The Green Bay Packers are the hottest team in the NFC, winners of seven straight. They’ve rallied from a 4-6 start to reach the 2nd round of the playoffs. It’s been all Aaron Rodgers.
No, really. all Rodgers. He’s thrown 19 TDs and 0 interceptions during the winning streak. The rest of the Packers? Let’s put it this way: Rodgers should have been listed as questionable this week because his back has to be sore from carrying Green Bay against a bunch of teams that are vastly inferior to the Cowboys.
I can’t quite call the Packers’ streak fraudulent, but here’s a closer look:
1) During the 7-game winning streak, the Packers haven’t faced one Top 10 scoring offense. The best? Philadelphia, with a rookie QB and no running game, finished 16th in points per game. Next best? Seattle, ranked 18th, went into Green Bay with its pathetic offensive line, and got steamrolled. (It was also the defense’s first game without Earl Thomas). Green Bay played quarterbacks with some brand name recognition on offense (Detroit, New York, Seattle) but these teams were often one-dimensional and below-average offensive teams.
2) The Packers defense is vastly overrated. Don’t let the win streak fool you. They finished the season allowing 5.9 yards per play, 28th in the league. Yes, a chunk of that happened early when they were bad, but here’s the important part: When the Packers faced a Top 10 offense, they were lit up:
Atlanta: 1st in PPG, 1st in yards per play, 33 points
Washington: 12th in PPG, 2nd in yards per play, 42 points
Dallas: 5th in PPG, 4th in yards per play, 30 points
3) But Jason, you can only play your schedule! Obviously true. The last good running team the Packers faced? Houston. On December 4th. The game was played in the snow. But the Texans were able to keep it reasonably close all afternoon before losing 21-13. The key? Keep the ball away from Rodgers. Houston averaged 4.6 ypc and ran for 123 yards. Here are the last five running backs the Packers have faced: Paul Perkins/Rashad Jennings; Zach Zenner; Jerick McKinnon; Jordan Howard (90 yards); Thomas Rawls. So when you see that the Packers are 8th in the league in rush defense, it’s misleading: The stats were largely compiled against inferior backs.
The Cowboys have the best offensive line in the NFL, the league’s leading rusher, and averaged 149.8 rushing yards per game (2nd).
When you look at just the QB matchup – rookie Dak Prescott, coming off a bye week! vs Aaron Rodgers of the hottest team in the NFL! – it feels like the Packers have a chance.
But Dallas ain’t fooling anyone with this game plan: Run Elliott behind a healthy offensive line, dominate time of possession, and keep Rodgers off the field. The Cowboys were 2nd in time of possession this season (the Giants, who kept going 3-and-out last week, were 29th). It’s what the Cowboys did in the first meeting (in Lambeau, without Dez Bryant): Elliott rushed for 157 yards, opening up passing lanes for the rookie QB in his 6th start, and Prescott delivered: 18-of-27, 241 yards 3 TDs.
I know, I know – when it seems so easy, go the other way. Maybe Elliott suddenly has a case of the fumbles. Maybe the Packers defense morphs into the ’85 Bears. You know Rodgers will be good for 300 yards and three TDs. But can that defense get stops?
Don’t see it. I like Dallas to win relatively easily, 31-23.