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Packers @ Cowboys: Plenty to sink teeth into in this renewed rivalry

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It’s Packers week and this rivalry has been one of the best in history, now it’s renewed.

NFL: NFC Divisional-Green Bay Packers at Dallas Cowboys Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

You’ll see a lot of beloved followers of the Dallas Cowboys chalking this up as a must-win game. Unless there are eliminations involved, neither team will be toast if they lose a week five game. Speaking for all teams, you hope to win every game and that mindset of urgency or “must-win” is prevalent every single week. Now, speaking for just the Cowboys, this game is obviously big for a 2-2 team that wants to prove they’re still every bit as capable of being the powerhouse they were in 2016.

Skyrocketing expectations is nothing new for the Dallas Cowboys after they were 13-3 a season ago. However, a new season changes all the rules from year to year. We’re seeing the Cowboys’ struggles out of the gate with a not-so-dominant offensive line dealing with new faces. Continuity is an important aspect of any offense and the Cowboys just haven’t been able to put it all together.

Over the first month of the season, we’ve seen a complete mixed bag of results. They dominated the hapless Giants, got blown out by the Broncos, gutted out a victory against the Cardinals, and snatched defeat from the jaws of victory against the Rams. So far, the inconsistent play up and down the Cowboys’ roster has made them a .500 football team.

Right now, the Dallas Cowboys are an average football team with the talent to be much more than that. To quote the great Aaron Rodgers a few seasons ago, R-E-L-A-X. Rodgers actually broke it down for the Cowboys:

"They're 2-2, I think Philly's what 3-1, so they're one back in the division, still have a couple games against those guys," he explained. "There's a lot of time left in this season. Just got to make the most of your opportunities, and games you should win, you got to win those.

"But again, we're in Week 5 here. There's a lot of football that has to happen and you want to be playing your best at the right time."

He’s right, there is a lot of football to be played but this is also a hungry fan base looking for sustained success. For teams like Green Bay or New England, they’ve got the skins on the wall to never count them out. You can’t blame folks being a little on edge with the early struggles. Everyone has seen this before.

The last time the Cowboys were 13-3, they followed it up with a 9-7 in 2008, missing the playoffs, and losing three of their final four games. In 2009, the Cowboys were 11-5, even won a playoff game but were trounced by the Vikings. The next year, Tony Romo was hurt and they went 6-10. What followed was three consecutive 8-8 performances, a dazzling 12-4, a soul-crushing 4-12, and then the 13-3 rookie revolution of last year. That word inconsistency has hung around far too long now.

Anytime you are reminded of past Cowboy lows, the Green Bay Packers aren’t far above the fray. We all know it dates back to the infamous Ice Bowl of 1966 but the recent wounds sting just as much. For yours truly, who’s been in a seven-year relationship with a Packers’ fan who loves her “12” jersey, life in this rivalry is like the movie “Groundhog’s Day”.

The Green Bay Packers are responsible for my worst sports experience ever. In 2013, this Packer fan bought me an early Christmas gift and dragged me to the game despite the fact I had the flu. In a game where Rodgers didn’t play, the Cowboys cruised to a 26-3 lead at halftime only to get outscored 34-10 by Matt Flynn and lose. As we drove the three hours back to Austin so I could see a doctor the next day, I was helpless laying in the backseat with a terrible fever.

We’ll never forgive the football gods for 2014? While the NFL continues to struggle with defining a catch, to Cowboys’ fans, they were robbed of the best year in Tony Romo’s career. We’ve all been in that “what if” conversation on how Dallas would have been the worst match up for the Seahawks in the NFC Championship game. We all gnashed our teeth watching Seattle throw the goal-line interception just knowing DeMarco Murray could have carried the rock to the ultimate victory.

In all seven years of my relationship with the enemy, watching Dallas beat the Packers 30-16 last season may have been the best ever. It didn’t take long for Cowboys’ fans hearts to again be broken in two. At one point last season, Green Bay lost four straight and were 4-6. No big deal, Rodgers and company tore up the NFL on an eight-game winning streak that came up one game short of the Super Bowl.

The aforementioned heartbreak was of course when the Packers rode in to AT&T Stadium in a divisional round contest. Green Bay easily battered the Cowboys’ defense going up 21-13 at halftime in a game that didn’t seem that close. To his credit, Dak Prescott brought the Cowboys back in a thrilling second-half performance tying it at 31-31. With only :58 seconds, looking at an overtime, Rodgers completed a 3rd and 20 and Mason Crosby stuck the dagger in and twisted. Third and 20?!

With all due respect to the NFC East, the Green Bay Packers are the Cowboys’ biggest rivalry. Which brings us back to this week five match up with the 3-1 Packers.

Sure, Green Bay is dealing with attrition as their two starting tackles have been missing in action. As a result, Rodgers has been sacked 15 times (fourth-most in the NFL). Rodgers will most likely be missing Ty Montgomery, who is their leading rusher and second in receptions. The leader in receiving yards, Davante Adams, is in the concussion protocol and is questionable. The defense is also nicked up with at least three starters listed as questionable. For the Cowboys, they expect everyone to give it a go except for Sean Lee, which was a huge factor in last week’s loss to the Rams.

Defensively speaking, the Cowboys’ offense should have plenty of opportunities to make this a game. Green Bay’s defense is 14th in rushing, 14th in sacks, 15th in scoring, surprisingly fifth in pass defense. The Packers’ defense has standouts like Clay Matthews, Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix, and Mike Daniels but they can be attacked through the air and ground.

What it comes down to is the Cowboys’ being able to sustain an offensive rhythm for four quarters of football. It doesn’t matter who the Packers are missing, Aaron Rodgers is the ultimate equalizer. Despite an offensive line made up of five guards, Rodgers still has his offense Top-10 in passing and scoring. Rodgers will make his plays in this game, believe that. For Dallas, they have to figure out a way to sprinkle in some stops, keep Rodgers from extending too many plays, and figure out how to stop third-and-longs from being converted.

The Cowboys have shown us glimpses of their ground-and-pound identity. They must now put a full game together and return to offensive consistency. This team is still capable of being an offensive powerhouse and they’ll have to be to win this game. That bend-don’t-break defense only works when the offense carries out their end of the bargain.

The talk about revenge and rivalries are fun to discuss as everyone in Cowboyland is begging for a ‘W’. The Packers have been playing the role of Cowboys’ spoiler for Dallas’ entire existence. Though it’s hardly a must-win game, a victory against this perennial playoff adversary would be a huge boost right before the bye week. At some point, the Cowboys have to beat good teams to join the heavyweights. This game could set the tone for the Cowboys’ season. Will the Cowboys rise to the occasion or will they wallow around in mediocrity?