It has been a long season for the Green Bay Packers - at least two weeks longer than most of us expected when the Packers sat at 4-6 with six weeks left in the season. But here we are, with the Packers currently being one of the hottest teams in the NFL and tearing up defenses on their way to seven straight wins.
This week, they will travel to play the Dallas Cowboys in an NFC Divisional Playoff matchup that is a rematch of the Week 6 game at Lambeau Field. That game went to Dallas by a 30-16 score, but both teams are quite a bit different than the ones that played back in October.
For starters, each team will have a key receiving weapon that did not play in that game: tight end Jared Cook for Green Bay and wide receiver Dez Bryant for the Cowboys. Meanwhile, wideout Jordy Nelson was just ruled out for the game earlier today, meaning Aaron Rodgers will not have one of his favorite targets on Sunday.
Does that mean we’re pessimistic? Hell no. Here are our picks for the games this weekend, which see us in our group consensus predict that the Packers will travel to Atlanta next week to play the Falcons in the NFC Championship Game.
2017 Divisional Round Picks
|Game||SEA @ ATL||HOU @ NE||PIT @ KC||GB @ DAL||GB-DAL Score|
|Game||SEA @ ATL||HOU @ NE||PIT @ KC||GB @ DAL||GB-DAL Score|
|CONSENSUS||ATL (7-3)||NE (10-0)||KC (6-4)||GB (7-3)||30-28|
As we did last week with the first playoff matchup, here are explanations from many of APC’s writers about our picks for this game. Please also welcome new APC contributor Erin Underwood to the team, as she makes her first appearance in this week’s picks.
Evan “Tex” Western
Packers defeat Cowboys 31-20
Yes, the Packers will be playing without Jordy Nelson. Yes, the Cowboys ran around and through the Packers’ defense in week six. And yes, Dallas will have Dez Bryant healthy, a change from that previous matchup.
But what they don’t have is a hot Aaron Rodgers.
In his career, Rodgers has almost never played poorly indoors. One of his finest games as a pro came at AT&T Stadium, when he earned MVP honors for Super Bowl XLV. Another came earlier that postseason in a complete demolition of the Atlanta Falcons. For his career, his passer rating is almost nine points higher indoors or under a retractable roof (111.2) than outside (102.6).
This pick is all about my confidence in Rodgers to slice through the Cowboys’ 19th-ranked defense (by DVOA), especially in light of what he did to the Giants’ second-rated unit last week over the last 35 minutes of the game. He will need to start much better this Sunday, to be sure, but if he does (and I expect he will), Dallas will be playing from behind early and will not have the big-play potential to keep up.
Jason B. Hirschhorn
Cowboys defeat Packers 34-24
Avenues do exist for the Packers to upset the No. 1 seeded Cowboys on the road. Rookie signal-caller Dak Prescott could freeze up in his first playoff start while Aaron Rodgers and his red-hot offense could turn the game into a shootout. However, the far more likely scenario involves Dallas keeping Prescott out of high-pressure situations by feeding Ezekiel Elliott early and often to take advantage of Green Bay's less-than-stellar run defense. If given enough opportunities, the banged-up Packers D will yield a back-breaking play.
Packers defeat Cowboys 31-26
Both teams are very different now than they were when they met earlier this season, but the Packers have changed more and for the better. The defense is weaker in some areas, but if they can shut down the Giants’ passing attack, I think they’re relatively safe against Dallas. Moreover, I’m confident that the offense can put up enough points to take Dallas out of its running game early. Though relying on a hot streak is a risky strategy, Aaron Rodgers should be able to carry the Packers to a win even if he’s only 80% of the player he’s been for the last two months.
Cowboys defeat Packers, 35-28
I don’t think the Cowboys are immense favorites here, but they’re the top seed for a reason and they’re a tough matchup for the Pack. If the Cowboys can run effectively and, more importantly, if that line give Prescott all day, the Green Bay secondary will be completely overmatched. They’re fine playing coverage for a few seconds, but things get ugly fast if they’re asked to do much more, and the Cowboys are great at making you cover, and cover, and cover. Should the Cowboys get a lead, they can grind it out with the best of them.
Aaron and company should have no trouble putting up some points, but I don’t like being without Nelson and I don’t like Dallas home cooking. If they can make it a shootout they have a chance, but I think the Packers come up just short.
Packers defeat Cowboys 27-24
This is a tough one to call, as both teams bring a strong offense to the game. I don’t think that the fact that Dallas is being led by a rookie QB and a rookie RB in the playoffs should be undervalued. We have yet to see how Prescott can perform in the postseason and while the Cowboys have the huge benefit of home-field advantage, the incredible play we are seeing out of Rodgers right now could very well intimidate the inexperienced QB. The Packers are coming off of a very hot win over the Giants and they’ll more than likely carry that confidence into Dallas.
