"Lord save us all from a hope tree that has lost the faculty of putting out blossoms." – Mark Twain.
On Sunday morning even the most zealous Cheesehead had to admit the team’s playoff prospects were nominal. The Packers’ last win came in October, franchise star Aaron Rodgers was on the sidelines and fourth-stringer Matt Flynn was, well, playing like you’d expect a fourth-stringer to perform. With the rival Lions nursing a 7-5 record, Green Bay seemed destined to be watching January football from home.
Unlike their football brethren in Wisconsin, those in Big D were relatively buoyant on their team’s outlook. The Cowboys had won four of their last six, including a season sweep of rival New York and coming back from a 14-point deficit on Thanksgiving against the Raiders. Moreover, with DeMarco Murray seemingly healthy for the first time in 18 months, the Dallas offense appeared unstoppable.
How quickly the tables can turn. A 22-21 victory over the Falcons, coupled with a Detroit loss, has resuscitated a Packers season that was on life support. On the other end of that spectrum, a 45-28 beatdown by the Bears leaves the Cowboys on the outside looking in on the NFC East. However, both squads still harbor hope of January football, making this battle our FOX NFL Game of the Week.
As of this writing, the Packers are proceeding with Flynn as the starter in Week 15, somewhat disconcerting since, you know, it’s Matt Flynn. But make no mistake, all eyes are on the return of Rodgers. Set to be evaluated following Tuesday’s practice, the Packers are hoping the month-long sabbatical for Rodgers has provided ample time for the Super Bowl MVP to return to full strength. The franchise has erred on the side of caution, and rightfully so with its star, a sentiment that’s not always the case in the win now-now-NOW atmosphere of the NFL. (Cut to every Washington fan nodding their head.) All Green Bay can do is pray its stoicism has paid off.
Matchup Watch: Packers rushing attack versus Dallas defense
No matter who is under center for the Green and Yellow, envision the Packers to rely heavily on the run. Since dealing with a concussion early in the fall, Eddie Lacy has lived up to his preeminent billing, averaging 83.6 yards per contest in his last 10 games. Even if Rodgers is able to go, it’s highly unlikely he’ll flaunt his celebrated aerial prowess off the bat, making the dependence on the rooking running back all the more imperative.
One problem: Lacy is dealing with an ankle injury, one that will keep him out of practice until Friday and places a questionable tag on his weekend availability. Enter James Starks, he of early September success before cut down by a knee malady. Starks does offer versatility out of the backfield, a threat the Packers will utilize to keep the Cowboys on their toes. Though Dallas’ struggles against the pass are well documented, the defensive unit has been just has bad versus the run, relinquishing 128.4 yards per game (fifth-highest in the league) and 4.8 yards per attempt (tied for second-most in the NFL). With the secondary in a hopeless state, the Cowboys’ only hope is halting Green Bay’s soil endeavors, heightening the magnitude of this engagement.
If you’re an apathetic on the outcome of this game, root for Green Bay…
…if only for the prospect of playoff snow football! Let me be the 1,443rd media member to transcribe how a white blanket engulfing the gridiron enhances the NFL experience. Which leads me to this: if it’s universally agreed this is the case, why is a vocal contingent complaining about potential cold weather for the Super Bowl? So what if it’s uncomfortable for the 70,000 in attendance? The majority of those people are fat cats or indifferent patrons strictly there to be seen. Given 100 or so million watch the event, think we can all agree that the Utilitarianism view says let it snow, baby.
Fantasy Impact: Green Bay receivers
Josh McCown, the 34-year-old journeyman who until this season had 40 touchdowns versus 58 turnovers, just dropped 348 passing yards and five end-zone excursions in sub-zero weather on the Cowboys. It could be Rodgers, Flynn or Tecmo Super Bowl legend Don Majikowski. Whoever is at the Packers helm will tear this Dallas secondary to shreds. Proprietors of Green Bay receivers should act accordingly.
The Packers win if…
The Green Bay passing game carves up the Dallas secondary, the Packers front seven contains DeMarco Murray, Tony Romo accidentally thinks its January and posts a “deer in the headlights” performance…
While the Cowboys are certainly vulnerable, unless Rodgers is able to return, I don’t envision the Pack leaving Jerry’s World victorious…
Prediction: Cowboys 27, Packers 23
Joel Beall is a writer for FOXSports.com and WhatIfSports.com. He lives with a Golden Tee machine and a jump shot that’s currently broken. Reach Joel on Twitter @FOXSportsBeall