Playing a 1-6 team right before a bye week, or before or after a big game, is something often viewed as a trap game. This week, the Green Bay Packers had better not have a letdown after the big triumph in New York, because the Dallas Cowboys are more dangerous than most 1-6 teams.
I know, the Packers are finally getting healthy (that being a relative term in Green Bay). Meanwhile, the Cowboys are without arguably their best player, Tony Romo. They have no leadership, either in the coaching staff or the talent pool.
But there is a reason they were picked to win the Super Bowl by so many people. And they have been in most of their games this season.
In fact, Dallas has given up fewer passing yards, fewer rushing yards, and a lower third down conversion rate than Green Bay. They also have scored as many points per game and have a better time of possession while amassing more passing yards and total yards with a better third-down conversion rate.
So how are they 1-6 while the Packers are 5-3? They have the fourth-most penalties per game in the league (Green Bay is in the middle of the pack, and over a third came in one game). They have a -5 turnover ratio (Green Bay is +2)...in short, they do not make plays, they give them up.
That is a correctable problem, and while this coaching staff has not been able to do that and this team appears to have quit, the Packers should be wary of this team waking up at precisely the wrong time. So what should we expect?
When the Packers have the ball...
Green Bay will be without WR Donald Driver this week, joining TE Jermichael Finley and RB Ryan Grant as key offensive pieces missing. Linemen Daryn Colledge, Mark Tauscher, and Chad Clifton are also hurt, but are questionable to probable, and backup TE Andrew Quarless and RB Dimitri Nance are also battling injury.
With all the missing or hampered players, the Packers will need a big game out of their running backs to help neutralise a good Dallas pass rush. QB Aaron Rodgers has gotten protection of late, but should find some success dumping the ball off if he gets in trouble because Dallas is not deep at linebacker. The running game needs to get enough yards to control the clock and keep the pressure off Rodgers.
When the Cowboys have the ball...
Dallas has shown little in the running game for three reasons: playing from behind forces them to pass, they have had a lack of commitment to running early in games, and they have had a lack of results when they do run-Marion Barber is averaging about three yards per carry.
Miles Austin, Roy Williams, and Dez Bryant are dangerous receivers, but they are inconsistent. With aging backup QB Jon Kitna throwing to them, the important thing is to keep them from getting a rhythm going.
The Packers expect Al Harris and Atari Bigby to return this week, and that should help. But the line is still thin, with Ryan Pickett questionable (where he has been the last two weeks he has been out), backups Mike Neal and Justin Harrell out for the year (not that they could ever be counted on), and Cullen Jenkins playing through hand and calf injuries. The linebacking corps is also thin, with three players out for the year and Clay Matthews still at less than 100 percent.
On special teams...
Both field goal kickers are hitting 75 percent of their attempts. Green Bay gives up 3.5 more yards per kick return than its returners average, but the Cowboys give up almost eight more yards than they get. Dallas is also one of the few teams that has a worse inside the 20 to touchback ratio on punts (9:4) than the Packers (10:3) thanks to a good couple weeks for Green Bay. However, the Packers get five fewer yards per return than their opponents, while the Cowboys average almost nine better than they yield.
Prediction: Packers 20, Cowboys 13 (record: 3-5, 3-5 vs. spread)
What do I know? I am wrong almost every week since the first two. But I believe this game will be close-ultimately, the Cowboys have little edge in special teams and will make too few plays on offense against a defense that is gaining momentum, but they will make it difficult for the Packers to make plays, as well.