On this, the final weekend of the NFL season that features games on multiple days, it's time for us to announce our picks and predictions for the Divisional Round of the playoffs. This week, we'll be taking a slightly different approach than usual. We'll give you our picks for all four divisional games, but we'll each be breaking down the Packers-Cowboys game a bit to explain our pick. Without further ado, here we go with the picks, and scroll down for our complete explanations.
There you have it. Here are our complete picks for the Divisional Round. It will probably be no surprise that all four home teams are the consensus picks; however, none of them are unanimous, as we had at least one person pick the underdog to win in each game.
Now, on to our explanations of what we think will happen starting at about noon on Sunday.
Evan "Tex" Western - Packers
Many people are expecting a high-scoring game, and for good reason as both offenses are among the best in the NFL. However, I think the pace of this game will slow down a little bit, as both teams try to pound the ball with their great running backs. Still, the battles in the trenches will decide this game, and there's no way I'm betting against this Packers offensive line. They'll keep Aaron Rodgers upright and able to work comfortably from the pocket, and the should also be able to open up holes for Eddie Lacy and company.
I think the Packers will have a two-score lead in the fourth quarter and will be able to hold off a late comeback attempt by Romo and company to lock up a spot in the NFC Championship game.
Jason B. Hirschhorn - Packers
More than the condition of Aaron Rodgers' calf, what will decide Sunday's game is which team better exploits their big strength-on-weakness matchup. The Packers rank second in passing by DVOA, while the Cowboys defense is only the 22nd best unit at defending it.
That's a decided advantage for Green Bay. Meanwhile, Dallas' ground attack rates third by DVOA, a good matchup against Green Bay's 24th-ranked run defense. Because it's more likely that the Packers will find a way to neutralize DeMarco Murray than it is for the Cowboys to figure out how to stop Aaron Rodgers, I see Green Bay advancing to the conference championship.
Aron Yohannes - Cowboys
Yes, Dallas is undefeated on the road this season, but the opponents they've faced have a combined record of 48-80, so that record is a bit misleading. I don't believe Aaron Rodgers will be at full strength, and I think they'll him to be just because of his ability to extend plays. Still, Rodgers doesn't necessarily need his mobility that much just because of his throwing ability.
What doesn't have me so confident in Green Bay is Dallas' strength running the football, and I think we're going to reach a point in this game where they close out things out because of it. It's a passing league, and the notion that you need to run the ball to win isn't as true as it sounds, but you need it to run down the clock and improve your chances of sustaining long drives. The run defense for the Packers has played much better of late, of course, and this same reasoning could be said for Green Bay and Eddie Lacy, but this is the best offense that their defense has faced all year, and I think that will ultimately be the difference. In a close one, I'm going with the Cowboys over the Packers, 27-24, in a game that should come to a conclusion based on the final minutes.
Brendan Kennedy - Packers
We're supposed to believe this game is going to be a legitimate battle. A clash resembling the old 90's versions of the two teams - with physicality and firepower colliding to form an explosive slugfest that boils down to a nail-biting conclusion. The more likely scenario however, isn't so dramatic. For one, the Cowboys haven't played anyone that even resembles a competent NFL team since their improbable Week 6 win against Seattle. And just last week, it took perhaps the most egregious refereeing screwjob since the Fail Mary to beat the Lions - a team the Packers dismissed with all the casual intensity of ordering tea just the week before.
This is an overhyped and, dare I say, fraudulent Cowboys team. Yes, they have a talented offensive line and yes, DeMarco Murray has done some things. But this is Aaron Rodgers at Lambeau. Sure he has a tear in his calf. But it's nothing compared to the chip on his shoulder. And as we've seen before, a motivated Aaron Rodgers is the most frightening Aaron Rodgers of all. Green Bay rolls in this one, 31-20.
Vermont Cubs Fan - Packers
Although the Cowboys were 8-0 this year on the road in the regular season, only two of their road wins were against teams that did anything this year. Those wins were against Philadelphia, who the Packers whipped 53-20 in November, and Seattle, who was struggling early this year, and sat at 3-3 after the Cowboys game before getting it together.
I don't see that streak continuing this week. Packers win, 34-20, and it's not even that close.
Paul Noonan - Packers
Everyone, including me, thought the Cowboy defense would be hot flaming garbage this year, but some nifty work from Rod Marinelli and smart game planning has them firmly in regular garbage territory, which worked just fine given their excellent offense. Dallas is a little scary for Green Bay just because of their rushing attack as the Packers still struggle against the run, but even if the Packers fall behind, even if the Cowboys can sit on their running game, they don't have the defense to stop the Packer offense.
Much was made in the last week of Tony Romo's excellent play on the road, but that's more a result of the defense's he's faced. Not counting division opponents the Cowboys faced, on average, the NFL's fifth best defense at home (per DVOA) while only facing, on average, the NFL's 21st ranked defense on the road. Green Bay is 16th overall and a solid 11th against the pass. They will be one of the toughest defenses Romo has faced on the road. The Packers have steamrolled every bottom-tier defense they've played and barring weird weather or something like that the Packers should have no trouble running up the score. That should be enough.