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Divisional Playoff Football Preview: Green Bay Packers vs. Dallas Cowboys Betting Advice

By Paul Wilson in Sports
| January 15, 2017 12:00 am PDT
Aaron Rodgers Number 12 of the Green Bay Packers With His Hands Up

Who: Green Bay Packers (10–6) vs. Dallas Cowboys (13–3)

Where: AT&T Stadium. Dallas, Texas

When: Sunday, January 14, 2017. 4:25 PM (EST)

In a curious and rare turn of events, the best NFL playoff football game on television this weekend is in fact not being televised in the premiere TV slot. When the red hot Green Bay Packers travel to Texas to take on the #1 overall seed Dallas Cowboys, the game will kick off at 4:25 PM eastern time rather than the originally scheduled 8:20 PM.

The reason for this change has nothing to do with the game itself, but rather with the weather conditions for the other Divisional game scheduled for Sunday: The Steelers/Chiefs game.

Winter Storm Jupiter will be rumbling through the Plains, contributing freezing rain to the area around Arrowhead Stadium, so the NFL wants to make sure that city crews have as much time as possible to clear snow, salt, and improve both walking and driving conditions for the fans traveling to and from the stadium. Given how well and how many Steelers fans travel, this is probably a very prudent move.

And while TV executives must bemoan Mother Nature stepping in and taking dollars out of their pockets in terms of the amount of revenue generated by having two franchises televised in prime-time that both vie for the title of “America’s Team,” for fans of the Cowboys and the Packers, this is good news.

Certainly there is something gained in having your team televised in the highest profile position, at least for the pride of the fans, but in terms of what the players would want, an earlier start time is better.

The reason for this is that players generally spend the early hours of game day resting and twiddling their thumbs when they play at night, the visiting time killing time in their hotel. Furthermore, when a game finishes between 10-11 PM (depending on the time zone), the players have fewer evening hours available to collect themselves and get on to the rest and recovery portion of the week that follows.

So for whichever team ends up winning this game and immediately starting the preparation for the NFC Championship game against the winner of the Seahawks/Falcons game, the extra four hours they gained in their week due to kickoff time being pushed forward will undoubtedly be a blessing.

And every single tiny advantage makes a big difference in the playoffs, particularly in matchups as big as this one.

Not only do the two franchises involved in this game possess two of the richest histories in the entire National Football League, but they also have a rich history of meeting each other in the postseason. The Packers started off the postseason rivalry with a quick one-two punch, beating Dallas in both the 1966 and 1967 NFL Championship Games (the latter later referred to as “The Ice Bowl”) on their way to victories the subsequent weeks in Super Bowl I and Super Bowl II.

The Cowboys struck back 30 years later, as their dominant three-headed attack of Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, and Michael Irvin denied the young upstart Brett Favre during his first three seasons as starting quarterback of the Green Bay Packers. The Triplets handed Green Bay three consecutive postseason losses in 1993, 1994, and 1995, going on to win the Super Bowl two of those years, before the Packers finally won a Super Bowl of their own the following year in 1996.

And now, with the passage of another two decades, a third chapter in the postseason rivalry between the Green Bay Packers and the Dallas Cowboys is just starting to be written.

After three straight seasons where the Dallas Cowboys went 8–8 and missed the playoffs in the beginning of the Jason Garrett era, all signs pointed to them making a run in 2014, based once again on the phenomenal play of a stellar offensive line and an impressive rookie running back (DeMarco Murray). The Cowboys went into Lambeau Field in the postseason for the first time since the Ice Bowl, intending to pick up some playoff momentum going into the NFC Championship game.

At this point the Packers had been perennial playoff contenders for 6 straight seasons, ever since the establishment of Mike McCarthy as head coach and Aaron Rodgers as quarterback following the end of the Mike Sherman/Brett Favre era. The home team did enough to spoil the Cowboys’ postseason dreams, and Cowboys fans will particularly remember the feeling of being robbed by one play involving star wide receiver Dez Bryant which generated a lot of controversy in terms of what defines a “catch”.

