Cowboys, Packers aim to extend spotless streaks in playoffs
GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) An impressive streak will come to an end on Sunday at Lambeau Field.
The winner of the marquee playoff matchup between the Dallas Cowboys and Green Bay Packers advances to the NFC championship game. The loser is relegated to a footnote in a first-of-its-kind meeting in the postseason.
Dallas was perfect on the road this year, while Green Bay was perfect at home. Never before has an 8-0 road team in the regular season visited an 8-0 home team in the NFL playoffs.
”So you’ve got an immovable object going up against an unstoppable force,” Packers fullback John Kuhn said. ”Which one is going to give, we’ll find out.”
It should be pretty entertaining in the process.
The offenses have the potential to match each other score for score. The skill positions are stocked with stars, especially at quarterback.
Dallas’ Tony Romo led the league in the regular season with a 113.2 passer rating, one point ahead of MVP candidate Aaron Rodgers.
But the game may not come down to Rodgers’ right arm.
Rodgers has been slowed the last couple weeks in practice by a strained left calf. He has vowed to play, though mobility might be an issue.
All signs at the end of the week pointed to Rodgers being ready to go. Rodgers, who was listed as probable on the injury report, can do just as much damage standing the pocket as on the move.
Plus, Green Bay’s offensive line has played well all year.
”He looks like he’s moving fine to me right now. (We are) not going to change anything or our approach of how we want to attack Dallas’ defense,” coach Mike McCarthy said.
Most teams might be fretting at the prospect of facing Rodgers at Lambeau, where the Packers have had long stretches of dominance with the ball.
The Cowboys seem unfazed. In fact, they’re quite comfortable on the road.
”We just kind of put our head down and go to work,” Romo said. ”I don’t know that we really get affected by where we’re playing or who we’re going against and that sort of thing.”
Here are some things to watch ahead of the teams’ first meeting since the Packers had a come-from-behind 37-36 win in 2013 in Dallas:
CALF WATCH: The most closely-monitored leg muscle in Wisconsin belonged to Rodgers, who first hurt his left calf three weeks ago. He hasn’t practiced much over the last week in order to focus on treatment, though most teammates think their veteran leader could play well without any practice at all.
”No, I’m going Sunday. Just a matter of how,” Rodgers said at midweek.
McCarthy expects Dallas to stick with a typical scheme that doesn’t include much blitzing. The Packers could also line up Rodgers in more shotgun formations to limit his steps.
CLEARED COWBOYS: Linebacker Rolando McClain and defensive end Jeremy Mincey cleared concussion tests and practiced Friday after missing the first two workouts of the week dealing with symptoms coming out of the win over Detroit. They are important pieces for the Cowboys, especially against the potent Packers.
McClain, though he’s had a hard time staying on the field late in the season, has been a stabilizer as a late addition before training camp after Sean Lee was lost for the year to a knee injury.
Mincey, who joined Dallas as a free agent after going to the Super Bowl with Denver last season, has been a leader for the line and came on late to lead the team with seven sacks.
SLOWING DOWN?: NFL rushing leader DeMarco Murray ran for at least 100 yards in 10 of the first 11 games, but has been held under the century mark in four of the past six games, including 75 against the Lions. He’s up to 411 carries and is closing in on doubling his previous career high of 217.
”I feel fresh,” said Murray, who has 1,920 yards in 17 games. ”I haven’t missed time. I’m feeling good.”
CLAMPING DOWN: Green Bay’s run defense improved in the second half of the season. Once the worst unit against the run in the league, the Packers started giving Clay Matthews more snaps at inside linebacker at midseason to help tighten up against the ground game.
But stopping Murray will by far be the toughest test for the improved run defense.
THIRD GO-ROUND: Romo and Jason Witten have their third chance to reach the NFC championship game. After losing a division-round game to the New York Giants as the No. 1 seed in the NFC during the 2007 season, they followed a wild-card win over Philadelphia with a blowout loss to Brett Favre and Minnesota two years later. ”It’s just exciting to be in this position,” Witten said. ”So much work and the challenges to get back here, you don’t take that for granted.”
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AP Sports Writer Schuyler Dixon in Dallas contributed to this story.