The key to this one is getting ahead fast and early. The Packers need to control the ball by stopping Ezekiel Elliott, taking the lead early, and forcing the Cowboys to rely on Prescott more than they would like. We obviously know Packers’ CBs are in rough shape, but if they can manage to stop Prescott and leave the game in Rodgers’ hands to get ahead, the Packers could take this one. Jordy being out is a huge loss for Green Bay, but Rodgers still has a slew of receivers at his disposal. The key to this one (as in the last 7) is keeping the ball in Rodgers’ hands.
Packers defeat Cowboys 24-20
I want to think that the Packers can put up even more points against a worse defense than they did last week against the Giants, but I can’t get over the loss of Nelson. He is Rodgers’ go-to guy on third down, and is better at working toward the ball and getting open during the 9 second scramble drills than any other receiver. The loss of Nelson, combined with the ball control offense of the Cowboys, will limit Green Bay’s scoring ability.
Green Bay’s best chance of success defensively relies upon rookies making rookie mistakes in an amped-up atmosphere. While it’s certainly not something anyone can reasonably predict or rely upon, the homer in me thinks that we’ll see a pair of turnovers by Prescott which turn the tide in our favor. The Packers’ defense has been reliant upon turnovers for success in prior years under Dom Capers, and this year is no exception. The defense will need to continue to give the ball back to their offense in order for us to have any shot going forward, and I believe it will happen.
Packers defeat Cowboys 30-28
This week, as I wallowed in anticipatory anxiety, home sick from work, I decided to put on the film of the Packers week 6 loss to the Cowboys. Strange as it may seem, the 30-16 home defeat gave me lots of reasons for optimism. Here are a few:
Jared Cook: It’s important to remember that when the Packers have struggled most on offense this year, it’s been without Jared Cook. It’s almost cliche to talk about the "field-stretching tight end" at this point in McCarthy’s tenure, but it rings true. Aaron Rodgers clearly has more options when Cook is out there commanding attention. It won’t always show up in the stats, but a big bodied, athletic tight end to eat up defenders in the middle of the field is objectively important for this team. It helped them move on from Jordy’s injury against the Giants, and I expect that to continue down the stretch.
Pressure on Dak: Dallas has a phenomenal offensive line. But what you may not remember from the week 6 tilt was the relative effectiveness of Green Bay’s pass rush, all things considered. Prescott coughed up the ball a number of times when under duress, and definitely had rookie moments. With Clay healthy again, Julius Peppers off the leash, and Mike Daniels doing Mike Daniels things, I think this pressure is repeatable. It’s going to be up to the rest of the D to not allow Dak to dink and dunk the Packers to death.
Aaron Rodgers: He was not superb in this game. Throws were slightly off the mark while receivers, too, were not crisp. But the current iteration of this offense is far superior to the week 6 version. All remaining whiffs of whatever funk the star quarterback had been in have all but drifted away in the brisk Green Bay breeze. He is on another level—another planet, even. The fact that he was able to overcome early struggles against a great Giants defense, only to go on to pick them apart with alarming ease, only adds to my certainty about him.
Packers 35 - Cowboys 34
The Packers’ offense is much better than it was Week Six. Ezekiel Elliott was fresh and there was not much tape on Dak Prescott yet. Also, Jared Cook massively changes this offense. He does so more than Jordy Nelson does. The Packers will be able to throw all over a Cowboys defense that is nowhere near as good as the Giants team Green Bay played last week. Rodgers is in one of the greatest stretches of quarterback play ever. Dallas has the home field, but it is not a stadium that has traditionally provided much in the way of home field advantage.
I am giving the Packers a slight edge because the offense has the ability to come from behind and the Cowboys are not a team built to come from behind. Green Bay could control this game early if the offense can score on the first couple possessions, but a slow start could make this tight. The Cowboys can run out the clock if ahead late, but if the Packers can have a lead at some point in the third quarter, it will make the Cowboys play a style they do not want to play. Not terribly confident, but I am sticking with a Packers win… just barely.
Packers 34 Cowboys 20
By listening to some national media, this has a similar feeling to last week. So many were counting the Packers out because the Giants were the “hottest” team in the league. Now, it’s the Packers don’t have a chance because Dallas has been the best team for most of the year. To me, this is the perfect scenario for the Packers. Being the underdogs that very few expect to win. Aaron Rodgers and company seem to thrive in those moments and I feel this will lead to another Packers victory.
Even if Jordy isn’t playing, I feel Rodgers will have another big day against the Dallas secondary. The offensive line is playing out of their minds and I don’t expect much pressure on Rodgers and if they do blitz a lot, Rodgers will pick them apart in the check downs to Ty Montgomery. The O-Line will also get just enough of the run game to keep Dallas from committing too much to the pass.
The biggest issue that the Packers need to tackle is keeping Ezekiel Elliott from having too big of a day. He will get his yards, there is no doubt about that, but Dom Capers needs to keep the Cowboys in 3rd and 5+ to make the Cowboys and Dak Prescott beat them with the pass. That might be a crazy thing to say with how banged up the secondary is but it is the best situation. Let’s hope Capers has some magic up his sleeve and can get some more out of this depleted defense to move on another week.