Cowboys: Rookie quarterback Dak Prescott has exceeded expectations by every measure, tying the NFL record for most wins by a rookie QB (13) and posting a 104.9 passer rating. But a rookie quarterback has never taken a team to the Super Bowl in NFL history, although Prescott has answered every other challenge to date.
Packers: Aaron Rodgers is among the best postseason quarterbacks in history. He’s already won a Super Bowl and ranks fourth in postseason history for passer rating (minimum 150 attempts) with 100.3. Rodgers appeared to be in peak form last week vs. the New York Giants, throwing for 362 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Star-Telegram
Edge: Green Bay
Cowboys: Rookie Ezekiel Elliott led the NFL with 1,631 rushing yards and scored 15 rushing touchdowns. He had a breakout game against the Packers earlier in the season, gaining 157 yards on 28 carries. Elliott is a home-run threat every time he touches the ball and has proven worthy of the fourth overall pick. He’s also got plenty of “playoff” experience from his days at Ohio State, playing in a New Year’s Six bowl each of his three years.
Packers: Eddie Lacy is on injured reserve with an ankle injury, leaving the Packers to rely on Christine Michael and Ty Montgomery to carry the rushing load. Michael, who spent time with the Cowboys last season, joined the Packers in November and hasn’t topped the 50-yard mark in seven games. Montgomery, a converted wide receiver, had an impressive rushing performance against the Chicago Bears last month but isn’t relied on too heavily.
Wide receiver/tight end
Cowboys: Cole Beasley posted career-bests in receptions (75) and receiving yards (833) while leading the team in receiving. Jason Witten continues to be a security blanket as the tight end. But Dez Bryant is still the biggest outside threat for the Cowboys and is healthy going into the postseason. Also don’t forget Terrance Williams, who had three touchdown receptions in the 2014 playoffs.
Packers: The Packers will be without injured wideout Jordy Nelson (ribs). Nelson, the Packers’ best receiving threat after leading the team with 1,257 receiving yards and leading the NFL with 14 TDs, was not cleared by team doctors. Davante Adams had a strong season with 12 touchdowns and falling just 3 yards short of the 1,000-yard mark. Randall Cobb is arguably the hottest receiver going right now after catching three TDs, including a Hail Mary, in the wild-card victory over the Giants.
Cowboys: This is widely considered the best offensive line in the league with three All-Pro players in left tackle Tyron Smith, center Travis Frederick and right guard Zack Martin. The O-line sets the physical identity the Cowboys want to impose each week and is arguably the team’s deepest unit going into the playoffs.
Packers: Green Bay doesn’t have the names on its O-line like Dallas, but it’s still a steady group. The Packers have given Aaron Rodgers plenty of time in the pocket to extend plays, part of the reason they’ve been able to win seven consecutive games. The line is led by tackles David Bakhtiari and Bryan Bulaga, and gave up only one sack to the Cowboys in the Oct. 16 meeting.
Cowboys: The Cowboys had 36 sacks on the season, although the pass rush disappeared at times during the season. The rush defense ranked as the best in the league, although several teams were playing from behind. Still, the D-line has flashed potential. Benson Mayowa led the team with six sacks, Tyrone Crawford had 4.5 and David Irving had a team-high 26 QB pressures.
Packers: Green Bay has a Hall of Famer on its D-line in Julius Peppers, who had 7.5 sacks in the regular season and one in the wild-card round. Peppers forced a fumble when these teams played in 2014. As a unit the Packers have fared well, compiling 40 sacks, tied for sixth-most in the league, and ranking eighth in run defense (94.7 yards).
Edge: Green Bay
Cowboys: Sean Lee earned All-Pro honors after a terrific season in which the coaches credited him with a team-leading 174 tackles. Anthony Hitchens had 104 tackles this season. Justin Durant has battled through injuries, but has shown to be a difference-maker when he’s on the field. This linebacker corps has done a solid job stopping the run and defending the pass.