The following season (last season), the Cowboys slid back into their 2010-2013 slump, winning only four games to end up with their worst regular season record since 1989. Despite having four Pro Bowlers on the offensive line, the loss of starting quarterback Tony Romo to two consecutive collarbone injuries sunk the team, and they missed the postseason by a wide margin.

But now the Cowboys have addressed both of their primary difficulties – a leaky defense and an injury-prone quarterback – by drafting two star rookies that have taken the entire NFL by storm. Dak and Zeke were in consideration throughout the entire season for both the Offensive Rookie of the Year and MVP awards, though it’s likely that only one of those two awards will be given to the Cowboys’ rookies.

With their 2014/15 playoff victory at Lambeau Field in the Divisional Round, the Packers tied up the all-time Cowboys-Packers postseason record at 3 games apiece. And now, in the 2016/17 playoffs, the script is flipped: The Cowboys are the home team coming off of the bye week, and the Packers are the visitors hoping to spoil.

For two historic franchises with such a rich history of facing off in the postseason, as well as two of the most expansive and committed fan bases across all of professional sports worldwide, there’s not much else that could make this game any more exciting than it already is.

But regardless of the outcome of the game and the historical implications therein, this exciting matchup could absolutely hold value for interested gamblers. Below we’ll consider the moneyline odds, bets against the spread, total score over/under, as well as any individual prop bets to see where there might be value to be found when the Packers take on the Cowboys.

Packers vs. Cowboys Betting

MoneyLine

  • Packers +165
  • Cowboys -190

In picking moneyline odds, the question at hand, at its simplest level, is which team will win the game. However, as any experienced gambler knows, answering this question is not nearly as simple as it sounds. Our philosophy when determining which team will ultimately win the game is to try and ascertain which team will retain the heart, the drive, the grit, and the determination to maintain their focus and remain fundamentally sound throughout the entire 60-minute contest.

We believe that whichever team is able to remain locked in generally makes the fewest mistakes, and thus keeps the most momentum for the longest, and so on and so forth, ultimately culminating in a victory.

In deciding which team will maintain drive and focus during the latter half of the regular season, playoff implications are often at stake. Specifically, the team that has the most to play for in terms of postseason seeding is generally the team that maintains their drive and will to win for longest. When there’s nothing to play for, it’s easy for players to give up fighting and lose their individual matchups.

However, in the postseason there’s a “win or go home” mentality for all of the players on both teams, so you can no longer rely on playoff implications in order to make your assessment of which team will maintain the drive and the will to win throughout the entire course of the game. For this reason, in the postseason we rely on more nuanced factors that contribute to a team’s heart.

The first of these factors is home field advantage. The Dallas Cowboys haven’t been in their new stadium for long enough to determine whether or not their home-field advantage is comparable to that of other teams based on win percentage. Quite simply, not enough games have aggregated in the AT&T Stadium for us to make a judgment based purely on statistics.

However, based on more of an eye test assessment, we believe that the Cowboys do have a relatively strong home-field advantage. The stadium itself is impressive, and new players, particularly younger players, undoubtedly have a few moments of jitters that they wouldn’t have in another stadium based purely on the size of the Jumbotron, the volume of the stadium, and all of the bells and whistles they see behind the scenes.

However, while we will uncertainly give the Cowboys a slight edge for home field advantage, it doesn’t swing the outcome of the game one way or another for us. Aaron Rodgers has already won the Super Bowl in AT&T Stadium, and many of the Packers veterans have played games in this Stadium.

Furthermore, in terms of noise, the Packers’ offensive line is fully healthy, and among the most disciplined and cerebral in the entire league, committing only 27 penalties throughout the regular season despite having a quarterback who often likes to hold the ball for upwards of 7-8-10 seconds.

