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Divisional Round preview: Cowboys-Packers

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The backstory


Both the Green Bay Packers and Dallas Cowboys have ghosts to slay when they meet in Sunday's NFC Divisional Round bout at Lambeau Field -- a rematch of the classic "Ice Bowl" of 1967.

The Packers are making their sixth straight playoff appearance with star passer Aaron Rodgers at the helm, but the postseason has been filled with disappointment since winning Super Bowl XLV four seasons ago.

Green Bay's 15-1 juggernaut of 2011 felt like a lock, only to crumble in a stunner at home to the Giants. One year later, Rodgers and friends were torched by the upstart 49ers before falling again to San Francisco last January. Three years, three straight playoff losses. The pressure is on this hyper-talented Packers team to live up to their potential.

Tony Romo shined down the stretch in Sunday's wild-card win, but the Cowboys quarterback -- blamed for everything from global warming to unrest in Gaza -- knows one victory won't be enough to curtail his doubters. He now stands at the threshold of a golden opportunity: Down the Packers, silence the haters and bring the 'Boys one step closer to the promised land.

Under pressure, Part One


Cowboys secondary:

The Dallas defense has surpassed expectations, but the secondary gave up plenty of chunk plays to Golden Tate and Calvin Johnson in the wild-card bout. After allowing the Lions two-some to team for 11 catches and 174 yards, the Cowboys are in for an even stiffer test on Sunday against wideouts Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb.

The Packers duo ranks first in the league in receiving touchdowns (25), second in combined receiving yards (2,806) and fourth in total receptions (189). As the first team in NFL history boasting two players with 1,200-plus receiving yards and 12-plus touchdowns, the Packers have leaned on Nelson and Cobb to help the offense score on a league-best 46.7 percent of their drives.

Dallas has yet to be tested this way through the air, but the team's recent spate of thievery might help. The Cowboys have forced 15 turnovers during their five-game winning streak, the most in the NFL since Week 14. Three takeaways saved the day against Detroit, but turnovers won't be easy against a Packers offense with an NFL-low 13 giveaways this season. Rodgers, meanwhile, boasts an outrageous 25:0 touchdown-to-interception ratio at home in 2014.

We've been impressed with Orlando Scandrick of the Cowboys -- the league's No. 10 overall cornerback, per Pro Football Focus -- but the back end of this defense must muster up its finest game of the year to keep a lid on the Rodgers-led fireworks.

Under pressure, Part Two


The calf of Rodgers:

Green Bay's quarterback has battled a tweaked calf since Week 16. Coach Mike McCarthy has expressed only confidence in Rodgers suiting up against the 'Boys, but this affair swings wildly in favor of Dallas if backup Matt Flynn does anything beyond downing cups of cocoa on the sidelines.

Matchup to watch:


DeMarco Murray vs. Packers run defense:

After allowing 129.2 yards per game on the ground through Week 13, Green Bay has given up just 80.0 yards per tilt over the past three games. Granted, that average was greatly helped by holding the ghost-ship known as the Buccaneers to 16 yards in Week 16.

Green Bay on the year has hardly been a force against the run, ranking 23rd in that category despite facing just two top-five rushers all season. Marshawn Lynch punctured the Pack for 110 yards and a pair of scores in Week 1 -- which feels like 43 years ago -- before LeSean McCoy rumbled for 88 more in Week 11.

Dallas won't wander from the script, angling to shorten the game with clock-chewing drives that lean on Murray, the NFL's leading rusher, to tire down Green Bay's front seven. Murray's 12 games of 100-plus rushing yards are a Cowboys record, but the workhorse has been held under 100 yards in four of his past six outings.

Murray looked healthy against the Lions, but his 411 totes on the year -- 99 more than any other back -- have pushed the envelope. Does the Dallas wonder have one more monster outing on tap?

Mind-blowing stats:


Aaron Rodgers (106.0) and Tony Romo (97.6) are the two highest-rated passers in NFL history. ... Romo (113.2) and Rodgers (112.2) also boast a combined quarterback rating of 225.4 this season, the highest combined passer rating by two signal-callers starting a playoff game in league history. ... This will be just the sixth postseason tilt in NFL lore where opposing quarterbacks each had 220-plus career touchdown passes. ... Since 2011, Rodgers has produced the top-three single-season passer ratings at home in NFL history. ... In games below 40 degrees, Romo's passer rating dips to 86.3 (11.3 points below his career average) with Rodgers remaining an effective 104.7 (1.3 points below his career average).

Sunday marks the first ever playoff matchup of teams to go 8-0 on road (Cowboys) and 8-0 at home (Packers) in the regular season. ... The Cowboys are the first team in history to have the NFL's leader in passer rating (Tony Romo), rushing yards (DeMarco Murray) and receiving touchdowns (Dez Bryant) in the same season. ... Rodgers has thrown 36 touchdowns since his last pick at home, which was Week 13, 2012 against the Vikings. That's 14 consecutive games and 418 attempts without an interception, both of which are the NFL's longest streaks since 1960.

Prediction:


The cold and logical pick -- and the wise one -- is Green Bay. Indestructible at home, Rodgers and the Packers have the requisite skill-position talent to end this game before it starts. They also have the best quarterback -- maybe of all time -- running the show.

Dallas, though, has the star power on offense to go punch for punch with Green Bay's high-octane attack. If the Cowboys can run the ball and keep Rodgers on the sideline, this will go down to the end in a classic for the ages. Expect nothing less.

Dallas Cowboys 31, Green Bay Packers 29


The latest Around The NFL Podcast previews every Divisional Round game and breaks down the Manning-Luck matchup. Find more Around The NFL content on NFL NOW.

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