FRISCO, Texas – Let's be clear about this from the start: What the Packers have done to get to this point is absolutely remarkable. Aaron Rodgers has basically carried this team on his back to win seven straight games and land them a spot in Sunday's NFC Divisional Round against the Cowboys.
Can't take anything away from them and the Packers are clearly the hottest team on this side of the playoff bracket.
But it's January. And if you know anything about Texas weather, warm air can turn cold rather quickly.
That's not to say we shouldn't acknowledge a seven-game winning streak led by an MVP-caliber quarterback. But let's not forget the other side of the coin.
This is a football team over here that did win 11 straight games at one point in the season. They were hotter than anyone until they faced a team that had their number and figured out how to cool them off.
I'm not trying to make any bold predictions here – not yet anyway. But the narrative right now is how amazing Rodgers is playing and how we should completely dismiss the Cowboys' 30-16 win back in October.
Why? Well, I guess we have to throw it out the window because Green Bay is playing much better.
That's fair. But let's not forget the Cowboys are better as well. I've got five reasons – in no particular order – why this Cowboys team is a much better squad than the one that pummeled the Packers at Lambeau Field on Oct. 16.
- Now playing at home – Sure, the Cowboys are a good football team on the road. One might even call them a great team, considering it went 6-2 away from AT&T Stadium with a season-finale loss to the Eagles in a throw-away game. But in the playoffs, home field seems to matter much more. In the Cowboys' last eight playoff games, the home team has won seven times, with the only exception being the 2007 divisional round against the Giants. Being at home has mattered in recent history as well with the Cowboys winning their last two playoff homes games and losing their last two road games. Obviously the playoffs are different than the regular season, but things were rather dire for the Packers back then and that home crowd still couldn't rally its team to a win. The better team won that day despite being on the road.
- Improved D-Line rotation – If there was one signature play – other than the Hail Mary – from Green Bay's playoff win Sunday, it had to be the one where Rodgers circled around in the pocket for about eight seconds before finding his target in the end zone. That kind of time in the pocket will destroy any defense. The Cowboys haven't been the best team in the NFL in rushing the quarterback, but there has been improvement of late. While this unit has been beat up the last few weeks, it should be rather healthy come Sunday. When you factor in the way David Irving is playing now, coupled with a healthy DeMarcus Lawrence, Terrell McClain and Cedric Thornton, this should be the best rotation the Cowboys have had all year. Also, Maliek Collins is playing at a much higher level now as well, giving the Cowboys a full eight players who could potentially disrupt Rodgers – at least more than we saw in October.
- Four Corners Defense– Along the same lines as the defensive line coming together, the same could be said, but even stronger, about the cornerbacks. Back in October, the Cowboys were playing without Orlando Scandrick, but had Morris Claiborne and Brandon Carr in the starting lineup. It was one of the first games we really saw a lot of promise from Anthony Brown. We haven't seen all four of the corners play together at this level. If Claiborne can return to form as expected, it gives the Cowboys their best quartet of corners – not just this season but in several years. Against Rodgers and this passing game, there would be no better time to have your best set of cornerbacks on the field.
- Welcome Back, Dez – The Cowboys not only smashed the Packers on the ground for 191 rushing yards, but passed for 233 with Cole Beasley, Brice Butler and Terrance Williams all getting involved. They did that without Dez Bryant even on the field. Without a doubt, he makes a difference in the way the Packers will try to guard him. And if they do anything similar to what we saw with Odell Beckham Jr. on Sunday, where two defenders often guarded him like a punt gunner, that will only benefit the Cowboys in the long run. Bryant's presence has to be accounted for and if the Cowboys were able to rack up 424 yards on the road without him, they should be able to do even better when he's out there.
- Dak's Tripled Experience – When Dak Prescott took the field against the Packers, he had five games under his belt for his career. When he trots out there Sunday, he'll have 16. He's tripled his playing experience from the last meeting. And the scary part for the Packers was that Prescott was pretty good that day at Lambeau. He didn't look like a rookie with five starts to his name. Just as Rodgers is playing much better, Prescott is doing the same. He continues to take care of the ball while he picks his spots to take shots down the field. His accuracy has been uncanny in some games, and he's finally starting to use his legs more than just an afterthought.
These aren't five reasons why the Cowboys will win the game. But rather five reasons why we shouldn't forget the fact this team has been rather good since October as well.
The Packers have won seven straight. OK, well the Cowboys are 6-1 in the last seven they tried to win.
And if we want to play the game of Well, they just whipped the one team the Cowboys couldn't beat, then don't forget the Cowboys whipped the Packers as well.
Hey, we know the deal. Aaron Rodgers is coming here Sunday and he's going to bring his red-hot offense to town and they might look a little different than what we saw a few months ago.
But they better be if they want to win. Because the Cowboys are going to be a lot better as well.