Packers: Linebacker Nick Perry led the team with 11 sacks, but is dealing with a left hand injury. Clay Matthews has also dealt with injuries, but had five sacks in 12 games. Second-year pro Jake Ryan has played well of late, recording 12 tackles and three passes defensed in the wild-card game against the Giants. Additionally, the Packers have one of the more well-respected most respected defensive coordinators in the game, Dom Capers.
Cowboys: Dallas has given up more than 260 passing yards a game and had nine interceptions on the season. Safety Barry Church led them with two picks. But the secondary has held its own for the most part. Brandon Carr has been a reliable corner, Morris Claiborne should return and sixth-round pick Anthony Brown has been another rookie surprise. Orlando Scandrick could have the unenviable task of containing Green Bay slot receiver Randall Cobb, but Scandrick is among the best when healthy.
Packers: Green Bay finished the regular season with the 31st-ranked pass defense. They have been hit hard by injuries, losing arguably their best DB, Sam Shields, to a concussion early in the season. Fellow cornerbacks Quinten Rollins and Damarious Randall have battled injuries, too. But the Packers fared all right against the Giants in the wild-card round, holding Eli Manning to fewer than 300 passing yards and intercepting him once.
Cowboys: Kicker Dan Bailey is among the best in the NFL and has never missed in 250 point-after attempts. He was 27-of-32 on field goals this season with a long of 56. But Bailey went just one of three on field goals attempts in the 2014 postseason. Punter Chris Jones has done well, averaging 45.9 yards. Returner Lucky Whitehead, meanwhile, has never scored a touchdown on a return in his career. Similarly, the coverage units didn’t give up a return touchdown this season.
Packers: Kicker Mason Crosby has been reliable, particularly in the postseason where he has converted 24-of-26 field goal attempts and all 54 extra-point attempts. Punter Jake Schum averaged 43.2 yards a kick. Micah Hyde has served as the punt returner. Jeff Janis is the primary kickoff returner and averaged 25.7 yards on three returns in the wild-card game. The Packers did give up a kickoff return for a touchdown earlier this season, allowing Indianapolis’ Jordan Todman to go 99 yards.
Cowboys: Coach Jason Garrett has two playoff games under his belt, going 1-1. He made questionable clock management decisions near the end of the first half in the 2014 divisional round against Green Bay, but has been praised for his aggressiveness this season. Coordinators Scott Linehan (offense) and Rod Marinelli (defense) are regarded among the best in the league.
Packers: Coach Mike McCarthy is in the playoffs for the eighth consecutive year and ninth in the past 10 seasons. He has gone 9-7 in the playoffs, highlighted by a Super Bowl run in 2010. In that season, he guided the sixth-seeded Packers to three road wins en route to the Super Bowl at AT&T Stadium. McCarthy is the play-caller on offense, although he made a questionable decision to go for it on fourth down in his own territory at his own 42-yard line in the wild-card game last Sunday. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers is respected around the league, but his injury-plagued unit ranked 22nd in the league this season.
Edge: Green Bay
Cowboys: The Cowboys have the home-field edge and playing at AT&T Stadium finally has the makings of being is becoming a true advantage for them. They have won seven consecutive games there and have drawn an average of 92,539 spectators this season, most in the league by a mile. certainly should benefit with the comforts of being home away from the field. Plus, clinching the top-seed early and earning a bye week has allowed the Cowboys to rest and rehabilitate. They’ve been able to field a full, healthy roster in practices leading up to this game.
Packers: Green Bay won three consecutive road games in its Super Bowl season in 2010, and have momentum going into this game. The Packers have won seven in a row and have plenty of postseason experience to draw upon. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers has been a Super Bowl MVP while linebacker Clay Matthews has played in 13 postseason games, recording with 11 sacks and five forced fumbles. But the Packers have lost their best offensive weapon target, injured receiver Jordy Nelson, in the wild-card round.