It took 256 regular season games, but we’ve finally whittled down the 32-team NFL field to just 12 teams that have rightfully earned their place in the 2016-17 NFL playoffs. After a disappointingly non-competitive Wild Card Weekend, we’re onto the divisional round, which is oftentimes the best weekend of football of the year. As we did for round one, we’ll be breaking down each game right here, with a special emphasis on the most important things, like who might win, why, and most importantly, by how many points. All lines and spreads are courtesy of Westgate Sportsbook.
It’s back. That air of infallibility that usually follows Aaron Rodgers around like a lost puppy has returned. Sure, it took a four-week hiatus in the middle of the season, causing derision to exude from his critics and disbelief from his fans, but boy has it come back with a vengeance.
That is the challenge that lies ahead in the divisional round for the Dallas Cowboys, America’s team, and arguably America’s best team throughout the regular season not named the New England Patriots.
They’ve already bested Rodgers and Co. once this season — back in Week 6 on the back of a breakout, three-touchdown performance from Dak Prescott and a 157-yard rushing effort from Ezekiel Elliott in Lambeau Field — and doing it again would put the Cowboys into the NFC title game for the first time since 1995, when they beat the Packers en route to a third Super Bowl title in four years.
Green Bay Packers @ Dallas Cowboys – Sun. 4:40 p.m. ET
Spread: Cowboys -4
Spread: If there’s anything we learned from the first time these teams met, it’s that stopping the run might just be tantamount to winning this football game for the Packers. Elliott ran wild against the Pack, and as a great rushing attack tends to do, that opened things up for Prescott and made his life easy.
Stopping the run for the Packers is even more important this time around as they’re paper thin at the cornerback position. If the Cowboys can exploit their defense on the ground and through the air, they’ll be in deep trouble.
Things are far from perfect on the offensive side of the ball for the Packers. Of course, there’s No. 12, but his No. 1 target Jordy Nelson won’t be suiting up for this game and running back Ty Montgomery, who has played almost as big a part as Rodgers has in rejuvenating this offense, won’t be 100 percent if he does go after suffering a scary-looking leg injury against the Giants last week.
The Cowboys’ defense can certainly be had — especially through the air by a quarterback as capable as Rodgers — but does he have enough weapons at his disposal to get the job done?
Or, conversely, is he good enough to negate the absence of key cogs in the Packers’ offensive machine?
Evidence from last week’s matchup against the New York Giants suggests that he is. Nelson was lost for the game against the Giants with roughly 11 minutes left in the second half when the outcome was still very much in doubt. Actually, the Packers were losing when Nelson went down and hadn’t scored a touchdown to that point. Rodgers would finish the game with 362 yards passing and four touchdowns, so yeah, he made it work for at least one week without Nelson.
And, that was against a Giants secondary that allowed fewer yards passing per game than the Cowboys and allowed just 15 passing TDs all year, compared to the 25 allowed by the Cowboys, per sportingcharts.com.
Cheer up, Cowboys fans: the Packers’ defense is ripe for the picking, too. They’ve allowed 32 touchdowns through the air this season and the Cowboys’ offense has been consistent throughout the season, which bodes well for them here.
So, we have a choice: A choice between picking against the infallible No. 12; thereby doubting his ability to put his team on his back on the road against the best team in the NFC, Or picking against the rookie-led Dallas Cowboys; thereby insinuating that their young stars and well-rounded squad will falter on their biggest stage yet — just another victim of the playoff power of Aaron Rodgers and the Packers.
The public and the pundits seem to like the Packers and Rodgers here, and I can’t fault them, but I think it’s too much to ask of Rodgers to beat this well-oiled machine of a Cowboys team. Cowboys -4
As far as the total is concerned, I don’t see this being a low-scoring game, and I certainly don’t see Aaron Rodgers going quietly into the offseason. I think things start slow in Dallas, with defenses asserting themselves, but offenses rule the second half, trading scores until time expires. Over 51.5
Final: Green Bay Packers 24, Dallas Cowboys 30