The Cowboys have never started a season 10-1. Cowboys coach Wade Phillips is the third coach in the Super Bowl era to start 10-1 in his first season with a new team, joining Steve Mariucci (San Francisco, 1997) and Red Miller (Denver, 1977). The Packers are off to their best start since they went 10-1 in 1962, eventually winning the NFL title.
This game has significant playoff implications, especially for potential home-field advantage in the NFC Championship Game. A playoff game in Lambeau Field would be a whole new experience for Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, trying to lead his team in frigid conditions. Conversely, Brett Favre has had his own share of difficulty playing in Texas Stadium, but that was a different Cowboys team.
I believe every player has to prove himself, but Favre has had more of these experiences. Romo looked a little wide-eyed against the Bills on Monday Night Football a few weeks back, so every experience he can get in games like this -- with a playoff atmosphere -- will be good for him. But right now Favre has a psychological advantage and we know what he can do.
The biggest thing that stands out to me in this game is the contrasting styles of these two teams. The Cowboys are more of a bruising team, as they don't have as much speed as some of the Cowboys teams of the 1990s. This team beats you up on defense. The Packers, on the other hand, have a lot of team speed.
The question in my mind is can either defensive line be blocked? The Cowboys offensive line is so big and physical that once they get their hands on you, they can control the line of scrimmage. The Packers defensive line creates a lot of problems, with defensive tackles Corey Williams and Cullen Jenkins. Williams has been great rushing the passer with seven sacks this season. The question is how effective the nicked-up Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila can be coming off an injury. Cowboys tackle Flozell Adams will have his hands full trying to stop Gbaja-Biamila, and if the Cowboys have to commit help to stop him, then that opens the door for Williams and Jenkins.
The key matchup will be Al Harris against Terrell Owens. If Harris can take Owens and cover him one on one, that will free up the rest of the Packers secondary to slide over to cover tight end Jason Witten and the rest of the Cowboys receivers. But that's easier said than done, as Owens has caught at least one touchdown in six consecutive games and has 13 this season.
The health of Charles Woodson also is significant, because he can move inside to cover the slot receiver -- the toughest matchup on the field. If not, the Packers will have to rely on Jarrett Bush. But the key is Harris, because it all trickles down from there.
Favre, meanwhile, creates some problems on the other side. The Packers have a very deep receiving corps and that allows them to run a lot of backfield sets. Favre has just been remarkable this season. Already an NFL legend, Favre has actually become better with age and I can't remember a player getting better as he has gotten older. The way he is reading the defense and throwing the ball in this spread offense, reminds me of Kurt Warner and what he did during his glory days with St. Louis.
The Packers also play a lot without a tight end. And when it's Donald Lee in there at tight end, he is more like a receiver anyway. That means the offensive tackles have to be able to get out on Cowboys defensive ends Greg Ellis and Chris Canty. If they can't be stopped, Favre will have to get rid of the ball quickly.
Another question will be what happens to Roy Williams? The Cowboys safety has been coming out a lot in dime situations and with the formations that the Packers run, Williams might not see the field for half of the game. The rest of the Cowboys secondary is solid -- starting with cornerback Terence Newman, who is just tremendous, and Ken Hamlin has been a huge upgrade for them at free safety.
The defensive line has a lot of depth and they can rotate a lot of people in and out. Look for Favre and the Packers to try to work more in space and try to spread this team out.
This game should be a good one and I am looking forward to it.