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Big Picture: Facing Rodgers, Oct. Win & Dez "Catch" Among Top Storylines


The last time the Cowboys had a first-round bye after finishing 13-3, the results were not favorable as they were shocked by the Giants at home, ending a glorious season with a thud.

The Cowboys are certainly hoping to prevent that reoccurrence, but like that year, they also had regular-season success against the conference opponent. The Cowboys dominated Green Bay at Lambeau Field back in October, controlling the game from the start and cruising to a 30-16 win.

In that game, rookie Ezekiel Elliott had his best rushing performance to that point, totaling 157 yards, which ended up being his second-highest output of the year. At the time, Green Bay entered the game with the NFL's No. 1 rushing defense but it was no match for the Cowboys, who were also playing without receiver Dez Bryant.

The passing game didn't suffer as Cole Beasley caught two touchdowns, Brice Butler had another and Lucky Whitehead made a couple of plays on offense that led to crucial scores.

That game was also the first time we've seen defensive end David Irving in a dominant mode as he forced three fumbles to win NFC Defensive Player of the Week honors. Irving has come on strong again in recent weeks, and with the Cowboys getting healthier at defensive end with the return of DeMarcus Lawrence and Tyrone Crawford, the D-line rotation might be at its best all year.

The same could also be said about cornerback, where Morris Claiborne is slated to return for the first time since his Week 8 groin injury.

Dak Prescott will become the first rookie quarterback to start a playoff game for the Cowboys in franchise history and just the 16th in the NFL Super Bowl era. Elliott is the fourth rookie to start a playoff game for the Cowboys.  

But it's not like the rest of the team has a ton of playoff experience. Jason Witten has been in just six postseason games while Sean Lee will be making his first-ever appearance in the playoffs.

Terrance Williams is the only player on the Cowboys' current roster to have scored a postseason touchdown with three, including one in the 2014 divisional round against the Packers.

That game, of course, is remembered most for the controversial ending that wiped out a catch by Bryant that seemingly would've given the Cowboys a late fourth-quarter lead. Instead, replay officials ruled the fourth-down pass incomplete, and the Cowboys never got another offensive play as the season ended with a 29-24 loss.

Two years later, Cowboys fans still have handmade signs or Twitter handles or even hashtags that say "Dez Caught It." It hasn't been forgotten and it will only resurface more this week with the Packers coming to town.


No team in the NFL is hotter right now than the Packers. That being said, it's also unlikely that any individual player is even close to the level Aaron Rodgers is on right now.

Green Bay has won seven straight games and in that time Rodgers has 19 touchdown passes with zero interceptions.

Last week against the Giants, the Packers shrugged off a slow start to completely blow past New York for a 38-13 win in the NFC Wild Card round. That win propelled Green Bay to Sunday's game at AT&T Stadium, where the Packers won their last Super Bowl, beating Pittsburgh to finish the 2010 season.

One of the key players from that win was receiver Jordy Nelson, who was having another Pro Bowl season in 2016. But a helmet-shot to the ribcage put him out of the game last week and has his status for Sunday as questionable. Green Bay was able to get three touchdown catches from Randall Cobb, including the tide-changing Hail Mary catch before halftime.

Cobb had missed a couple of games due to injury before Sunday's return, which was even more timely with Nelson's setback. The Packers have been energized by other receivers such as Davante Adams, who just missed a 1,000-yard season with 997 yards. Geronimo Allison has 10 of his 12 catches this season in the last four games and tight end Jared Cook has started to become one of Rodgers' favorite targets of late.

But the running game has also made the Packers more balanced on offense. Ty Montgomery, a converted receiver, is a change-of-pace player for Green Bay. Against the Cowboys back in October, he caught his first 10 passes of the year and then followed it up with 10 more the next week against the Bears. Since then, Montgomery has caught at least two passes in every game, but has also been a featured back. His 162 yards against the Bears in Week 15 ranked 14th in Packers history for a single-game performance. It was even more impressive with the No. 88 jersey he now wears, symbolizing his recent position switch.[embeddedad0]

While the offense has been improved of late, Rodgers has been getting hit often. In the seven-game winning streak, he's been sacked 16 times, including five times against the Giants last week.

On defense, the Packers were able to rattle Eli Manning and limit the Giants to less than 300 yards of total offense. Veteran pass-rushers Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers each garnered a sack in the playoff win and should give the Cowboys' offensive tackles quite a battle come Sunday.

Green Bay's secondary has been decimated with injuries all year. Three cornerbacks, including former Pro Bowler Sam Shields have been placed on IR. Recently, Quentin Rollins (concussion) was banged up and his status for Sunday in Dallas is questionable.

Against the Giants, the Packers mixed up their coverages throughout the game, including a double-team on Odell Beckham Jr. with a corner and safety.

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