Sunday, January 11, 2015

Packers vs. Cowboys Divisional Playoff 2015: Preview and Prediction

Given the two weeks since the Green Bay Packers' defeat of the Detroit Lions at Lambeau Field, and last weekend's wildcard victory by the Dallas Cowboys at home in Dallas, there have already been many previews of today's game. Most, naturally, refer to the last time the Pack and 'Boys met at Lambeau for a playoff game: the now infamous Ice Bowl of 1967. In fact, the Packers themselves have played up this history, holding a pep rally outside the stadium last evening at which such Ice Blow luminaries as Hall-of-Famer Dave Robinson and should-be-Hall-of-Famer Jerry Kramer spoke to the gathered masses.

Today's game will not be Ice Bowl 2, at least not in the sense of subzero temperatures. The weather at kickoff is forecast to be cloudy and 18 degrees. Balmy for the Packers, especially after the subzero temps and windchills of the last week.

But the game has all the potential to become part of Packers, Cowboys and NFL lore for some of the same reasons as the first. Primarily, of course, due to the players involved. Likely NFL MVP QB Aaron Rodgers vs. local boy (well, from southeastern Wisconsin anyway) made good, QB Tony Romo. You've got two great young running backs in the Packers Eddie Lacy and the Cowboys DeMarco Murray. Excellent wide receivers in the Packers Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb and the Cowboys Dez Bryant and TE Jason Witten.

You've got the Packers very good entire offensive line against a very good defensive front seven on the Cowboys. And as the good folks at the Packer Report note in their comprehensive subscriber-only preview: "Cowboys had 4 players with 70-plus tackles: S Barry Church (93), LB Rolando McClain (81), rookie LB Anthony Hitchens (73) and S J.J. Wilcox (70). CBs Sterling Moore (13) and Orlando Scandrick (9) had most PD on club. LB Bruce Carter had career-high 5 INTs and led NFL LBs. DE Jeremy Mincey led team with 6 sacks. Also had sack in WC and has 6 sacks in past 8, including playoffs. Rookie DE Demarcus Lawrence had sack, FF and 2 FR last week." Although, as Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Packers beat writer Tom Silverstein notes in his preview, Dallas is "A little banged up on defense, the Cowboys could suffer from attrition, especially following a very physical game against Detroit."

The Packers defense has been coming on strong since moving Clay Matthews to the middle. Look for him to be moving about a lot today to keep the 'Boys from keying on him. If the Packers defensive front can handle a very good Dallas offensive interior, and keep Murray from running loose all day, the Packers secondary should be able to handle the Dallas receivers.

Packers QB Aaron Rodgers on the run, which may be rare in today's game.(Photo by Rick Wood, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

The areas of real concern for Packers fans have to be, first, the status Aaron Rodgers and his torn calf muscle. How long he is able to play and at what level will determine a good deal of this game. He will be limited no matter what to working primarily within the pocket. After returning from his injury after halftime against Detroit, he got the protection he needed and was able to work effectively. He's smart enough to do what he needs to do to help his team.

The second area of concern has to be special teams, primarily protection on field goals. The Packers have had seven field goal attempts blocked this season which is really an astoundingly bad performance. Conditions will make it difficult enough to take advantage of field goal opportunities today. Having yet another poor performance in protection could spell the difference between the Packers moving on to Seattle next weekend for the NFC Championship or clearing out their lockers for the end of this season.

The Prediction
We think this will be a tight game, tighter than it would otherwise be if Rodgers was 100 percent healthy. Still, the Packers are favored by 6 points in this game.

We're calling it 30-27 Packers.

Go Pack Go!!!