There’s always a lot of history when the Dallas Cowboys and Green Bay Packers meet, particularly at storied Lambeau Field.
The teams have met in the playoffs seven times. Fourteen games in the overall series have been decided by 10 points or fewer, including the Packers’ controversial 26-21 NFC divisional playoff win last season at Lambeau Field.
In that game, an acrobatic, late-game reception by Dez Bryant was overruled near the goal line. The play was debated throughout the rest of the playoffs and during the off-season. In fact, the NFL had to release a clarification on what is a reception.
Sunday’s game, however, has a different look. The Packers are 8-4. Dallas is 4-8. Both have had unconventional seasons, with the Packers losing three times at home and the Cowboys struggling through the loss of quarterback Tony Romo.
Here are five storylines to follow:
1. Dez Bryant’s return
The Cowboys return to the place where their season ended a year ago with a controversial catch that wasn’t by Bryant. Bryant and the Cowboys are ready to move on from that game and are focused on saving their slim playoff chances for another week this season. Bryant comes off a game in which he looked like his former self, fully recovered from right foot surgery and knee/ankle problems.
2. Cassel’s progress
Matt Cassel broke the Cowboys’ dubious backup quarterback winless stretch without Tony Romo on Monday at Washington, but he certainly didn’t carry the team. The offense stalled out at times, and settled for a field goal after having a first-and-goal from the 3. Those drives must turn into touchdowns, especially if the Cowboys want to keep pace with the Packers.
3. Turnover battle
The Cowboys have won the turnover battle only twice this season, and it’s something coach Jason Garrett consistently points to as an area they must win. They didn’t do a good job taking care of the ball Monday, particularly running back Darren McFadden, who lost two fumbles. The defense continues to preach the importance of forcing takeaways.
4. Pressure on Rodgers
Much like takeaways, the defense must get pressure on Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers throughout the game. That’s something they struggled to do in last season’s playoff game, even though Rodgers was hobbled by a calf injury. But this pass rush is supposedly better, and must show it. It might be time for rookie Randy Gregory to make his presence felt.
5. In-game management
Garrett’s clock management at the end of the Redskins game raised some eyebrows, and Cowboys had a nightmarish end to the first half of last season’s playoff game in Green Bay. The Cowboys should have at worst led 14-7, possibly even 17-7, but left enough time for the Packers to drive for a last-minute field goal and pull within 14-10 at halftime.