While it’s possible that the rookie wide receiver backing up the injured Jordy Nelson and the Packers’ young running back group could potentially have communication snafus that result in pre-snap penalties or blown protections, we don’t think that the distracting noise provided by the home-field advantage of the Dallas Cowboys is strong enough to lead to a general increase in mistakes for the Packers that could change the overall down and distance they find themselves in on offense.

A second factor we consider is health, but this is essentially a wash. The Cowboys are fully healthy, coming off of a bye week, and the Green Bay Packers are missing only their top wide receiver Jordy Nelson, out with fractured ribs. While being without the NFL’s leader in touchdowns is certainly a big loss, the fact of the matter is that the Packers have enough other weapons on offense and Aaron Rodgers is so hot right now that we don’t foresee Nelson’s absence swinging the game one way or another.

So if home field advantage and injuries don’t affect the outcome of the game significantly for us, we are forced to consider still other factors that could influence the ability of these two teams to keep their focus and remain fundamentally sound in this game.

Ultimately, the final answer for us is the confidence each team has in their quarterback. To take nothing away from the phenomenal season that Dak Prescott has had, and the astonishingly bright future that the 4th-round draft pick has in the league, the fact of the matter is that he is a rookie playing in his first playoff game.

Even Aaron Rodgers, who threw for 423 yards, 4 touchdowns and a passer rating of 121.4 in his first playoff game, admitted this week to feeling very nervous during that game. No matter how incredible the player is, it’s unavoidable to fall prey to the playoff jitters. Rodgers threw a key interception in that game, and the Packers lost a shoot-out to the Arizona Cardinals 45–51 in overtime.

In terms of being fundamentally sound and executing the game plan flawlessly, without any mistakes, there’s no way for us to believe that a rookie quarterback would be able to overcome Aaron Rodgers, a league and Super Bowl MVP who is probably playing at the highest level of his entire career right now.

And for the lynchpin in our argument for the Packers to play with heart for longer than the Dallas Cowboys in this game, consider the Packers’ Hail Mary, which some talking heads this week have jokingly considered renaming “The Rodgers”.

The ultimate example of a team being able to play with heart up until the final whistle is the Hail Mary, during which a team literally can change the outcome game with only seconds left on the clock. Aaron Rodgers’ career statistics in 40+ yard attempts with less than 10 seconds left in either the half or the game is 3–7 for 144 yards, 3 touchdowns and 2 interceptions.

There’s nothing more potent for a team’s confidence than the fact that even if they are down by a full possession with less than 15 seconds left in the game, they fully believe that their quarterback and their receiving corps have the potential to pull off a play that song quarterback and some fans find if not impossible to capitalize convert, at the very least highly improbable.

So for the Packers, we do think that even though being in a Hail Mary situation is unlikely, and converting a Hail Mary situation even with Aaron Rodgers is also unlikely, (despite their success last week and over the last year with Hail Mary plays), the impact that this has on their confidence, swagger, and belief in themselves is absolutely possible, and a vital part of their success. All 53 players on their roster believe in Aaron Rodgers so completely that they will play to the final whistle regardless of the status of the game, just so that can give the magician one more chance to work his magic.

On the other side, however, consider what might happen if the Cowboys’ Dak Prescott found himself in a similar situation, down by a few scores late in the game. Despite the fact that Jerry Jones, Jason Garrett, and Tony Romo himself have handled the situation impeccably, all it takes is for one fan to scream “PUT IN ROMO” to potentially lodge a seed of doubt in the hearts and minds of the Cowboys’ players, potentially leading to a crucial mistake that costs them the game.

So in conclusion, despite the fact that the Cowboys playing at home will likely cost the Packers a few penalty yards or a drive, and despite the fact that Jordy Nelson is not playing and the Cowboys are fully healthy, we believe that the team that has full confidence in their quarterback for the full 60 minutes will ultimately triumph over the team that wants to believe, but just doesn’t have proof yet.

