A preview of the NFC divisional playoff matchup between the Green Bay Packers and Dallas Cowboys
When: Sunday, 4:40 p.m. ET (FOX)
Where: AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas
Line: Cowboys favored by 4
THREE THINGS TO KNOW
1. A different kind of wild-card weekend: The Cowboys cruised — relatively easily — to the best record in the NFC. However they enter the playoffs with some unknowns. Rookies Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott became the new faces of the franchise overnight, but the postseason crucible will provide a significant hurdle, especially against a playoff-savvy and red-hot team like Green Bay. The defense has again been stripped of suspended DE Randy Gregory, a blow to Dallas' 26th-ranked pass defense. CB Morris Claiborne's anticipated return from a groin injury should be a welcome addition. But he's bound to be rusty and perhaps tentative against a high-powered Packers passing game orchestrated by QB Aaron Rodgers, who will exploit any weakness.
2. X-factor: Obstructing NFL rushing champion Elliott will almost surely be the focus of Green Bay's defense, which must try and keep Dallas from dominating time of possession on Rodgers' behalf. That should mean more opportunities for WR Dez Bryant. Though he's battled injuries while adjusting to life without Tony Romo over two substandard seasons (by Bryant's standards), he remains an elite playmaker who can easily exploit man-to-man coverage. In the Cowboys' playoff dress rehearsal in Week 16, it appeared Bryant and Prescott were finally developing chemistry, hooking up for a pair of scores. And expect Bryant to carry extra motivation following his infamous non-catch at Lambeau Field two years ago, a "drop" that basically ended Dallas' season.
3. No dodging Rodgers: Immersed in a zone similar to the one he parlayed into a championship run six years ago — one that successfully concluded in Dallas' building in Super Bowl XLV — Rodgers has been virtually unstoppable. After throwing for 362 yards and four TDs in Sunday's beatdown of the New York Giants, he's compiled this gaudy stat line during the Pack's seven-game winning streak: 2,029 passing yards, 19 TDs, 69.6% completion percentage, 121.7 passer rating. He hasn't been intercepted since Nov. 13. However he was merely mortal (294 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT) in Green Bay's Week 6 loss to the Cowboys at Lambeau. Though Rodgers has been torching all comers lately, it will certainly help if he can keep the offense from falling into a 14-point second-half deficit and being rendered one-dimensional, which is what happened in the October matchup. That could be a challenging task if WR Jordy Nelson (ribs) can't play and/or if an erratic Packers defense can't do its part.