The wait is finally over. In what has seemed like an eternity, the Dallas Cowboys will finally be playing a football game. And it’s a big one. For the first time all season, the Cowboys will be playing in an elimination game. While the coaches and players have appeared calm and confident during interviews this week, for fans - many of us are a nervous wreck. The very thought of the Cowboys 2016 season ending is frightening. It’s going to be a tough battle, but anything worth having isn’t going to come easy.
At work on Friday, I was stopped in the hallway seven times and asked what I thought was going to happen in the game and what the final score would be. I could see the fear in the faces of many people. I get it. We are all a little skittish about this game because of what’s at stake. I felt like Dr. Phil trying to give them a sense of peace, reassuring them that everything is going to be okay. It’s time to step off the ledge and come on down to the party because it’s going to be a great day for Cowboys fans.
The front page writers offer up their final predictions for the Cowboys big matchup with the Green Bay Packers.
The Cowboys running game will be a huge problem for the Packers. Pounding away will keep Dak Prescott in manageable third down plays. This will help move the chains and present scoring opportunities. And when the Packers start struggling to stop the run and commit extra resources, the Cowboys will attack deep. This offense can beat you in so many ways.
Defensively, going up against the hottest quarterback in football isn’t as bad as many are hyping it up to be. Rodgers is a great player and he will make some big plays for Green Bay. It’s a foregone conclusion. But the Cowboys defense is good enough to win some battles too. The Packers receivers aren’t great at getting open (there’s a reason Rodgers has to hold the ball so long) and the Cowboys defensive backs are deep with skilled coverage guys. Having to throw darts in a small window is something Rodgers is good at, but it’s not a sustainable recipe for winning. The Cowboys will employ a complete team effort of pass rush schemes, tackling, and great coverage so that there will be plenty of Packers possessions that don’t end in touchdowns.
Cowboys win, 31-21.
BOLD PREDICTION: Dak puts a little extra on his runs and has a career high in rushing. After all, there will be no holding back so he should have the green light. As a team, Dallas will rush for over 200 yards.
X FACTOR PLAYER: Byron Jones. While the “non-catch” from the 2014 Playoff game is haunting to many Cowboys fans, nothing was more sickening that watching the Packers offense exploit J.J. Wilcox. Well, there is a new safety in town and he’ll be all over the field fending off potential big passing plays from Rodgers.
Forrest Ezekiel, Run! The Dallas Cowboys should have one thing on their mind when they hit the field against the Green Bay Packers, establish a punishing run game. Just like back in October, the Cowboys need to be physical, keep control of the ball, use the run to create chunk plays, and use an efficient passing game to dominate the action. As long as Dallas can run the ball, everything else falls into place. The passing game will take off with the Packers trying to stop the run. Even the defense is helped when the Cowboys control the ball and clock, and red-hot Aaron Rodgers has to cool his heels on the sideline.
BOLD PREDICTION: As the Packers attempt to control Zeke and Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams has a huge game with over 150 yards receiving and a touchdown.
X FACTOR PLAYER: Maliek Collins wrecks the interior of the Packers line, causing multiple splash plays for his defensive teammates.
Excellence during the regular season is not enough. With a win tomorrow, this Dallas team will have gone farther than any Cowboys squad since 1995, the last year the team won the Super Bowl. The Cowboys have played four times in that 20-year span for the opportunity to meet in the NFC Championship game and go the Super Bowl, and they have come up short all four times. This year, with this team, I believe it will be different. I believe the Cowboys are going to beat the Packers, perhaps convincingly, and advance to fight again next week.
Why will it be different? First of all, this team focuses on what they need to do, and then executes that plan. Sure, they game plan for opponents, but they fear no one. If they do their jobs, they will win. Second, there is no team in the NFL more powerful than the Dallas Cowboys. On offense, they can bludgeon teams with Ezekiel Elliott and the running game. As we saw last week in the dominant wins by Pittsburgh and Seattle, a powerful running game is a sure path to victory in the playoffs. Third, they are stronger on defense than most expect. This is the only Cowboys team since 1995 to rank 5th or higher in points scored and points allowed. The defensive line has come into it's own, Sean Lee is a force, and the secondary has everyone playing at a high level, whether man-to-man or in zone. Fourth, the team has the energy, exuberance, and excitement of youth. It starts with Dak and Zeke, but it's more than them. The team is loaded with young, powerful and skillful players, and they're going to be way too much for the Packers tomorrow.
Finish the Fight! Go Cowboys!
I sometimes hate to do predictions, because I always feel like a jinx if I get it wrong, but I do think this game is going to surprise all those who talk only about how much better Green Bay is than it was when the Cowboys beat them earlier in the season. They are going to find out that Dallas is better, too, and more improved than the Packers.
The mini-slump Dak had on the road against the Minnesota Vikings and New York Giants has somewhat blinded people to just how well he played against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and especially the Detroit Lions. The interplay between the running game and the passing game is also deceptive, since when one is really clicking, the other one is not used as much, simply because there is no need to. And the defense is getting back six key players, four of them on the defensive line, at a time when the pass rush is already greatly improved from earlier in the season.
Aaron Rodgers will still have two or three plays that will have the announcers foaming at the mouth with praise, but they will be just like Odell Beckham Jr.'s celebrated one-handed grab against Brandon Carr: Part of a losing effort. I think it will be a fairly comfortable win for the Cowboys, and not as close as the score will look. I'll even grit my teeth and predict a score: Cowboys 31 Packers 23, with Rodgers throwing a last TD in garbage time.
BOLD PREDICTION: Aaron Rodgers will still have two or three plays that will have the announcers foaming at the mouth with praise, but they will be just like Odell Beckham Jr.'s celebrated one-handed grab against Brandon Carr: Part of a losing effort.
X FACTOR PLAYER: Justin Durant, who I think will be used to keep Rodgers from having as much time in the pocket.
I don't think it turns into the shootout that most people are anticipating because I believe the Dallas secondary keeps Green Bay largely in check. I particularly expect to see the 326 alignment used often. I don't think Green Bay will have equivalent success containing the Dallas offense but that the ball control nature of Dallas is play will keep the score down somewhat.
Dallas wins, 24-17.
Finish the Fight comes to life as the Dallas Cowboys make a fourth quarter comeback against a stingier than expected Packers defense as Dallas wins 24-17.
X FACTOR PLAYER: Brice Butler stars as the x-factor and burns the defense with an early long touchdown to get Dak's confidence up.
The majority of this game will be a battle, the Packers are likely going to be focused on stopping Ezekiel Elliott with safety help in the box. Green Bay just doesn't have the defensive capital to combat what the Cowboys can offensively accomplish. Aaron Rodgers will play very well, but in the end, the Cowboys entire team will be too much.
Cowboys pull away late for a 31-21 win and a big day from Dez Bryant.
X FACTOR PLAYER: Expect a big day from Dez.
Those are our predictions. What do you think the score will be and who will be the X-factor player?