Dallas Cowboys (+6) at Green Bay Packers
There is nothing more powerful in the National Football League than circumstance. If the Cowboys are the favorite on the most primetime slot of the week, hosting the lowest seed in the playoffs, they could not possibly afford to lose without catastrophic repercussions. If they travel to play the Packers, a team unbeatable at home this season, the Cowboys’ expectations drop precipitously. Suddenly, they are underdogs. Failure is now an option.
Deserving or not, the Cowboys have gained a reputation of ‘chokers’ when December and January roll around. This season, however, the Cowboys have been anything but, tallying five crucial wins since Thanksgiving. The last, the aforementioned playoff game against the sixth-seed Lions, hinted that the Cowboys of recent years still lived inside the team’s heart — Dallas quickly fell to a 14-0 deficit and trailed the entire game until the final few minutes — but they ultimately kept their season alive through uncharacteristic clutch plays at the end of the game.
The Cowboys’ struggles against the Lions indeed should act as confirmation that the team still has not solved the problems that arise with growing expectations. The moment strikes Dallas, but it seems to only be present when there is more to lose than gain. With everything laid out in front of them, the Cowboys almost blew a golden opportunity against the Lions – in fact, while the game was certainly not decided by any singular play, the Cowboys even caught a massive break with the obsessively scrutinized non-call on what should have at least been a defensive holding against Dallas.
With everything against them, the Cowboys play their best game on Sunday.
While the Packers are 8-0 this season in Green Bay, the Cowboys are an equivalent 8-0 in road games. Dallas’ defense was highly criticized as the start of the season, but is now getting nothing but praise for its solid play – the Cowboys allowed 30 points in a game only twice this season. Furthermore, Aaron Rodgers is playing at an unbelievably high level, but, like all other aspects of the game, is likely due for a regression, especially without his leg at full strength.
In addition, the Cowboys tout a top-five rushing attack, which will likely shoulder the load with the temperatures expected to be well below the freezing point. While Packers running back Eddie Lacy is no slouch, Dallas’ DeMarco Murray has played like a man possessed all year. Murray averages a whopping 44.1 more yards per game than Lacy.
Dallas, masters of travel and alleviated of all pressures that came with raised expectations, goes into Green Bay and wins by a field goal, beating the spread.