When: 1:05 p.m. ET Sunday. Where: Lambeau Field, Green Bay, Wis. TV: Fox.
It's also a matchup of the most dominant home team and best road team in the NFL this season. On the way to an 8-0 record at Lambeau Field, no team scored more points or had a wider scoring margin than the Green Bay Packers. And the Dallas Cowboys were the only NFL team that went undefeated on the road this season.
NFL Nation Packers reporter Rob Demovsky and NFL Nation Cowboys reporter Todd Archer break down the game:
Demovsky: Packers coach Mike McCarthy raved about the Cowboys' 8-0 road record and said it was a tribute to their mental toughness and that "they just keep battling." How did they develop that attitude? Where did that come from and is that the reason for their road success?
Archer: I think it's more their style of play. It's that old adage: Running games travel. DeMarco Murray had at least 100 yards in seven of the Cowboys' eight road games. That makes you a tough out and an offense opponents don't want to play. They have a physical offensive line and tight ends that are more than capable blockers. I'll be honest, too, some of it might be the opponents. Yeah, they won at Seattle and Philadelphia, but they also played Tennessee, St. Louis, Jacksonville (at London) and Chicago away from home and none of those teams is a juggernaut. But that's almost downplaying the accomplishment, and I don't mean to do it. It's hard to win games in the NFL against any team. Coach Jason Garrett really believes the identity of this team comes from having the right kind of guys. The Cowboys were down 21-0 at St. Louis. They were trailing 10-0 at Seattle. They were down 21-10 at the Giants. They just don't panic. Some of it is the nature of the team and the experience of Romo and Jason Witten, but Garrett deserves a ton of credit for it, too.
Calf injuries are tricky to come back from. Just when you think it's good, something pops. I don't expect it to hamper Rodgers on Sunday, but is there anything that changes about the Packers' offense because of it?
Demovsky: Quite a bit changes, actually. If Rodgers has concerns about the calf injury or if it tightens up -- or worse yet, pops again -- then Mike McCarthy will have to scratch a good portion of his plays off the call sheet. After Rodgers initially hurt his calf at Tampa Bay, McCarthy put him exclusively in the shotgun in order to limit how much he had to move. Even before he popped it against the Lions and missed two series, Rodgers was in a pistol formation that the Packers rarely use. And then after he returned, he was all but a stationary quarterback for the remainder of that game. It eliminates a lot of the play-action possibilities and probably prevents the Packers from running that shot play down the field to Jordy Nelson that they have had such success on. That play is predicated on two things: selling the play fake hard and then getting Rodgers outside of the pocket.
When the Packers last saw Romo, he was throwing a pair of late-game interceptions in that December 2013 meltdown against them. How much different will Romo look to them this time around?
Archer: Vastly different and a lot of it has to do with the success of the running game. People wonder why the Cowboys didn't run it last year or in other games in which they gave up big leads and the simple answer is they didn't have this offensive line. Zack Martin has made a big difference and it has translated into how Scott Linehan has called plays. He didn't come to the Cowboys with a run-first approach. Heck, offensive line coach Bill Callahan called plays last year and he didn't run it, so that tells you the faith they had in the line. By being able to run the ball, the Cowboys have taken the burden off Romo to a degree. He still has the freedom to change plays, but his belief in the running game has been different, too. Instead of having to make every play, Romo has to make a handful (maybe two) a game for the Cowboys to win. At the beginning of the year he said his best football was ahead of him and many people scoffed because he was coming off his second back surgery. I think he is at the point where mentally he is at his best and physically he can throw it better than he ever has. That combination, plus the run game, has allowed him to have his best year.
However, the Cowboys have not been as great running the ball late in the season, although they're still effective. The Packers rank 23rd in the league in rush defense. Is that the most glaring advantage for the Cowboys?
Demovsky: It sure looks like it. Even Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers admitted the Cowboys' running game will be their biggest test yet. The Packers feel better about their run defense now than they did halfway through the season, and with good reason. They went from 32nd -- dead last -- in rushing yards allowed to a somewhat respectable 23rd by the end of the season. And over the final eight games, they actually ranked fifth in the league in rushing defense. But let's look a little bit closer at whom they played during that stretch. Only one of their final eight opponents ranked in the top 10 in rushing yards per game, and that was the Eagles at No. 9. Only two other teams finished in the top 20 -- the Vikings (No. 14) and Patriots (No. 18). The other five teams ranked 24th or worse in rushing yards per game this season. The Packers haven't seen a running game like this since Week 1 in Seattle.
How much looser will the Cowboys be coming into this game now that they've finally won another playoff game? Do you think that could help them in any way as they approach this game?
Archer: I think that helps, but I was struck in the locker room after they beat the Lions that there wasn't this sense of relief that they won a single playoff game. There was a sense that they wanted more. There is no doubt this team has overachieved, but I don't think the Cowboys view it that way. They're not looking at this like they're playing with house money. They see a real opportunity to advance. The offense was not as prolific against the Lions as it was late in the regular season, but it made plays down the stretch. The defense turned it on in the second half and Rod Marinelli has done great things with this unit. Plus, as we stated at the top, they’re undefeated away from home.
Last week the Cowboys had to concern themselves with Calvin Johnson. This week they get Nelson. They’re not the same type of players, but it seems like Nelson and Rodgers have a Romo-Witten feel on the field. Is that true?
Demovsky: It's a valid comparison. Just like Romo and Witten, Rodgers and Nelson are close off the field. On road trips, they carpool to and from the airport together. Not that you have to be friends off the field to be good teammates on it, but they're genuinely close and that can't hurt on the field. They're especially good on those deep shot plays. Dating back to the 2010 season, Nelson leads the NFL with 14 touchdown catches of 50 yards or more. That's three more than No. 2 DeSean Jackson. Nelson had five of those this season, most in the NFL.