This week’s edition of five downs is a special one, as the Green Bay Packers meet the Dallas Cowboys in the divisional round.
Joining us this week is the site expert for the Landry Hat, Steven Mullenax. Steven is a member of the PFWA, as well as the 2014 FanSided NFL Editor of the Year.
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Packers and Cowboys. It doesn’t get much better than this. Who is America’s Team?
Read ahead to see what the enemy has to say ahead of the divisional playoff round.
Lombardi Ave: What are the biggest differences between each team since the week six blowout at Lambeau Field?
SM: I think the Green Bay Packers’ difference is obvious. The excellent play of quarterback Aaron Rodgers. As for the Dallas Cowboys, I’d have to say the play of their defense. As the season has worn on, this Dallas defense has played better despite missing several key pieces either due to injury or suspension. The Cowboys should have several of their players at full strength when they face the Packers this Sunday. It will be interesting to see how they play after the long layoff.
Lombardi Ave: Although Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott have yet to show any sign of nerves, do you anticipate any drop in play for their first playoff appearance?
SM: Honestly, no. Elliott recently brought up the point that every game this season has felt like a playoff game. Because of the status the Cowboys hold in the league and the amount of attention the team receives, Dallas often gets the very best out of its opponent’s week in and week out. The fact that many teams and their fans have the matchup against “America’s Team” circled early on their schedules, most of the time in front of a massive television audience, means every Cowboys game has a playoff-type atmosphere. So I’d argue that both Prescott and Elliott are probably better prepared to handle that sort of environment than any other rookies in the league. They are used to that intense spotlight.
Lombardi Ave: Do you honestly think Dez Bryant caught that ball?
SM: Considering the rules were before the controversial catch, yes. In my opinion it was clear Dez Bryant caught the ball, established possession and then made a football move towards the end zone in an attempt to score. I think the fact it was first called a catch on the field and then overturned after slow-motion reply only proves the point. To the naked eye, on the field, it was a visible catch. Regardless, that catch alone doesn’t excuse the fact that Rodgers was able to dissect the Cowboys defense on one leg in that game. Dallas simply couldn’t create enough of a pass rush to effect his play, which was really the bigger story of that game. Again, in my opinion.
Lombardi Ave: Is there a scenario outside of an injury, that we could see Tony Romo on Sunday?
SM: Outside of injury, no. Dak Prescott has played one way all season. Never once while Prescott has been under center have I believed his play was so bad that Dallas would even consider benching him for Romo. I can not believe Dak will all the sudden start to crack now. Prescott is who he is. A quarterback that will make smart decisions who, at a very minimum, will not make big mistakes to cost his team the game. Obviously, Prescott is not known for making big plays down the field. But the risks he does take are calculated ones. For the most part, Prescott has been taught to take what the opposing defense gives him. I don’t see Dak doing any different or playing any different against Green Bay on Sunday.
Lombardi Ave: Finally, how does this game play out? Give us your prediction.
SM: I believe the Packers will face a much better Dallas defense than they saw in Week 6. Still, I think the Cowboys will struggle to contain Rodgers. But Dallas’ offense will find equal success against a questionable Packers defense, both in the air and on the ground. Although one might expect a high-scoring game, I think both teams struggle early. I predict a low-scoring contest that will come down to a last minute field goal to win it.