The first goal of every NFL team is to make the playoffs. The Dallas Cowboys have done that in good fashion, winning the NFC East and claiming the number two seed. That earned a home game for the wild card round. It is something that makes us feel good, as it means they get to play the seventh seed, the Green Bay Packers. On paper, this is a very favorable matchup.
But, as the media is so happy to point out, the Packers have not been an easy opponent for the Cowboys for a long time.
Of course, those past games don’t have a lot to do with this Sunday’s game. But there are a lot of reasons why this is one that Dallas needs to be very prepared to put their best game on the field against Green Bay. Our David Howman and Tom Ryle explain why.
David: I’m very much in the camp that’s not even the least bit worried about this Packers team. They worked hard to get this far, and they unquestionably earned their playoff spot, but they’re also the seventh seed for a reason. That’s not to say they’re the worst playoff team this year – ironically, there are three teams with a lower total DVOA grade, and all of them are in the NFC – but there’s nothing we’ve seen this year from either team to suggest this should even be close.
Having said that, I’ve seen enough Cowboys playoff games to know that this kind of setup is nightmare fuel for some fans. Personally, though, I just don’t see it.
Tom: See, that’s exactly the kind of mindset that gets you beat. After all, we knew Dallas was just going to roll over the Arizona Cardinals, right? And this game reminds me a lot of both the Miami Dolphins and Detroit Lions contests. Green Bay is, in my mind, close to being on their level, especially the way they have closed out the season.
No matter how you rate the teams, the Packers have enough talent that all it takes is one or two big mistakes, and things can head in the wrong direction. We saw just last week that Dallas certainly can make those big mistakes. The Washington Commanders were not good enough for a blocked punt and an interception in the early going to be much more than speed bumps for the Cowboys, but that is not likely to be the case this week.
One plus for Dallas is who isn’t with Green Bay anymore, one Aaron Rodgers. I think Jordan Love is doing very well, but he does not bring the nemesis factor. However, my biggest worry is another player named Aaron who is going to be there, and who played an instrumental part in beating the Cowboys just a year ago. That is running back Aaron Jones, who had 138 yards rushing plus a couple of catches. Dallas is better off forcing the game into Love’s hands, I think, and that means they have to keep Jones from preventing that.
David: Aaron Jones would worry me a lot more if Green Bay had a defense. The Packers have a good run game, and Jones anchors that part of the offense, but having a good run game won’t get you far if you’re in a shootout.
That’s where my confidence really stems from. The Packers defense, in an analogy that’s absolutely perfect for Green Bay and their fan base, plays like it’s made of Swiss cheese. Dak Prescott and this Texas Coast offense have sliced through much tougher defenses this year, with many of them employing similar schemes to the one defensive coordinator Joe Barry uses. I’d trust Prescott anywhere against this defense, but I’m especially confident with the game being played in AT&T Stadium. If they score the way they have all year in Dallas, it won’t matter if Jones rushes for 200 yards because a run-heavy approach simply can’t contend with this pass happy Texas Coast when everything is clicking.
I also don’t think Jones will get 200 yards, because the Cowboys have quietly been really good against the run lately. They rank 10th in EPA/rush allowed and fifth in run defense DVOA, and they just got Johnathan Hankins back. I’m not saying the Packers will get stuffed at the line on every carry, but I’m not particularly worried about that.
Tom: If Dallas brings their A game, I agree that I don’t think the Packers can keep up. I don’t like talking about “beating themselves,” but the danger here is for the Cowboys to let up on their focus or look ahead. I am encouraged by the many signs they are not doing that, but I’m just as aware as most that Dallas isn’t the only one bringing a streak into this game. Green Bay is 9-1 over the last ten meetings between these teams. I know, most of those are ages ago in NFL terms, but that still gives me pause.
Countering that, however, is that the coach that engineered so many of those defeats is now calling the offense for the Cowboys. Still, Matt LaFluer won that last one. Dallas just cannot afford to stumble and leave the door open for a team that earned its way into the playoffs.
David: Well, yes, there is always the danger of the Cowboys beating themselves. If that’s the case, then it doesn’t matter who the opponent is. But I feel confident that this team won’t be so casual and unfocused to where that could happen. They may not have the best playoff record as of late, but it’s not because they beat themselves. They crushed a similarly undermanned Tampa Bay Buccaneers team last year, but those two losses to the San Francisco 49ers were close ones against one of the most loaded rosters in all of football.
Mike McCarthy has generally had this team prepared for big games, and especially in the postseason. I expect that to continue into this game, especially considering the players know how much more this one means to their coach. If that doesn’t happen, then the sky may just be falling, but I won’t entertain that reality until it actually comes to pass. I’m still very confident in a Cowboys win this Sunday.
Tom: Believe me, I hope your confidence is well-placed. I do think Dallas wins and advances, and reaps the home field advantages of their two seed. This is the best chance they have of making a deep run in a long time, and none of us wants to see it wasted.