N.F.L. Playoffs: Green Bay Packers Take Lead Over Cowboys
The Packers have started several games slowly recently, only to make huge comebacks, but the touchdown this time was an immediate response to Dallas taking a 3-0 lead on a 50-yard field goal by Dan Bailey.
The winner of the game will go on to face Atlanta in the N.F.C. championship game next week.
So Far, Playoffs Follow the Script
The predictability of this playoff season continued on Saturday, with both home teams winning by wide margins. After six playoff games, home teams are 6-0, with the closest result being Houston’s 27-14 victory over Oakland in the wild-card round.
There’s a good chance that trend will end on Sunday, with the Green Bay Packers visiting Dallas and the Pittsburgh Steelers in Kansas City. By the end of the night the N.F.L. will be down to four teams left with a chance of making Super Bowl LI in Houston.
Here’s what to expect in the divisional round on Sunday:
■ The Packers have not lost since Week 11 and the Dallas Cowboys are undefeated when Dak Prescott throws more than eight passes against any team other than the Giants, which makes this game easily the weekend’s marquee matchup. A week after adding to his legend as a thrower of deep passes with yet another Hail Mary touchdown, Aaron Rodgers and the pass-heavy Packers will try to outscore a balanced Cowboys approach that employs equal parts running back Ezekiel Elliott and Prescott (along with a great deal of help from the team’s mammoth offensive line). With Green Bay’s top wide receiver, Jordy Nelson, ruled out, the biggest question mark of the game is whether or not Randall Cobb and Davante Adams can replicate the success they had in Nelson’s absence last week.
■ Le’Veon Bell believes he is reinventing the position of running back similar to the way Stephen Curry changed the way the N.B.A. plays. While the Pittsburgh Steelers running back may not have had quite that big an impact leaguewide, it would be easy to see teams trying to find someone who can replicate his patience, explosiveness and ability to essentially serve as an extra wide receiver on passing plays. Bell may have to work extra hard as Ben Roethlisberger is nursing an injured foot, making things more difficult against a Kansas City Chiefs defense that can take advantage of even the smallest mistake. Meanwhile, Kansas City’s best option for points is Tyreek Hill, a return specialist and offensive utility player with an uncomfortable history.
Here’s What Happened Saturday
■ Matt Ryan led the Atlanta Falcons to a 36-20 win over the Seattle Seahawks and heard choruses of “M.V.P.! M.V.P.!” which seemed justified by his 338-yard 3-touchdown performance. That his return to the playoffs was a huge success against Seattle’s Legion of Boom secondary was quite an accomplishment, though it comes with the asterisk of Earl Thomas having missed the game. The All-Pro safety was sorely missed, especially on a 53-yard catch-and-run by Devonta Freeman in which the running back executed a fake that left Thomas’s replacement, Steven Terrell, grasping at air as he fell to the turf.
■ The Houston Texans’ defense was the only thing keeping the team together all season, and the unit did its best in a lopsided loss to the New England Patriots in which the team intercepted Tom Brady twice but also saw Dion Lewis become the first player in the Super Bowl era to score touchdowns on a run, a pass and a return in a playoff game. The top-ranked Houston defense got little help from Brock Osweiler, the team’s quarterback who seemed to change a few minds last week, but reminded everyone of his flaws with three interceptions. Even with a 34-16 victory for the Patriots, the game showed a great number of flaws for New England going forward. Pretty or not, the Patriots are headed to the team’s 11th conference championship game in the last 16 seasons.
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