Green Bay Packers (11-6 SU, 10-6-1 ATS) vs. Dallas Cowboys (13-3 SU, 10-6 ATS)
NFC Divisional Playoff
Date/Time: Sunday, January 15, 2017 at 4:40PM EST
Where: AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas
By Loot, NFL Football Handicapper, Lootmeister.com
Betting Odds: GB +4/DAL -4
Over/Under Total: 51.5
The Green Bay Packers come to AT&T Stadium on Sunday to face the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC divisional playoff. Dallas had a first-round bye on the strength of earning the conference's top-seed with a 13-3 record. But they have their hands full with the incoming Packers, winners of 7 straight. On Sunday, the Packers won at home, 38-13, over a Giants team that beat the Cowboys twice this season. Can they upset the top-seeded Cowboys or will Dallas advance to the conference championship for the first time since the 1995 season?
These teams played in week 6 this season, with the Cowboys winning 30-16 at Lambeau Field. And while the loss was damning for the Packers, not a lot from that game can really be used for the purposes of making it easier to bet on this week's game. Green Bay was entering their worst part of the season, before they were able to right the ship. And the Packers were playing a Dallas team that was right in the middle of their 11-game winning streak. For what it's worth, Dallas back Ezekiel Elliott ran for 157 yards and Dak Prescott threw 3 touchdowns. Four Packers turnovers were key. Dallas backers deriving too much comfort from that result could be led astray in this matchup.
Green Bay continued their hot streak on Sunday with a dominant 25-point win over the New York Giants. They looked good on both sides of the ball. Aaron Rodgers' recent run sees him playing as good as he has in his whole career in the last 7-8 games. With four TDs on Sunday, he is now on a run of 22 touchdown passes without a pick, having last thrown an interception in the first half of November. The offense thrived against a Giants' defense that a lot of people thought were playing better than any "D" in the league. And by allowing 13 points, the Packers' defense continues to show its claws.
There is something extra worrisome about a team like Green Bay when they so drastically alter course. In the middle of the season, they lost 4 in a row and 5 of 6, which threatened to curb their season. At that point in the season, a lot of people were writing off the Packers. And a lot of people thought that the cows finally came home to roost. The Packers were under .500 dating back to last season and people starting saying Rodgers was over-the-hill and that Mike McCarthy was perhaps on his way out. Seven straight wins later, people are singing a different song. Red-hot and peaking on both sides of the ball, the Packers stand out as legitimate contenders.
The win over the Giants was easy enough for the Packers, but came at a cost. Jordy Nelson was knocked out for the game after taking a hit. Lucky for the Packers, Randall Cobb has returned healthy and wasted no time getting back into the swing of things with 116 yards and three receiving touchdowns. Also helping is the fact that Davante Adams has morphed into an A-receiver this season and he was also big on Sunday with 8 catches, 125 yards, and a TD grab. Ty Montgomery also left the game and his work on the ground and the air has been key. Rodgers had another vintage performance on Sunday with 362 yards through the air. The line was leaky at first, as Rodgers absorbed some early sacks and they could be a little better this week in protecting Rodgers and helping spring more of a run-game.
The Packers' defense won't knock your socks off with their stats or how they rank in various areas. But they somehow are able to manage better results than their stats would suggest. One thing they offer is playmaking ability. Julius Peppers and Clay Matthews were both very active on Sunday and got after Manning. Jake Ryan was also big in the middle. Damarious Randall registered a pick and while the secondary wasn't always stout this season, they can make plays with Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Morgan Burnett, and Micah Hyde.
Dallas dramatically reversed form in 2016, coming off a 4-12 season the previous season. Before the season began, all the personnel losses on defense and the injury to Tony Romo painted a dire picture. With a dilapidated-looking "D" and a rookie QB/RB battery taking over in Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott, the hopes weren't that high. They lost their season-opener and a lot of people were already shoveling dirt on the Cowboys. But an 11-game win streak became the biggest story in the league, as the Cowboys established themselves as top contenders in the NFC. After covering nine straight spreads, the Cowboys came down to earth some late, covering the spread just once in their last six games. But with the top-seed locked up, they took their foot off the gas late, with Elliott taking the game off in week 17, with Prescott and other key members of the offense seeing limited time.
Things really clicked this season for the Cowboys. The defense was able to play through what seemed like innumerable personnel issues to fashion a defense that was fifth in points allowed this season at an average of just 19.1 points per game. They were the league's top-ranked defense against the run. And offensively, they were also fifth in points scored and overall. They were second in rushing, helped by a huge rookie season from Elliott. A bunch of guys stepped up this season and the result is a legit contender in the NFC.
Prescott was really a bonanza at quarterback this season, a far better-than-expected season for a 4th-round draft choice. He completed nearly 68% of his throws with 23 touchdowns and just 4 interceptions. He also averaged nearly 5 yards per run and scored with his legs six times. Elliott was gigantic with 1631 yards on the ground, as the rookie was the 2016 rushing champion. He added 363 yards aerially and had 16 total touchdowns. For these two rookies to be such a big part of the offense and to hold up over the whole season and look so good was gigantic for the Cowboys' offense. Making it all come together is an offensive line that is rightfully recognized as the best in the NFL. That can really help a rookie quarterback and running back find their bearings, as they assuredly have.
The Dallas offense has a lot of depth and balance. On the ground, Prescott lends a hand and maybe returning-from-injury Darren McFadden can chip in. Dez Bryant was hurt this season at times, which hurt his production, but he should be ready to hit the ground running in this postseason. Cole Beasley was huge this season, while TE Jason Witten and WR Terrance Williams also added key production.
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Again, the defense had to find a lot of answers this season for the Cowboys. Up-front, Maliek Collins, David Irving, Benson Mayowa, and Jack Crawford, among others, have been key in stuffing the opposing run-game. They have all been adept at getting after the quarterback. LB Sean Lee has been a key playmaker on this side of the ball. The secondary, however, with Orlando Scandrick, Barry Church, Brandon Carr, JJ Wilcox, and others, hasn't been the stoutest, nor do they make an over-abundance of plays. All in all, you can't be too picky because the defense has done an overall good job for the Cowboys this season. But for those wondering how the Dallas pass-defense will cope with the surgical Rodgers are rightfully concerned.
The Cowboys showed some signs of life down the stretch, namely with wins over Tampa and Detroit, a pair of teams that still had a lot to play for. And the week 17 loss to Philly was understandable, as they sat a lot of their key guys and pulled starters. But with the phone-in game to end the season and downward trajectory overall in the final quarter of the season, along with the first-round bye, where does Dallas stand from a momentum-standpoint? Not that the heightened setting of a postseason won't resonate with Dallas, but is it fair to say the Cowboys perhaps peaked a little early this season?
While teams deserve to be judged on the basis of what they did over the course of the season, the form which they enter the postseason is also a key consideration. Dallas might be getting a bad break with this particular opponent, an absolutely-peaking Green Bay squad. And even of Dallas' little dip in form at the end of the season wasn't something to take to heart, the Packers don't appear to be a team that's going to be easy for anyone right now. I'm taking the points in a game that's tough to call.
Loot's Prediction to Cover the Point Spread: I'm betting on the Green Bay Packers plus 4 points. Tired of your credit card not working for sportsbook deposit? End that problem today and bet the Packers vs. Cowboys NFC divisional playoff game from your home by signing up at Bovada Sportsbook where your credit card WILL work and where you'll receive a generous 100% sign-up bonus!