One final thing to note about the moneyline odds concerns the actual odds themselves. Generally speaking, regardless of how favorable or unfavorable the odds are (except in extreme cases like the Patriots -1500 against the Texans at some books this weekend), we believe that if you can accurately predict the actual outcome of the game, you’re guaranteed to make money – or at the very least, you don’t lose money.

However, it is also true that the position of the line, as set by odds-makers, and the action on the line, as determined by an aggregated number of gamblers, can do a lot to swing your confidence one way or another. In short, it always feels difficult to pick an underdog – particularly a road underdog – to win.

The reason we mention this is because the moneyline odds in this game (as well as the line) are unique, based on the franchises involved. Of all of the NFL franchises, popular wisdom holds that the Packers and Cowboys generally receive a higher number of wagers than usual, due to the fact that they have some of the biggest fan bases. With an unusually high amount of betting, the lines are often skewed by lots of amateur gambler’s voting along party lines.

So the overall takeaway is that we believe that the Green Bay Packers are going to win this game, and we don’t believe that the fact that they are road underdogs should scare you away. In this case, don’t be scared off by how wonky the lines can be for both of these franchises, take it for what it is: A gift, to be able to get even odds to bet on Aaron Rodgers going up against a rookie quarterback in a stadium where he has already won a Super Bowl.

Pick: Packers to win

Spread

  • Packers +4 (-105)
  • Cowboys -4 (-115)

So with our pick established that the Packers will win this game primarily because they have the best player on the field, we’ve already made our bet against the spread, given the fact that the Packers are four-point underdogs in this matchup.

So instead of trying to determine whether or not the favorite will win-and-cover or win-but-not-cover, as we usually do in this section, let’s instead simply continue our argument for the Packers to win the game by considering the offenses involved, and whether they have the weapons necessary to score points.

One of the most exciting things to note about this matchup is the fact that the two offenses in the game feature two offensive lines that warm the heart of football fans that enjoy watching the battles in the trenches.

But not only are these two offensive lines among the best and most highly-rated groups in the league, they also feature contrasting styles: In the Packers’ offensive line, we have the best pass-blocking offensive line in football, supporting what is probably the best passing attack. On the other side, in the Cowboys’ offensive line, we have the best run-blocking offensive line, and the best rushing attack in football.

And for the Cowboys, their ability to put points on the board will be the absolute key to their success. Not only is their entire team philosophy built around the philosophy that “the best defense is a good offense,” and that they must control the time of possession in order to bail out their weaker defensive unit, but the Packers are also 11–1 when allowing opponents less than 30 points this season.

One of those teams that managed to put up 30 points on the Packers was these very Cowboys, who won their Week 6 matchup 30–16.

In this first matchup, the Cowboys were able to play their style: The Cowboys had more total yards than the Packers (424 to 372), and even though the Packers ended up with more passing yards (233 to 294), the Cowboys dominated the game on the ground, particularly blowing open some holes and getting some big gainers in the second half, ending up with more than double the rush yards (191 to 78).

However, another key statistic in this Week 6 matchup – one which illustrates how utterly different these two teams are than when they played in Week 6 – was the turnovers. The Green Bay Packers gave the ball up four times in that game to the Dallas Cowboys’ two, fumbling the ball 5 times (recovering two of them) and giving up one interception.

And with a 14-point difference in the final score, it’s pretty clearly that the turnovers were to blame for these lacking two scores. Rodgers fumbled on first and goal from the one-yard line, which would have been 7 points in all likelihood, and then subsequently the Packers lost another fumble while driving down the field with two minutes and 30 seconds left in the game, which ostensible could have been the drive that tied the game. When the time of possession between two teams differs by only 10 seconds, that’s when you know that turnovers were the primary thing taking points off the board for one team.

But things have changed in Green Bay. After this mid-October matchup, the Green Bay Packers’ offense was described as “dysfunctional,” a descriptor that made perfect sense in that context, but now seems absolutely dated and out of place.

