Dallas becomes THE game for Green Bay
Fans want their favorite teams to win every game.
But in the big picture, the most important game of the Green Bay Packers’ season won’t be Thursday when they travel to Detroit for an NFC North game that’s lost a lot of luster with the Lions’ two straight defeats.
No, the biggest game will take place the following Thursday night when the Packers travel to Dallas.
Regardless of what happens Thursday when the Packers play the Lions and the Cowboys host the Jets, the winner the following week will take command of the race to own home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs.
You don’t have to score 1,600 on your SAT to realize the NFC has deteriorated into two elite teams, Green Bay and Dallas, and a whole swarm of wannabes (the New York Giants), flops (the Chicago Bears) and disasters (the St. Louis Rams).
A loss to Detroit would end Green Bay’s five-game winning streak and snap the Packers’ amazing run of 13 victories in their last 14 regular-season games.
A loss to Detroit still would leave the Lions two games behind the Packers with five games to go and a difficult closing schedule.
Finally, a loss to Detroit might upset the digestive tract of Packer fans more than the excess turkey and dressing they’ll be stuffing down their throats.
But a loss at Ford Field would not be the disaster that a loss to the Dallas Cowboys would be the following week.
It’s plainly obvious that the battle for the NFC title and the right to be a 16-point underdog against New England in the Super Bowl is going to come down to a late January game between the Packers and Cowboys.
So, the regular-season showdown between Green Bay and Dallas on Nov. 29 on the NFL Network—curses Charter Communications!—will almost certainly determine if the wacky Fox Sports crew will be trekking to Lambeau Field or Texas Stadium.
“We’re just riding the wave,” Green Bay quarterback Brett Favre said. “Guys are relaxed and playing confident.
“We are making big plays when needed. The defense is playing outstanding. It is a little shocking that this is the first time in 45 years that this team has been 9-1 just because of all the great teams that have played.
“It just goes to show you how difficult it is to win.”
And that difficulty is magnified even more during the playoffs.
Green Bay’s playoff record against the Cowboys in Dallas during the Favre era is downright ugly.
The Packers saw their seasons end in 1993, 1994 and 1995 by a combined 100-53.
Two of the defeats came in divisional playoff games and the 1995 battle sent he Cowboys to the Super Bowl.
In fact, Favre and the Packers suffered a 21-6 loss at Dallas in 1996 en route to a 13-3 record and a Super Bowl title.
Too much Michael Irvin. Too much Emmitt Smith. Too much Troy Aikman.
That history shows why it’s imperative for the Packers to secure home-field advantage over the Cowboys, especially when you consider what the weather in Green Bay might be like Jan. 20, the date for the NFC title game.
You won’t hear one Packer coach or player talk about Dallas between now and Thursday’s 11:30 a.m. kickoff at Ford Field.
“Nine and one is impressive,” Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy said. “But you have to keep focus on the next opponent.
“We beat a good football team today. With a short week, we don’t have much time to enjoy 9-1 because it’s time to move on to Detroit.”
The Vegas oddsmakers, who have been slow to catch on to Green Bay’s exceptional season—the Packers are 8-1-1 against the spread—will probably make the Packers favorites in five of their last six games.
And it just might take five more regular-season wins to position the Packers for a February trip to Arizona for Super Bowl XLII.
John McPoland is a sports writer/page designer for The Janesville Gazette.