By: Jim Boyce, Bill Tewes, & Mark Prott
The Packers, winners of 7 in a row and possibly the hottest team in the tournament, take on the #1 seed in the NFC with a trip to the NFC Championship game on the line.
PACKERS 34 COWBOYS 27
Watch any NFL game and you can see that momentum is a very real thing in the game of football and for that matter just about any sport. The Packers are winners of 7 must win games in a row and the confidence and momentum just continue to build. Their is no doubt the phrase “finish the table” is on every player’s mind in that locker room. The Cowboys on other hand had a dominating regular season and were afforded the luxury of taking it easy towards the end of the regular season and are fresh off a bye week. While health is clearly on the Cowboys side, I’ll roll with experience and momentum giving the Packers the edge.
On defense this game hinges on the Packers playing considerably better run defense on Ezekiel Elliott. He made it look too easy against the Packers’ run defense, which ranked #1 at the time of the first match-up. This past week the Packers’ defense spoke out about that game and acknowledged they were too fired up and as a result played undisciplined. I believe that focus on discipline and gap control this week will result in a better showing by the run defense. While the defense won’t likely stop Elliott, they need to make sure he simply does not take the game over, which makes it all the more crucial the Packers’ offense gets out to an early lead. While Dak Prescott has had a sensational year, he’s still a rookie quarterback making his first playoff start and playing from behind would only add more pressure on his shoulders.
On offense the loss of Jordy Nelson is obviously big, but nothing the Packers’ offense and white-hot Aaron Rodgers cannot handle. I believe the Packers are well positioned to spread the ball out in this game to multiple receivers. Jared Cook is always a match-up nightmare and I anticipate him being a focal point. The run game will be interesting to monitor, as Christine Michael provided a shot of energy to the offense last week. Perhaps Ty Montgomery is utilized more at wide receiver to get more playmakers on the field at once. When all is said and done, Aaron Rodgers is still in a zone and without a great pass rush, I don’t see the Cowboys being able too keep up with the 2 time NFL MVP.
PACKERS 34 COWBOYS 31
Both these teams are looking for very different types of game flow in order to win and advance to the NFC Championship. An ideal day for the Cowboys would be Green Bay struggles to contain Ezekiel Elliot and they dominate time of possession. Aaron Rodgers can’t hurt you if he’s not on the field. Stopping the Cowboys offense will be a huge challenge as they are much better than the Giants offense we just saw. Green Bay will need to dedicate seven or even eight guys to stop the run, so it will be of the utmost importance that the secondary holds up in coverage as they will often find themselves one on one.
This will be Dak Prescott’s first playoff game but considering how well he has handled everything up to this point I can’t imagine the spotlight being too big for him. That being said Green Bay will need to make life miserable for him by generation pressure on passing downs. In the end I see Dallas moving the ball pretty well and putting up points.
Aaron Rodgers has been superhuman over the seven game win streak, and he is going to need to play at that level again for the Packers to advance. The regular season game against the Cowboys was one of the worse of his entire career and it will not be repeated. The emergence of Randall Cobb against the Giants bodes well for the Packers chances of survival without Jordy Nelson. Adams, Cook, and Allison will also have to play well and the running game will need to at least be serviceable.
I think this game will be an instant classic, but unlike some of the epic playoff games of recent years this one goes in Green Bay’s favor as Rodgers leads the team to a late go ahead score.
PACKERS 31 COWBOYS 21
The Green Bay Packers have had some interesting playoff exits in the Aaron Rodgers era. Two playoff losses to the Arizona Cardinals in overtime as well as the unfortunate meltdown in Seattle which also resulted in an overtime loss. Rodgers led teams have also been on the receiving end of losses in which they were favored against the Giants as well as a wildcard exit against the 49ers at Lambeau. This game against the Dallas Cowboys has a much different feel and will give another opportunity for Aaron Rodgers to prove that 2010 was not a fluke and he can take the Packers to another NFC title game and possibly another Super Bowl berth.
This might sound trivial, but if the Packers win the coin toss, I hope they take the ball to start the game. The Packers need to set the tempo by scoring first and forcing Prescott and company to respond. The obvious statement regarding beating Dallas is to stop Ezekiel Elliott. Dom Capers is going to do everything in his power to get his run defense ready for today’s game. I definitely expect them to play their best game of the season and limit Elliott, which will force Dak Prescott to make plays and win the game for Dallas and that will be the essential key to victory for Green Bay.
The Packers are going to attack the right side where Doug Free has been highly problematic for the Cowboys offensive line this season. Tyron Smith, who holds down the left side, has been the best left tackle in all of the NFL this year and will be on the field Sunday even with an ankle injury. The vaunted Cowboys offensive line is good, but can be beat and I think Capers will dial up enough pressure to get to Prescott and bring out the true rookie in him. The secondary has played exceptionally well considering they have been without Sam Shields all year and 2nd year corners Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins have not shown signs of being potential star players for this defense. Rollins will most likely be back after a scary injury in Detroit and that will be a huge bonus for Green Bay’s ability to contain Dez Bryant and the speedy Cole Beasley.
The loss of Jordy Nelson hurts, but it forces Rodgers to look around and find more guys on the field. It is no doubt that Nelson is Rodgers’ go-to, but after Nelson exited last weeks’ game, the Packers offense began clicking and Rodgers found Adams, Cook and Cobb who all got consistent separation from the end of the first half to the end of the game. This year the Packers have receivers who are confident in their game as well as a wildcard in Geronimo Allison who nearly matches Jordy Nelson in height and athleticism.
I think Green Bay wins this one with veteran experience. They are definitely not favored, but this one has the feel of Aaron Rodgers having so much confidence in his team and more importantly, Rodgers and company are having a ton of fun out there, which makes them an incredibly dangerous team in the run the table campaign. There are a ton of expectations heaped on the Dallas Cowboys and Dak Prescott has yet to face this type of situation. Dallas will keep it interesting, but give me Green Bay and a ten point win!