The road to playing in the NFC championship game and against the defending Super Bowl champions goes through the frozen tundra as the Green Bay Packers, off a bye week and hoping for Aaron Rodgers to be healthy, get to host the undefeated on the road Dallas Cowboys, and Tony Romo who doesn’t usually do well in freezing temperatures.
While the Ice Bowl from 1967 is being brought up quite often in regards to this game, there’s nothing in common with that historic playoff game besides the names of the teams and the similar yet less harsh weather that will be the setting for the divisional round playoff game held 48 years later. It’s nice for the set up, but in truth, it has nothing to do with the faces, players and names we’re going to see go at each other in this divisional round game.
Things that will matter? The Packers going 8-0 this season at home, averaging 39.8 points per game. For those trying to make ties to the past, it feels similar to the Packers in 2011, going 15-1, including 8-0 at home, averaging 40 points per game, before hosting an NFC East team (the New York Giants) and losing 37-20, as the Giants rolled forward to win the Super Bowl. But are the Cowboys that Giants team? Probably not.
Other things that will matter? Aaron Rodgers and his calf injury. Maybe it’s just a scare tactic and trying to play with the Cowboys’ heads, but maybe he is injured, carrying it from the win over the Lions at the end of the regular season. Over the last five seasons, no one has thrown more touchdown passes outside the pocket than Aaron Rodgers with 33, including 8 this season. If his mobility his hurt, that might pose a problem and put more pressure on an excellent offensive line to deny penetration against a Cowboys pass rush that had success against the Lions last week.
There’s also the temperature factor. It should be 20 degrees during the game. Tony Romo is 1-2 when it’s under 32, and his total QBR of 26.0 is the fourth-worst among quarterbacks with three starts or more including the playoffs in freezing temperatures. The Cowboys have also lost their last six road playoff games, a streak dating back to 1992 when they beat the San Francisco 49ers on their way to the first Super Bowl of their 1990’s dynasty team.
However, the Cowboys are 8-0 this season. Dez Bryant does very well when playing against the Green Bay Packers and DeMarco Murray hasn’t fumbled a ball since week 9 which means 240 touches without a drop, more than any other running back in the NFL. It’ll be an interesting head to head between him and Eddie Lacy. The Green Bay tailback is carrying a streak of nine straight games with 100 yards or more from scrimmage going into this game.
The offensive lines are the best in the league when it comes to giving time and space to their quarterbacks. There are similarities a’plenty between these teams, although the Cowboys will try to establish the run first while the Packers go with the West Coast offense early in order to open up the big plays for Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb. It’s a game that should feature a lot of offense, but cold weather (for Romo) and the injury (for Rodgers) could give us a very different day.
Maybe turnovers will be what sets them apart. The Cowboys are 11-0 this season when winning or tying the turnover battle, 2-4 when they lose it. The Packers led the NFL in turnover margin this season (+14) and gave up the ball only 13 times. Playoff games often take unexpected twists and turns, but it won’t be surprising to see the team that takes care of the ball better coming away with the ticket to the NFC championship game.