NFC Playoffs Deliver Perfectly: Packers vs. Cowboys, Seahawks vs. Panthers

Giancarlo Ferrari-King@@GiancarloKingFeatured ColumnistJanuary 5, 2015

ARLINGTON, TX - DECEMBER 15: Quarterback Tony Romo #9 of the Dallas Cowboys is tackled by outside linebacker Clay Matthews #52 of the Green Bay Packers during a game at AT&T Stadium on December 15, 2013 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
Tom Pennington/Getty Images

The NFC playoffs are in full swing, and based on everything we saw unfold on Wild Card Weekend, it looks like fans of the sport are about to get exactly what they want.

Two matchups featuring four excellent teams are left on the docket before the NFC Championship Game kicks off on January 18.

In one corner, the Dallas Cowboys—fresh off their miraculous 24-20 comeback victory over the Detroit Lions in AT&T Stadium—are headed to Green Bay to take on the Packers.

The other contest is a bit grittier. That game features two gifted defenses ready to slug it out in front of arguably the loudest fanbase in the country. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Carolina Panthers and the Seattle Seahawks.

Unless you're fans of the Lions and Arizona Cardinals, you couldn't have asked for a better slate of NFC games next week. Here's a breakdown of what we can expect, and more importantly, what we can look forward to.

Are you ready for a duel between Aaron Rodgers and Tony Romo?
Are you ready for a duel between Aaron Rodgers and Tony Romo?J. Pat Carter/Associated Press

Dallas Cowboys vs. Green Bay Packers

A Dallas team equipped with the NFL's leading rusher—DeMarco Murray—and an MVP-worthy quarterback in Tony Romo is always going to make for compelling television.

But it won't be easy for Romo and the gang. In their way stands an unbeaten Packers team at home led by their fearless leader and former Super Bowl-winning QB, Aaron Rodgers.

From the NFC's side of things, Romo and Rodgers have been the best signal-callers in 2014.

Rodgers threw for 4,381 yards, 38 touchdowns and a mere five interceptions. He led the Packers to a 12-4 record and had two of his wide receivers—Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson—go over the 1,200-yard mark and score double-digit TDs.

Without taking anything away from Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb has been a dangerous threat for the Packers.
Without taking anything away from Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb has been a dangerous threat for the Packers.Mike McGinnis/Getty Images

Rodgers' connection with these two weapons has been the lifeblood of the Packers offense. Nelson is the deep threat, while Cobb is the man who can rip apart the middle of a defense.

With just about all of his production coming out of the slot this year, Cobb is the guy who could be the most challenging pass-catcher for the Cowboys to strategize against.

By Pro Football Focus' metrics (subscription required), Cobb was targeted 125 times by his QB. On those targets, he turned 91 of those into catches.

Based on PFF's chart of where his receptions came from in 2014, there are two areas where he really becomes dangerous.

The first area is in the middle of the field between 10 and 19 yards. That piece of real estate is where he picked up 354 yards receiving and a touchdown on 17 catches.

Right below that, Cobb has also been devastating on passes between zero and nine yards. His 293 yards and four touchdowns are proof that in tight situations, Rodgers looks for his slot receiver and looks for him often.

Defensively, Dallas is going to have to put the screws to Cobb and try to disrupt him as much as possible.

He may not be exactly the same type of receiver, but look at what the Lions did with Golden Tate. On nine targets, he finished his day with six receptions for 89 yards and a touchdown versus the Cowboys.

Like Calvin Johnson, Green Bay's No. 1 receiver Nelson could be used as a decoy at times. That would naturally free up Cobb to get a surplus of looks.

Make sure you keep an eye on Cobb next weekend. His usage and production could become a big storyline as the game progresses.

On the other hand, the Cowboys aren't going to go down without a fight. The defense has had its moments, and Romo has been playing at a high level this season. His 34 touchdowns on 3,705 yards passing are both fantastic marks for the veteran QB.

Going back to the same formula that got Dallas to this point, it's all about DeMarco Murray and the Cowboys offensive line.

Brandon Wade/Associated Press

Realizing that Murray ran for 1,845 yards is a scary thought for a Packers defense that gave up 119.9 rushing yards per game in 2014. As great as Romo's been, the Cowboys' biggest advantage is on the ground.

Murray is going to have to continue his torrid pace and shred Green Bay if Jerry Jones' squad wants to make a push for the NFC title.

This game should be high-scoring and a lot of fun to watch. During the regular season, the Packers averaged a league-leading 30.4 points per game, while the Cowboys weren't far behind at 29.2.

More than anything else, it pits two great quarterbacks against each other in one of the most iconic stadiums in NFL history. Lambeau Field will once again play host to these two legendary franchises.

Remember, the last time the Cowboys and Packers met in the playoffs in this building was back in 1967. That game was deemed "The Ice Bowl."

This is the first time the Cowboys and Packers will meet in the postseason since 1967.
This is the first time the Cowboys and Packers will meet in the postseason since 1967.Uncredited/Associated Press

The Packers eventually won that meeting 21-17 in one of the greatest games in league history.

Cam Newton and Russell Wilson are both immensely talented QBs.
Cam Newton and Russell Wilson are both immensely talented QBs.Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Carolina Panthers vs. Seattle Seahawks

Russell Wilson and Cam Newton may not sit on the same plateau as Rodgers and Romo, but these two young gunslingers represent the future of the NFL.

In Seattle, it's all about the Legion of Boom and that defense.
In Seattle, it's all about the Legion of Boom and that defense.Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

For Wilson, that future has already arrived. Last year behind a scathing rushing attack and a defense that could stop anything, Wilson lifted the Lombardi Trophy.

A year later, the Seahawks are once again the No. 1 seed, and once again, they have the best defense in the NFL. Also, that means any team looking to reach the Super Bowl has to find a way to win in a stadium that has been known to start earthquakes.

The Carolina Panthers are the next squad pegged with that challenging assignment.

Just in case the constant media coverage didn't sear this information into your brain: The Panthers didn't have a winning record, and they still made it to the playoffs. At 7-8-1, they conquered the frail NFC South.

Guess who was the last team to make the playoffs with a losing record? If you guessed the Seahawks, you are correct. 

It was the 7-9 Seahawks who won the NFC West during the 2010-11 season—my, oh my, how times have changed.

That was also the same "losing" team that beat the New Orleans Saints in Seattle. Like the Seahawks, the Panthers won their first playoff game, destroying the Arizona Cardinals and their third-string QB Ryan Lindley, 27-16.

We know that the Seahawks can't take the Panthers lightly. Led by a mobile quarterback and a defense that has held opposing teams to fewer than 20 points five games in a row, Carolina is playing excellent football right now.

Jonathan Stewart's rise has been fun to watch for Panthers fans.
Jonathan Stewart's rise has been fun to watch for Panthers fans.Chuck Burton/Associated Press

Expect to see a ton of Jonathan Stewart on the Panthers side and Marshawn Lynch for the Seahawks. Since November 27, Stewart has run for 609 yards and has reclaimed his spot as the bell cow of the Carolina backfield.

Lynch has been a beast in his own right since November 27, rushing for 394 yards and four touchdowns. It should be noted that Stewart has played one more game in that time span.

Get ready for a gritty, brutal game between two quality teams—a game that could be decided by the play of their young QBs. 

Folks, we're inching closer and closer to Super Bowl XLIX. By the end of next week, four teams will become two. In the words of just about everyone, may the best teams win.

Unless noted otherwise, all game scores and information come courtesy of ESPN.com.

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