The turnovers in this game were out of place, and head coach Mike McCarthy correctly identified after the game that turning the ball over is “not a part of [the Green Bay Packer’s] fiber.” That fiber has started to show through over the Packers’ current 7-game win streak, where they have turned the ball over only one time and generated 17 takeaways, for an overall turnover ratio of +16.

Furthermore, the Green Bay Packers were without their top three cornerbacks for most of the game, and their offense featured two starting running backs who are both not going to play in the game against the Cowboys this time around.

With Eddie Lacy and James Starks now replaced by Ty Montgomery and Christine Michael, as well as with the return of tight end and matchup nightmare Jared Cook from injury, the Packers are a much different, and much scarier team in the playoffs than they were in Week 6.

In summary, while the face of the Dallas Cowboys and their winning philosophy hasn’t changed much throughout the course of the season, the Packers’ ability to spoil this philosophy has. Despite continual improvements from the Cowboys’ defense, the Packers have made some absolutely crucial developments on the offensive side of the ball that will prove the difference in this matchup.

Pick: Packers to win, covering the spread

Total Score

  • Over 52.5 (-105)
  • Under 52.5 (-115)

Now that we have established our view that the Green Bay Packers will win this game as 4-point underdogs due to the irrepressible play of their offense, let’s now turn our attention to the total score bet, in order to assess whether the total amount of points scored by both teams will add up to over or under 52.5 points.

In making this assessment of the total score bet, our philosophy is to look at the two defenses involved and try and determine whether or not they will be able to match up well enough against the opposing offense to get off the field on third downs, stop drives before they get started, and keep the other team’s point total low.

The argument that the Cowboys will be able to score points against the Packers defense is pretty foolproof, and pretty simple. It’s true that the Packers have a pretty stout run defense, ranked 8th in the league in yards and 10th in touchdowns throughout the regular season. The defensive line for Green Bay has stout gap-fillers like Mike Daniels that often swallow up runs before they even start.

However, the Cowboys offensive line will win that matchup relatively often, as is to be expected. It’s quite simple: Roughly the best against roughly the 10th-best; the best wins.

So we do expect the Cowboys to be able to extend drives in the run game and move into the Packers side of the field in range for field goals, even if the Packers are able to stop drives before they get into the red zone and force a few punts.

But the real argument against the Packers’ defense is in the secondary. The Packers’ top corner Sam Shields – lost to a concussion early on in the season – has proved simply irreplaceable, and occasional injuries to their #2 and #3 guys has not helped.

The Packers’ secondary put together a good performance against the Giants last week, aided as always by Dom Capers’ genius-level ability to make something out of nothing using pure scheme, but it’s absolutely true that the Packers are vulnerable here.

So we do believe that the Cowboys will have success against the Packers on the ground, lengthening drives and perhaps busting one for a touchdown if an individual player on the Packers loses focus, misses his assignment, and falls out of his gap. And we also believe that the secondary is good to give a few long plays in the passing game, particularly a long shot down the right sideline.

All of this makes an argument for the over, provided that we believe that the Cowboys defense will be unable to keep the Packers from scoring points.

And we do believe that Aaron Rodgers will simply overwhelm the Cowboys. Despite the fact that the Cowboys’ unit showed marked improvement over the second half of the season, ending up with the top ranked run defense, this was greatly influenced not only by the fact that the Cowboys dominated the time of possession, but also by the fact that opposing offenses were throwing against them essentially the entire game, to play catch-up: The Cowboys defended the fewest rushing attempts of any team in the league, and were thrown against 30th-most.

So for the Cowboys to receive the top receiving plays of essentially every team that they blew out for sometimes up to two or three full quarters and end up over the course of the season allowing only 19.1 points per game on average, good for 5th in the league, is a testament not only to the coaching of defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli but also a strong argument that the draft class of Jerry Jones provided more than just two stud rookie skill players, but also a few key defensive role players.

However, the question to ask in this game is simple: Can the Cowboys put out a better defensive effort than the Giants did last week against the Packers? Is the Cowboys’ defense better than the Giants’?

