FRISCO, Texas – Can we pause for one brief moment and rejoice that we've got a matchup that looks worthy of these hallowed franchises?
Throughout this week, as we break down Cowboys-Packers and build the hype around this game, I can't help but think back to 2015. You remember that, right?
Last time these teams met, a 4-8 Cowboys squad went up to Lambeau Field and got pounded. Dallas was starting Matt Cassel at quarterback and Darren McFadden at running back. Dez Bryant was dealing with roughly 20 different injury problems.
Through a constant rainfall, the Cowboys defense played well enough to limit the Packers – until the floodgates opened in the fourth quarter. Eddie Lacy and James Starks combined for 195 rushing yards and guaranteed the Cowboys a losing record in a 28-7 dismantling.
Whatever happens Sunday – win, lose or draw – this game won't be that. We've got two winning teams. We've got an all-time great in Aaron Rodgers and a surging young rookie in Dak Prescott. We've got the league's leading rusher. We might get a Dez Bryant sighting. We'll see Jordy Nelson, who missed all of last season due to injury.
These are two good teams, playing at the most historic stadium in pro football, with endless possibilities in front of them. After the train wreck of 2015, that's worth getting excited about – regardless of the result.
Some more thoughts from around this team and around the league:
1.Despite everything I just said about the intrigue of this matchup, there's just no way I think Dez Bryant should play in this game.
I don't care that it's been three weeks since the injury, and I don't care that the test results says he can't further injure himself. If he plays, Bryant probably wouldn't be at 100 percent, and he wouldn't be at his most effective.
Obviously, Dez always wants to play. I don't think I've ever been around a football player who loves the game as much as him. I mean that sincerely. But he has to know it's in his best interest to take his time. He hinted at that on Wednesday when he talked to the media, saying he had no problem staying patient.
Boasting a 4-1 record will do that for you. Even if the Cowboys lose on Sunday, they're right in the thick of things heading into their bye week. And that bye week will give Dez another two weeks to prepare for Week 8 – a crucial division game against Philly.
I love watching Dez play, but I can afford to wait two more weeks.
2.I mentioned this on Monday, but it has not been a point of much emphasis in the past week. Dak Prescott lost a fumble on the Bengals' 18-yard line last weekend. It wasn't just his first career turnover – it was the Cowboys' first red zone turnover all season.
The Cowboys have made 20 trips into the red zone through five weeks, so that means they've scored on the other 19. With a rookie quarterback, they have scored on 95 percent of their possessions in the red zone – which is typically regarded as the hardest part of the field to navigate.
The numbers are even more impressive over the past month. Since struggling to find the end zone against the Giants in Week 1, the Cowboys have scored touchdowns on 13 of 16 red zone possessions. For the year, they're scoring touchdowns on 70 percent of their red zone trips.
That's an absurd level of efficiency for any offense – let alone one guided by a rookie quarterback.
3.Sticking with the nerdy stuff for a minute. We've talked since the spring about how a balanced offense highlighted by a dominant run game can help a defense. We've seen it play out during this four-game win streak.
I think people focus too much on the time of possession stat, though. In the grand scheme of things, that's going to balance out. The Cowboys got out-possessed by Cincinnati in a dominant win last week. The game where they've had the most possession was in Week 1 to New York – which they lost.
So I don't think the overall time of possession stat is worth harping on. I do think it's important consider how long the defense is getting to breathe every time they come off the field.
The answer to that query is "a lot of time." Are you aware that in 46 true possessions this season, the Dallas offense has only gone three-and-out on seven occasions? That means they're gaining at least one first down on 85 percent of their possessions.
If you've watched the Cowboys, you know they're also sustaining long scoring drives. To this point, they've scored on 24 total possessions, and only one of those lasted fewer than seven plays – that'd be Zeke's 60-yard touchdown run against Cinci, which was just one snap. A whopping 11 of those 24 drives have taken 10 or more snaps.
On average, when the Cowboys score points, it has taken 10 plays and five minutes of game time to do so. In a sport where clock stoppages and timeouts are the norm, the Cowboys are giving their defense 10-to-15 minutes to rest half the times their offense gets the ball.
