The Dallas Cowboys (4-8) and the Green Bay Packers (8-4) are both coming off of huge victories in Week 13. Aaron Rodgers' miraculous last-second Hail Mary to Richard Rodgers prevented the Packers from losing their fifth game in six weeks, while the Cowboys were able to salvage their playoff hopes with a memorable last-second win of their own against the Redskins on Monday night.
Both teams gained valuable momentum that each hopes to springboard into Week 14 with playoff implications on the line. Mike McCarthy’s well-rested Packers team will try to fend off the hungry Cowboys to stand alone in first place in the NFC North. Meanwhile, Jason Garrett’s Cowboys are coming off of a short week in desperate need of another win to stay within striking distance in the lackluster NFC East and earn a return trip to the playoffs.
Lambeau Field will play host for the 33rd meeting all-time between the Cowboys and Packers. This historically rich matchup dates all the way back to 1960. The series is currently tied at 16 wins a piece which further adds to the significance of this particular matchup. Green Bay has won the last four meetings against Dallas, including last season’s controversial playoff game. The Cowboys' last win against the Packers came in 2008, and they have not defeated Green Bay at Lambeau Field since '04.
Dallas at Green Bay
Kickoff: 4:25 p.m. ET (Sunday)
Spread: Green Bay - 7
Three Things to Watch
1. The Cowboys' Offense
If the Cowboys stand any chance of winning in Week 14 and beyond, they must figure out how to jumpstart their offense. The Packers' “bend don’t break” style of defense this season is far from impenetrable, but they do make scoring difficult, having allowed just 19 points per game on average. The Dallas offense will have to do far better than the 16 points per game they have averaged with Matt Cassel starting at quarterback.
Dallas just scraped by last week thanks to a fortunate break and an opponent that happened to be equally inept on offense. The Cowboys probably won’t be so lucky this week, and they will not be able to rely on defense and kicker Dan Bailey alone to beat Green Bay on the road.
The Cowboys' best chance for success on offense lies with Dez Bryant. Matt Cassel attempting to nickel and dime his way down the field with the likes of Jason Witten, Terrance Williams, and Cole Beasley has proven to be largely ineffective for this offense. Bryant is the big-play guy in the Cowboys' offense, and he should be targeted accordingly. A few deep looks Bryant’s way would also help to loosen up a Packer defense set on stacking the box to stop the run. If successful, it will be crucial for Darren McFadden and the Cowboys' star-studded offensive line to capitalize.
2. The Packers' Passing Game Must Find a Way
In spite of Aaron Rodgers' best efforts, the Green Bay passing attack hasn’t exactly been hitting on all cylinders, and he will have his work cut out for him against a top-five Cowboys pass defense that has allowed just 12 touchdowns through the air all season. To further complicate matters, Green Bay will likely be without two starting offensive lineman this week. Right tackle Bryan Bulaga is questionable at best and center Corey Linsley is listed as doubtful. Look for Dallas to bring plenty of pressure to exploit the Packers' deficiencies up front.
Randall Cobb, James Jones and Davante Adams have all been wildly inconsistent of late, but at least one of those guys should step up this week. Aaron Rodgers also seems to have some chemistry brewing with TE Richard Rodgers that could pay off again this afternoon. Rodgers' talent goes unquestioned, and he will likely find a way to move the football using some combination of the aforementioned group, regardless of the difficult matchup and his beat-up offensive line.
3. Inclement Weather and Turnovers?
With the forecast calling for an 80 percent chance of rain with winds blowing consistently in the high teens, turnovers have to be an issue of concern, even for a Green Bay team that has committed the fewest turnovers in the NFL. The Cowboys should be particularly concerned, as they have a propensity for turning the ball over anyway. Neither team has been incredibly proficient at forcing turnovers, especially Dallas, which has the fewest takeaways in the NFL (8), but slippery and windy conditions could certainly give both teams a helping hand.
Cassel has difficulty throwing with accuracy, even in ideal conditions. Rodgers has a pretty good track record with regard to playing in bad weather. That being said, Rodgers has thrown an interception in each of Green Bay’s last two games, and he’d much rather throw a dry football in calm winds if given the choice. Packers running back, Eddie Lacy, has fumbled the ball four times in his last six games, while Cowboys feature back, Darren McFadden, had two fumbles of his own just last week. Neither back will be looking forward to toting a wet football this week. Inclement weather also could play a vital role in the kicking game and weigh heavily on the outcome of this game in general.
The extra time afforded to the Packers to rest up and prepare this week should play in their favor against a Cowboys team that is coming off of a short week. The possibility of inclement weather also bodes well for the home team. The Packers' plan of attack will likely include stacking the box to stop the run, forcing Matt Cassel to try and beat them with his arm. So long as Cassel is unsuccessful getting the ball to Dez Bryant, the Packers' defense should win the day.
Offensively, the Packers' rushing attack with Eddie Lacy could prove pivotal, especially if Green Bay struggles to move the ball through the air against a stingy Dallas pass defense. Lacy showed flashes in Weeks 11 and 12 before being limited to just five carries last Thursday for missing curfew.
The Cowboys' ability to get the football into the hands of Bryant will be paramount to their success. Dallas should be able to hold its own defensively by taking advantage of Green Bay’s beat-up offensive line and limiting Aaron Rodgers in the passing game, but without a big day from Bryant; Dallas has virtually no chance of winning.
Prediction: Packers 24, Cowboys 14
— Written by Rob McVey, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @Rob_UTVOLS.