Monday, January 22, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

NFC division preview: Cowboys-Packers

ARLINGTON, Texas — Aaron Rodgers has been unbeatable on a seven-game run that has carried Green Bay to the division round of the NFC playoffs.

So was Dallas rookie quarterback Dak Prescott for 11 straight games in the regular season, a surge that ultimately got 10-year starter Tony Romo benched and led to the No. 1 seed in the NFC for Prescott's playoff debut Sunday against the Packers.

Rodgers plays at the home of the Cowboys for the first time since winning his only Super Bowl following the 2010 season. And perhaps he'll flash back to his first playoff game a year before that while watching his counterpart try to lead Dallas to its first NFC Championship Game in more than 20 years.

"There's a lot of nerves in your first playoff game. You know there was for me," Rodgers said of a 51-45 wild-card loss to Arizona seven years ago. "I think I threw a pick on my first play. So yeah, you've got to find a way to settle in."

The two-time MVP has a good memory. He was right about that shootout loss, when he settled in and threw four touchdown passes after his only interception.

And Prescott, who had the lowest interception rate for a rookie in NFL history in the regular season, knows it's about having a short memory now.

"We're not putting too much pressure on ourselves, on this team or this situation," Prescott said. "We're continuing to be the same guys we've been all year. When it's time to lock in, trust me, we'll be ready."

Prescott and NFL rushing champion Ezekiel Elliott will try to become the first rookie QB-RB tandem to win a playoff game in the Super Bowl era.

Two had a chance after the 2012 season: Andrew Luck and Vick Ballard with Indianapolis and Robert Griffin III and current Dallas running back Alfred Morris with Washington.

"I don't view these guys as rookies," said 14th-year Cowboys tight end Jason Witten, set for his sixth trip to the postseason.

"They've had a lot of at-bats at the plate. They've shown it over the course of 16 games who they are and how they play. I think they understand they just have to be themselves."

Here are some things to consider in the eighth postseason meeting between these storied franchises, two years after Green Bay's 26-21 division victory made famous by Dallas receiver Dez Bryant's catch that wasn't:

REMATCH: Prescott led a 97-yard scoring drive in just 33 seconds at the end of the first half at Lambeau Field in Dallas' 30-16 victory in Week 6. Rodgers threw an interception, and the Packers lost three fumbles. Elliott was the first 100-yard rusher of the season against the Packers. "That was really early in the season, so yeah, they're going to be a better team, as we are," Elliott said.

NO NELSON: The Packers might be in better shape this season without receiver Jordy Nelson, out because of a rib injury suffered in last weekend's 38-13 wild-card win over the Giants. Randall Cobb and Davante Adams combined for 241 yards receiving and four touchdowns against the Giants, and there are other proven options. "It hasn't been just one guy all season, even with Jordy out there," Rodgers said.

REINFORCEMENTS: The Cowboys will have four defensive linemen who were held out of the regular-season finale at Philadelphia mostly as a precaution: ends DeMarcus Lawrence and Tyrone Crawford, and tackles Terrell McClain and Cedric Thornton. It's the healthiest the Dallas defense has been all season. Cornerback Morris Claiborne, who missed the last nine games of the regular season with a groin injury, is expected to play.

TWILIGHT TIME: Pass-rushing Green Bay linebacker Julius Peppers has spent 15 years in the NFL without winning a Super Bowl. Peppers, who turns 37 on Wednesday, had limited snaps in the regular season to keep him fresh. He lost to New England with Carolina in the Super Bowl after the 2003 season. "Regardless of what stage he's on, what team he's playing for, he always seems to show up," Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said.

NOTHING NEW: Rodgers' run of three straight games with four touchdown passes — and 19 without an interception during the winning streak — prompted plenty of questions of how the Cowboys would deal with it, and what might be different in how they approach defending him. Not much, Garrett seemed to suggest. "He's been hot for about nine years," the Dallas coach said.

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