I'm not trying to take credit away from the defense, but that seems huge.
4.The dominance of the running game would seem to go hand-in-hand with the offense's ability to move the ball. It's easy to be efficient when no one can stop you from picking up first downs – or scoring for that matter.
I just thought this was interesting: the Cowboys have 11 total rushing touchdowns through five weeks this season. The top teams in the NFL last year – Buffalo, Kansas City and Carolina – tied with 19. The league leader in 2014 was the Seattle Seahawks, who had 20.
Dallas is currently on pace for 35 team rushing touchdowns, which would be second-best in the history of the NFL. The Green Bay Packers set the standard with 36 way back in 1962 – four years before they won the first Super Bowl.
5.The Cowboys are traveling to Lambeau Field for the third time in the last three years, which is something that always aggravates fans who don't pay any attention. So this seems like a good time to address it.
No, the NFL is not screwing your favorite team. That's just the way the scheduling format works in this league.
Let me break it down if you don't know: the Cowboys' yearly schedule is comprised of six NFC East games, four games against another NFC division and four games against one AFC division. That's 14 games. The remaining two games are scheduled against the same-place finishers from the other two NFC divisions.
For instance: the NFC East is playing the NFC North this year – so the Cowboys, Eagles, Giants and Redskins all have to play the Bears, Lions, Packers and Vikings. The Cowboys finished fourth in their division, so they play the fourth-place finishers in the other two NFC divisions – the 49ers and the Buccaneers.
Now, here's how you wind up playing at Lambeau multiple years in a row: the scheduling formula works on different cycles. In 2015, the Cowboys played at Green Bay because they were both first-place finishers from the 2014 season. In 2016, they're playing at Green Bay because their two divisions are playing each other. There are two different rotations, and they both just happened to send the Cowboys to Lambeau in consecutive years.
The last time the NFC East and NFC North played each other, in 2013, the Packers came to AT&T Stadium. So the system isn't rigged, it just works in a weird way. If the Cowboys and Packers finish in the same place in their divisions this season, they will play in Texas next season. Just the way it works.
I already can't wait for next season, when people will flood my inbox with angry emails asking why the Cowboys are playing at San Francisco for the second-straight year. Should be fun.
6.Assuming you don't live under a rock, you saw that Dak Prescott is on the cover of Sports Illustrated this week. It's a really well-written story that offers some good insight into the Cowboys' young starting quarterback.
Me personally? My main takeaway is that Dak turned down free tickets to a Kanye West concert.
Now, the popular reaction is to praise Dak for his maturity and awareness of the situation. He said he wanted to go, but he worried about the "perception" of the situation. And I get it, you're the Cowboys' starting quarterback, and it's three days before a game.
That said, you're 23 years old and you're starting for the Cowboys, dude. Go to the show. Say hi to Kanye, have an awesome time. The dude made *The College Dropout, *man. C'mon. You can go pay tribute to greatness and still be ready for meetings the next day.
Like Ferris said: "Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around every once in a while, you could miss it."
7. Myles Jack Watch:Jacksonville enjoyed an early bye week last Sunday, which means Myles Jack did not suit up. We're nearing the halfway point of the season, and this thing looks like a wash.
8.Speaking of draft prospects, I'm pretty excited to hear that we'll be doing an episode of The Draft Show next week – Wednesday at 3 p.m. While the Cowboys enjoy their bye week, we're going to take a look at some draft storylines and team needs near the halfway point of the season. Should be good stuff.
9. I balled out last week, posting an 11-3 record – which can only mean that this week will be an utter disaster. But still, for the time being I am a solid 47-30 on the season. Cowboys pick comes on Friday.
SAN DIEGO over Denver
BUFFALO over San Francisco
PHILADELPHIA over Washington
TENNESSEE over Cleveland
NEW YORK GIANTS over Baltimore
Carolina over NEW ORLEANS
Jacksonville over CHICAGO
DETROIT over Los Angeles
Pittsburgh over MIAMI
NEW ENGLAND over Cincinnati
Kansas City over OAKLAND
SEATTLE over Atlanta
Indianapolis over HOUSTON
ARIZONA over New York Jets