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Game of the Week: Packers at Cowboys
"Lord save us all from a hope tree that has lost the faculty of putting out blossoms." – Mark Twain.
On Sunday morning even the most zealous Cheesehead had to admit the team's playoff prospects were nominal. The Packers' last win came in October, franchise star Aaron Rodgers was on the sidelines and fourth-stringer Matt Flynn was, well, playing like you'd expect a fourth-stringer to perform. With the rival Lions nursing a 7-5 record, Green Bay seemed destined to be watching January football from home.
Unlike their football brethren in Wisconsin, those in Big D were relatively buoyant on their team's outlook. The Cowboys had won four of their last six, including a season sweep of rival New York and coming back from a 14-point deficit on Thanksgiving against the Raiders. Moreover, with DeMarco Murray seemingly healthy for the first time in 18 months, the Dallas offense appeared unstoppable.
How quickly the tables can turn. A 22-21 victory over the Falcons, coupled with a Detroit loss, has resuscitated a Packers season that was on life support. On the other end of that spectrum, a 45-28 beatdown by the Bears leaves the Cowboys on the outside looking in on the NFC East. However, both squads still harbor hope of January football, making this battle our WhatIfSports.com Game of the Week.
As of this writing, the Packers are proceeding with Flynn as the starter in Week 15, somewhat disconcerting since, you know, it's Matt Flynn. But make no mistake, all eyes are on the return of Rodgers. Set to be evaluated following Tuesday's practice, the Packers are hoping the month-long sabbatical for Rodgers has provided ample time for the Super Bowl MVP to return to full strength. The franchise has erred on the side of caution, and rightfully so with its star, a sentiment that's not always the case in the win now-now-NOW atmosphere of the NFL. (Cut to every Washington fan nodding their head.) All Green Bay can do is pray its stoicism has paid off.
No matter who is under center for the Green and Yellow, envision the Packers to rely heavily on the run. Since dealing with a concussion early in the fall, Eddie Lacy has lived up to his preeminent billing, averaging 83.6 yards per contest in his last 10 games. Even if Rodgers is able to go, it's highly unlikely he'll flaunt his celebrated aerial prowess off the bat, making the dependence on the rooking running back all the more imperative.
The Cowboys have all been blessed with ground prosperity in 2013. Struggling with various injuries in his first two seasons, many in the Dallas organization began to wonder if the third-year rusher Murray was the right man for the job after suffering further health woes in mid-October. In the face of this doubt, Murray has answered, and answered with vigor, racking up 384 yards in his last four games. Linking this effort with Tony Romo's reduction in turnovers (just seven picks this season versus 19 interceptions in 2012), the Cowboys offense has been a nightmare for defensive coordinators.
Alas, Dallas has dealt with its own defensive torment. The Cowboys ranks last in total defense, surrendering 426.8 yards per game, and its admission of 26.8 points is 26th. Worse, Jerry Jones' decision to fire Rob Ryan and bring on Monte Kiffin has been an absolute train wreck, as Ryan has rejuvenated a dormant Saints resistance while Kiffin seems utterly lost. Unless these leaky holes are fixed in a hurry, it's hard to forecast the Cowboys holding strong against Rodgers and Week 17 opponent Philadelphia's high-flying attack.
So who comes out on top in the NFC showdown? According to the award-winning WhatIfSports.com simulation engine, the Cowboys emerge victorious 61.2 percent of the time by an average margin of 27-23. For the rest of this week's projections, check below:
NFL Week 15
|Green Bay Packers||38.8||23||Boxscore|
|@ Dallas Cowboys||61.2||27||Simulate Game|
|San Diego Chargers||39.3||24||Boxscore|
|@ Denver Broncos||60.7||28||Simulate Game|
|@ Indianapolis Colts||60.2||25||Simulate Game|
|New York Jets||41.8||16||Boxscore|
|@ Carolina Panthers||58.2||18||Simulate Game|
|@ Atlanta Falcons||52.5||28||Simulate Game|
|@ Detroit Lions||51.7||25||Simulate Game|
|New England Patriots||51.5||21||Boxscore|
|@ Miami Dolphins||48.5||20||Simulate Game|
|@ Pittsburgh Steelers||47.9||22||Simulate Game|
|@ Jacksonville Jaguars||46.3||21||Simulate Game|
|@ Cleveland Browns||43.4||19||Simulate Game|
|@ Tennessee Titans||37.6||16||Simulate Game|
|@ Minnesota Vikings||35.0||22||Simulate Game|
|@ New York Giants||30.0||18||Simulate Game|
|San Francisco 49ers||71.2||24||Boxscore|
|@ Tampa Bay Buccaneers||28.8||16||Simulate Game|
|Kansas City Chiefs||71.4||23||Boxscore|
|@ Oakland Raiders||28.6||15||Simulate Game|
|New Orleans Saints||84.8||30||Boxscore|
|@ St. Louis Rams||15.2||17||Simulate Game|
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