The Green Bay Packers will go into their divisional round game with the Dallas Cowboys as underdogs. Rightfully so, considering the Cowboys are the NFC’s No. 1 seed and trounced the Packers by a score of 30-16 at Lambeau Field back in October.
We remain cautiously optimistic about the Packers’ chances, however.
The reasons are many.
You don’t have to look any further than last season to find a scenario similar to this one. The Packers went down to Arizona in late December and got destroyed by the Cardinals to the tune of 38-8. Three weeks later, they’d find themselves back in Arizona for a divisional round game. Considering what happened less than a month earlier, not many people gave the Packers a chance. They ended up losing 26-20 in overtime, but they were in that game until the very end. History tells us the regular season game doesn’t mean anything and the Packers will be competitive.
Aaron Rodgers’ Play
When the Packers met the Cowboys in October, Aaron Rodgers was still in his malaise. Or maybe you want to call it his 2015 hangover. He wasn’t playing well. His accuracy, his fundamentals, his discipline — none had yet returned to his pre-2015 form. Rodgers found all of those things and caught fire sometime around the Washington game in November. Since then, Rodgers has been the best quarterback in football. The guy hasn’t thrown a pick in eight straight games. The Cowboys will be getting a completely different Rodgers this time around.
LaDarius Gunter’s Improvement
When the Packers last played the Cowboys, cornerback LaDarius Gunter had probably his worst game of the season. He was targeted repeatedly, beat for two touchdowns and several big gains. Since then, Gunter has emerged as the Packers’ top cornerback. He’s coming off a game in which he handled Pro Bowler Odell Beckham Jr. ODB had just four catches for 28 yards in that game and Gunter allowed only one of them, while shadowing Beckham for most of the day. Gunter may be left on an island this week, as the safety help will likely be dedicated to slowing down Ezekiel Elliott and the Cowboys’ rushing attack, but he’s much better equipped to handle that this time around.
Yes, the Cowboys thrashed the Packers during the season. A lot of people probably don’t recall this, but that game featured four Packers’ turnovers. Two of them came courtesy of Aaron Rodgers — an interception and a fumble. The fumble came with the Packers down 20-6 in the third quarter at the Dallas 1-yard line. A score there and the Packers are within a touchdown and it’s a different game. Jordy Nelson and Ty Montgomery also lost fumbles. Additionally, the Packers turned it over on downs once in the first half. If the Packers had played clean football in that game, who knows what might of happened. Clearly, if they play clean football on Sunday, this game should at least be competitive.
The Rookie Factor
We’re not going to put a lot of stock in this, but it at least bears mentioning. The Cowboys’ top offensive player — Elliott — and their quarterback, Dak Prescott, are both rookies. We don’t expect them to fall apart just because this is a playoff game. Both guys have shown tremendous poise throughout the season. Both guys have played in big games in college. That said, we expect the Packers to show Prescott some different looks on defense to try to rattle him. Will he be rattled? The chances of that happening to a rookie are much greater than a veteran.