I have my biases. But I also have my logic. And I have my Four Reasons Why Dallas will win Sunday's playoff game in Green Bay.
If you haven't heard by now, this is the first time in NFL history that a team that is 8-0 on the road has faced a team that is 8-0 at home in the playoffs. I've heard some Dallas Cowboys fans express concern about the Packers home field advantage this week, and while their undefeated home record is undeniably impressive, it's not nearly as impressive as the Cowboys undefeated road record.
The Cowboys are just the sixth team in NFL history to go 8-0 on the road. To put that into perspective, there have been six teams since 2012 alone that have gone 8-0 at home. Also, all five of the previous teams who were undefeated on the road ended up making it to the Conference Championship Game while four of them made it to the Super Bowl. History, in this regard, is certainly in the Cowboys favor.
Jason Garrett was criticized by some fans and media for playing his starters in the regular season finale vs the Washington Redskins. The Cowboys were pretty much locked into the 3rd seed in the NFC and didn't have a lot to play for. However, coach Garrett disagreed. The Cowboys were on a roll heading into the week 17 game in Washington, having won 3 straight games. While there may have been some benefits of resting the starters to prevent and further injuries but doing that could potentially slow down the team's momentum. That is why Garrett (and the team) felt like it was more beneficial to play them and keep the ball rolling. (Fish has a terrific column on this subject here.)
Turns out, he made the right decision. The Cowboys beat the Redskins 44-17 and closed out December with a perfect 4-0 record, averaging more point in that month than any team in NFL history and outscoring their opponents by an average of 18 points per game. The Cowboys were arguably the hottest team heading into the postseason.
"We (didn't) want a bye," said Cowboys end Jeremy Mincey. "We just want to take care of business one game at a time. ... We definitely have momentum. But every week is a fight."
Now, if you're one of those folks who thinks that momentum is an overrated aspect of the game, consider this - Six of the last nine Super Bowl Champions played in the Wild Card Round of the playoffs. While teams play to get a postseason bye, it doesn't always mean that they have a better shot at winning it all. In fact, recent history says otherwise.
The Cowboys of 2014 have proven that this team is different than what we're all used to seeing from them. There have been several occasions this season where this team has exorcised some demons that have haunted them.
First they blew out the Saints who had previously won eight of the last nine games vs. the Cowboys. Then they went on to beat the Seahawks in Seattle after losing to them (in Seattle) two years earlier. They also beat the Bears who were riding a three-game winning streak over Dallas. Then the Cowboys won the division (something they've been unable to do despite having opportunities in each of the last three seasons) and went 4-0 in December (a month that has given them trouble in recent years). And finally, just last week, the Cowboys beat the Lions in the Wild Card Round and held Calvin Johnson under 100 yards after giving up an NFL record 329 yards to him last year.
"It feels different,'' Dez Bryant said recently. "It’s a lot different from last year. We’re more together, we want it more, we’ve got the same vision, and that’s kind of hard (to beat) when you’ve got a team like that.”
Now, coming off their first playoff win since 2009, the Cowboys will get yet another opportunity to face yet another demon: the Division Round of the playoffs. The Cowboys haven't won in the Division Round since 1995, which is coincidentally the last time they won the Super Bowl. Oh, and here's another coincidence for you - three of the Cowboy's last five wins in the Division Round have come against the Green Bay Packers.
The temperatures in Green Bay will be well below freezing when the Cowboys and Packers take the field. Some might say that this favors the Packers since they're more accustomed to that weather. However, it's easier to run in cold weather than it is to pass, which could favor the Cowboys - on both sides of the ball.
The Cowboys offense rushed for an average of 147.1 yards per game (second in the NFL) and held opponents to an average of 103.1 rushing yards per game (eighth in the NFL). Also, the Cowboys haven't given up more than 64 rushing yards to a single player in the last five games and have given up an average of 61 TOTAL rushing yards per game in that span.
The Packers are a passing offense, but they're no slouches at running the ball either. Green Bay's offense averaged 119.8 rushing yards per game (11th in the NFL) but their defense on the other hand gave up an average of 119.9 rushing yards per game (23rd in the NFL).
Both of these offenses have MVP candidate QB's in Tony Romo vs. Aaron Rodgers and explosive skill-players. Running the ball will be key in controlling the clock and keeping the ball away from the other offense. I firmly believe that whichever team rushes for the most yards will win the game and advance to the NFC Championship Game. Biases and logic all considered, I believe that team will be the Dallas Cowboys.
*The Cowboys went through a "Romo Wednesday'' with the QB not working the midweek practice. Rolando McClain did not practice as he goes through the concussion testing. Terrell McClain (ankle), Jeremy Mincey (possible concussion), Anthony Hitchens (ankle) and Doug Free (foot and ankle) did not work in the cold Valley Ranch temperatures, though Dez Bryant did his best to psyche out the chill by going sleeveless. Meanwhile, in case you are wondering, the Packers practiced Wednesday at their indoor facility in Green Bay.
Fish has the official practice/injury report here:
*The best and most inside coverage of your Cowboys and that win? It's here in "Cowboys Gameplan: 10 Steps to a Storybook Win.''
*There is a science to Cowboys wins. So we give you "Big Plays, Toxics and Conversions.''
*Want details from Dallas 24, Detroit 20, including the ref controversy? It's here in "Cowboys Chronology'' as we walk you through it all.
*Our insightful Q-and-A with PackerReport is in two parts, here and here.
*KD runs the Cowboys Crunchtime Podcast as Dallas "advances from the wilderness.''
*Once you plow through all the national-media baloney about Cowboys staffers leaving for jobs ... come inside Valley Ranch for the truth: "The Ambition of Will McClay,'' our Premium piece, is here.
*Fish examines how the Cowboys "pups'' have made a playoff-level difference in the present and future of the club.
*Does Dallas have mojo? And is Jerry Jones right that it's the governor of New Jersey who provides that Cowboys mojo?
"We care for each other. No one roots for DeMarco or Dez, all of our guys, more than me. I feel the same ... towards me. We're a very close group that will be close the rest of our lives.'' - Tony Romo.