In our mind, the answer to this question is definitely not, and yet the Packers beat up on the Giants’ defense last week. And while you could say that the Giants’ offense was primarily to blame, with the Cowboys averaging a full touchdown more than the Giants per game throughout the regular season, the fact of the matter is that the Packers only held the ball for four-and-a-half minutes more than the Giants, indicating that it wasn’t the Giants’ inability to hold the ball on offense or lack of opportunities that kept them from being able to stop Rodgers.

No, the Giants had a clean shot to take their D – one of the best and hottest defensive units in the league – and test themselves against one of the best and hottest offensive units in the league, and the outcome was clear: The offensive genius of Mike McCarthy and Aaron Rodgers, alongside the full complement of weapons on the Green Bay offense, quite simply outmatched the defensive genius of Steve Spagnuolo and the Giants’ multi-million-dollar defense.

For anyone watching the game, it was obvious that the Giants came out with a strategy to use a disciplined pass rush to keep Aaron Rodgers in the pocket and prevent him from getting out into those scramble-drill plays that the Packers run so effectively (a strategy that the Cowboys are likely to emulate), and showed success early on.

However, this did not stop Aaron Rodgers from holding the ball for upwards of 7 or 8 seconds while still in the pocket, or from the Giants being down 14–6 at halftime. And after the halftime adjustments were made, it was abundantly clear that the smart strategy employed by the Giants had been fully figured out by McCarthy and Rodgers, and they proceeded to throw quick passes over the middle in the soft spot of the zone until the cows came home and ended up winning the game by 25.

So in conclusion, we believe that the Cowboys will definitely be able to move the ball and score points against the Packers’ leaky secondary, and we believe that the Cowboys will get torched by Rodgers in a similar fashion to the way the Giants were torched by him last week, and with a similar result. In terms of the total score bet, this view of the game makes for a high-octane shoot-out that should absolutely push the total score above 52.5.

Pick: Cowboys 27, Packers 38

Prop Bets

Now that we’ve established our overall view of the game, that the Green Bay Packers will end up winning a high-octane shoot-out with both defenses struggling to stop the opposing offense, let’s now turn our attention to individual prop bets that would enable us to capitalize on this storyline.

For future bets, we obviously don’t recommend taking the Dallas Cowboys, but it may be the right time to invest in some Green Bay stock. Of course, with the Packers being the only franchise in professional sports that enables fans to buy actual shares of the team, we should clarify here that we mean placing wagers on the Packers’ Super Bowl odds (+550 at the Bovada sportsbook) and their NFC Championship odds (+325).

With a win over the Cowboys, and given the fact that neither the Atlanta Falcons nor the Seattle Seahawks would provide as tough a test as the Cowboys will, it’s likely that Green Bay odds will decrease in value should they win.

In terms of individual players to bet on, we would keep it nice and simple. Despite the fact that we are predicting a high-scoring game, we would limit the prop betting for offensive totals to the two best players on the field: Aaron Rodgers and Ezekiel Elliott. Bet Rodgers to have more completions, gain more yards, and score more touchdowns than his over/under totals, and bet Ezekiel Elliott to have more touches and more yards than expected.

Summary: Best Bets

After a rich history involving two past dynasties, the Green Bay Packers and Dallas Cowboys are now ready to add another page to the third chapter of their historic postseason rivalry. We believe that the story will be written by the veteran, future-Hall-of-Fame quarterback, whose terrifying play and unshakeable confidence will enable his team to make fewer mistakes than the team with a rookie at the helm. With Aaron Rodgers unstoppable and the Packers’ defense suspect, we believe that both of these teams will be able to put up points in the game, leading to breath-taking, high-octane shoot-out ultimately taken by the Green Bay Packers.

Here are our best bets:

  • Packers moneyline (+180)
  • Packers against the spread (+4, -115)
  • The total score to go over 52.5 (-105)
  • Aaron Rodgers completions, yards, touchdowns
  • Ezekiel Elliott completions, yards

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