1. I’ve seen quite a bit out there this week about how, even if the Dallas Cowboys do lose to the Green Bay Packers on Sunday, that the season isn’t a failure. I happen to believe that is wrong.
January 14 will be 21 years to the day since the Dallas Cowboys last appeared in an NFC Championship game. The Cowboys won that game, 38-27, oddly enough over the Green Bay Packers. Before Sunday’s game the Cowboys will have been to the playoffs just eight times since, with four losses in the divisional playoff round. A 3-8 record in the postseason in 20 years. By the standards set by Tom Landry and Jimmy Johnson that’s horrible.
This is certainly the Cowboys’ best chance to get to the NFC title game since 2007, when the Cowboys also went 13-3, also won the NFC East, also claimed the No. 1 seed and first-round playoff bye and ended up losing to the New York Giants. It was Wade Phillips’ first year as head coach and the quarterback was a young Tony Romo. The Cowboys had every reason to be optimistic that their window to a Super Bowl was wide open.
The next year the Cowboys went 9-7 and failed to make the playoffs. Then in 2009 the Cowboys went 11-5, won the NFC East and won a Wild Card playoff game before falling to the Vikings and Brett Favre in the Divisional playoffs.
Then, in 2010, the bottom fell out and the Cowboys had to rebuild. Only now, seven years later, do they look like the dominant team they were in 2007.
To say that the Cowboys look set up for a number of years with the additions of Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott and that young offensive line would be a correct assumption. But it’s just an assumption. We thought the Cowboys were set up nicely in 2007 and three years later Jones fired Wade Phillips at midseason and promoted Jason Garrett after a 1-7 start. It proves how quickly the window can close.
Now the window is wide open again. The Cowboys have the best chance to reach the Super Bowl they’ve had in 10 years. In today’s NFL this is not a moment to build upon. This is a moment to seize and claim. That’s why a loss on Sunday would make this season a failure for these Cowboys, as much as this season has been a joy to watch develop.
The window closes fast. The Cowboys’ veterans know it all too well.
2. It’s pretty amazing to see that the Cowboys are this healthy going into the playoffs. Dallas has seven players on its injury report and all are questionable. The expectation is that all will be available on Sunday — cornerback Morris Claiborne, defensive end Tyrone Crawford, linebacker Justin Durant, defensive end Demarcus Lawrence, defensive tackle Terrell McClain, offensive tackle Tyron Smith and defensive tackle Cedric Thornton.
So, of the six defensive players returning, who makes the biggest impact on Sunday? If I had to make a bet I’d lay down money on Claiborne. With his return the secondary gets a nice boost in a game where they truly need it, with Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers coming to town. Sure, Crawford and Lawrence should bolster the pass rush and McClain and Thornton will likely have an impact on the run defense. But in today’s NFL you can’t win without three good corners and Claiborne’s return gives the Cowboys three experienced corners that have played quality football this season. His return allows the secondary to play in their proper positions and gives the defense a quality back line against Rodgers, who is likely to throw it at least 40 times on Sunday. So keep an eye on Claiborne on Sunday.
3. Wess Moore of Fox Sports Radio in Arkansas and I talked Cowboys-Packers earlier this week. We delved into the rematch of the NFC Divisional Playoffs two years ago and talked about a variety of subjects, including an in-depth look at what could give the Cowboys trouble on Sunday — and how they might combat it.
I appear with Wess after every Cowboys game. Listen in at foxsportsarkansas.com if you don’t live there. And as a bonus to Dallas-based Cowboys fans that listen in — Wess will be coming to Dallas next week to report for his Little Rock-based radio station if the Cowboys win.
4. I don’t usually bring you national articles, because frankly between CowboysHQ.com and the other local outlets you’re covered for Cowboys coverage. But this article by CBSSports.com’s Jared Dubin on how the Cowboys built the “Great Wall of Dallas” is a nice read. Dubin delves into the impetus of the Cowboys’ commitment to rebuilding its offensive line and breaks down the background of each offensive lineman.
5. Divisional playoff predictions, non-Cowboys division? Why not? I mean, I went 4-0 last week, though it’s rare that the Wild Card playoffs ever go to form. I mean, the home team won every game. So here we go:
Atlanta over Seattle: The Seahawks have had some terrible road performances this year. Yes, the Seahawks beat the Falcons earlier this season — in Seattle and only by two points. The Falcons send out the Georgia Dome with a win (assuming Dallas wins on Sunday).
Houston over New Eng … Kidding. New England over Houston: Seriously. I would never do that to you. Patriots roll. It’s gonna be bad.
Kansas City over Pittsburgh: This may be wishful thinking, and KC’s offense has some challenges. But that defense is superb and I think Ben Roethlisberger is hurt more than he’s letting on. It will be low-scoring January football with the Chiefs defending their home turf. This game has moved to Sunday night due to the Midwest ice storm, so field conditions could play a role in this one.
My Cowboys prediction is at the end of the article, because you need at least one reason to keep reading.
6. Need to get ready for Sunday’s game? Let me help. Here are links to everything CowboysHQ.com has published this week previewing the game:
Plus, our Matt Galaztan embedded with Bill Huber at PackerReport.com to produce these matchup previews for Sunday’s game:
As part of our Sunday coverage? Fish sits down 1-on-1 with his guy Dez (Caught It) Bryant and Mark Lane unleashes the "Cowboys 100.'' Stay tuned!
7. My three keys to the game?
Contain Aaron Rodgers. If you read my scouting report on the Packers-Giants game, you know that Rodgers did a fantastic job of avoiding contact in the pocket and keeping plays alive for his receivers. So Sunday’s task is a complete defensive effort for Dallas. The defensive line must pressure Rodgers. The line and the linebackers must contain him in the pocket to keep his athleticism from creating plays. The secondary must maintain coverage longer than it would normally due to Rodgers’ elusiveness. Any breakdowns could be trouble.
Feed Zeke. Ezekiel Elliott rushed for a whopping 157 yards when these teams met in October. If you read my article on previous top rookie rushers and their performances in the playoffs, you know that the road could be difficult for Elliott on Sunday. But the Cowboys need to keep pounding the rock, if for no other reason than to keep Rodgers off the field as much as possible.
Win the turnover game. Part of the reason the Cowboys won that October showdown at Lambeau Field was the turnover game. The Cowboys were a plus-2 in that category. The Cowboys need to win that turnover game again on Sunday.
8. It’s our Tweet of the Week:
Fun. And genius.
9. This week’s great moments in headline porn: “Troy Aikman responds to Packers fans' petition to ban him and Joe Buck from calling Green Bay games” from dallasnews.com
You know what’s weird? You Packers fans had no problem when Troy called the regular-season game earlier this season (Buck was calling the MLB playoffs at the time and Thom Brenneman was on the mic). Just sayin’.
I really don’t get the Joe Buck hate. I really don’t.
10. My prediction for Sunday’s game? Cowboys 28, Packers 24.
The Packers are probably the hottest team in the league right now. This team is a far sight better than it was when the Cowboys faced them in October. But so are the Cowboys and they’ve never been healthier this season than they are at this moment. A full-strength Cowboys team at home is just a bit better than the Packers, in my opinion. It should be the best of the four playoff games this weekend.