Sunday NFL Divisional Round Preview
Winners play for a Conference Championship next weekend
Dallas Cowboys at Green Bay Packers – 1:05pm
It has final come to fruition that Aaron Rodgers does have a slightly torn calf muscle. While Mike McCarthy is stating that Rodgers has looked good and mobile in practice, what will be the impact of the injury to arguable the best quarterback in the NFL and the league’s best scoring offense? However, different from any other year with the Packers, they now have a legitimate stud running back in Eddie Lacy. Lacy’s 4.6 yards per carry will be able to keep the pressure off of Rodgers and place the Packers in 2nd or 3rd and short yardage situations. Plus, let’s not forget that Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb can take a 4 yard slant the distance at any time.
No one is arguing that the Cowboys offense is hot. The league’s 5th highest scoring team does it a bit differently by leading with their running back, DeMarco Murray, and then allowing Tony Romo to work off of playaction. The revamped offensive line has been keeping Romo upright and giving him great deal of time to pick defenses apart with Jason Witten and Dez Bryant. If the Cowboys can average Murray’s 4.7 yards per carry, expect Bryant to have a career day.
Surprisingly, the Cowboys and Packers defense are mirror images of each other, with the Cowboys allowing 22 and the Packers 21.8 points per game. Will we see that Packers defense that shutdown the Eagles and Patriots, or the one that was shredded by the Falcons? As for the Cowboys, will we see the defense that allowed the Colts to score 7 points or the one that allowed 27 or more points 4 times out of the last 6 weeks? Ultimately, the key for both defenses will be getting to the quarterback.
Prediction – The questions will abound until Rodgers gets pressured and shows he can make a strong throw or a throw on the move. Expect Dallas to gamble with blitzes to test Rodgers and load the box to stop Lacy. Nelson and Cobb are still one of the best WR Duos in the game and Rodgers will take advantage of that. The Cowboys will be able to score on the Packers Defense, but sooner or later a Romo mistake will cost them and they will be forced to play catch-up. Packers 32 Cowboys 24
Indianapolis Colts at Denver Broncos – 4:40pm
Taking a step back, this game really isn’t about Andrew Luck versus Peyton Manning, it’s about each team’s trajectory crossing paths. The Broncos, with an aging quarterback, are facing a rapidly closing window, where the Colts, with an emerging great quarterback, window is just starting to open.
Even with what is arguably the most talented group of weapons to ever surround Manning, the Broncos offense is nowhere near their record setting pace of 2013. Denver has had to turn to the run game, lead by C.J. Anderson, to take over the game, control the ball and allow Manning time to find open receivers through playaction. Anderson was just a special teams player on the depth chart until injuries to Montee Ball and Ronnie Hillman forced him into the lineup. Surprisingly, Anderson has been so good, that he has taken attention away from Julius Thomas, Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders. With all of those weapons, some have forgot that Wes Welker is on this team too.
The biggest question for Denver will be: was Cincinnati, New England and Miami anomalies, or can really good offenses shred them? Allowing 22.1 points per game, the defense has been playing well as of late (barring the Cincinnati game). Aqib Talib will be locked on T.Y. Hilton, while Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware will put pressure on Luck. The goal will be to slow the Colts offense down and hope for one of those many Luck turnovers to occur.
Indianapolis has no running game, no defense (worst redzone defense in the league), but a serious chance to win this game, due in large part to their quarterback, Andrew Luck. Luck has carried this team the entire season. Luckily (pun intended), they have remained healthy and started to improve in certain areas (Boom Herron taking over at running back), but will that be enough? It will come down to time and if Luck can get the ball to Hilton and Reggie Wayne.
Prediction – Peyton gets one last shot at beating his former team and the Broncos will show the week of rest got them on the right track. The Colts will end up focusing their defense on Julius Thomas (who torched them in Week 1), leaving wide open space for Sanders. For the first time since October, the Colts will have their normal offensive line together on the field, but will have issues getting the run game going. If the Colts get down by 10 or more, this game is over; as the odds will greatly increase that Luck will turn the ball over. Expect Miller and Ware to pin their ears back and try to strip the quarterback leading the league in fumbles. Broncos 45 Colts 31