown Charlotte.

The Panthers are 8-0 in their new home and have allowed just 56 total points there, including 13 in the second half. Five of Carolina's visiting opponents have been held scoreless in the second half.

"That's incredible," Switzer said. "We've got our work cut out for us."

That's not the only factor working in Carolina's favor in the franchise's first-ever postseason contest.

Today's game comes 14 days after the Panthers last played. Twice this season, they've have had more than a week to prepare for visiting opponents, and both times, Carolina responded with lopsided victories.

The Panthers opened the season by sacking Jeff George seven times and holding Atlanta's run-and-shoot offense to 162 passing yards and two field goals in a 29-6 victory.

Later in September, Carolina came off its bye week and built a 17-0 lead on its first three possessions against San Francisco. The Panthers went on to a 23-7 victory that put them in first place in the NFC West.

Carolina went on to win the division and finish the regular season with a 12-4 record, earning a first-round bye and a home date for the second-round game.

Capers breaks into a slow smile when asked what his upstart Panthers could do with their latest extra week of preparation time.

"I don't think there's any question it helps," he said.

The Cowboys' 10-6 record and NFC East crown weren't enough to earn them a first-round bye, so they beat Minnesota 40-15 last Saturday in a wild-card game.