If you've been waiting for the right weekend to lounge around and watch the best the NFL has to offer, the 2015 playoffs' divisional round brings that opportunity.
While the fact that only 12 of the league's 32 teams make the postseason guarantees the playoffs will be exciting from start to finish, things really get going this weekend. The Wild Card Round weeded out the pretenders, and the cream will soon rise to the top.
Along with the obvious high stakes for the eight teams left standing, we're graced with a quartet of matchups that will leave football enthusiasts salivating at the storylines and possibilities.
Don't believe me? Just take a look at this weekend's action.
|2015 NFL Playoffs: Divisional Round|
|AFC||Baltimore Ravens at New England Patriots||Jan. 10||4:35 p.m.||NBC|
|NFC||Carolina Panthers at Seattle Seahawks||Jan. 10||8:15 p.m.||Fox|
|NFC||Dallas Cowboys at Green Bay Packers||Jan. 11||1:05 p.m.||Fox|
|AFC||Indianapolis Colts at Denver Broncos||Jan. 11||4:40 p.m.||CBS|
Matchup to Watch: Dallas Cowboys at Green Bay Packers
Both the Green Bay Packers and the Dallas Cowboys bring their fair share of not-so-distant postseason futility they hope to leave behind on Lambeau Field's frozen tundra Sunday afternoon.
Tony Romo's Cowboys are back in the postseason for the third time since his infamous 2006 extra-point fumble against Seattle. Romo has been topped in both of his visits to the divisional round, and going 0-for-3 will have the critics chirping louder than ever despite the Cowboys' 13-4 record.
The Packers have rekindled their historic postseason magic once in the Aaron Rodgers era. But after winning the Super Bowl in 2010, Green Bay has been bounced in the divisional round or earlier each year.
Recent playoff history has both teams hungry for this one, but they should also both be confident. The Packers finished 8-0 at home, while the Cowboys went 8-0 on the road.
David Helman of DallasCowboys.com noted both quarterbacks' success this year:
Rodgers comes into the postseason riding the coattails of an MVP-caliber season, but he may not be himself against the Cowboys. ESPN's Adam Schefter and Chris Mortensen reported that Rodgers' calf, which he injured in the Week 17 win over Detroit, also has a slight tear.
The attack of Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb and Rodgers' numerous other weapons seemed to be the biggest mismatch against the Cowboys defense. Rodgers' injury shouldn't impact his throws in the pocket, but it could all break down if he's unable to buy time as usual.
ESPN's Ed Werder noted the opposing side of the ball is pretty banged up as well:
Not to be lost in the dazzling Packers offense is a Dallas offensive group with even more balance and similar firepower.
The lifeblood is running back DeMarco Murray and the stout offensive line, leading the way for the NFL's second-ranked run offense. But Romo has no shortage of weapons at his disposal, with Dez Bryant and Terrance Williams on the outside along with Jason Witten and Cole Beasley as reliable targets.
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Dallas struggled early against Detroit thanks to the Lions stymying the run, but the Cowboys figured it out at the last possible moment. The Packers may struggle to do the same with their 23rd-ranked run defense.
Linebacker Clay Matthews thinks they're up for the challenge, per FoxSports.com's Paul Imig:
We'll be all right. You've got to pick and choose who to take away. Obviously Dez is going to be a No. 1 concern out there. You look at his production throughout the year. DeMarco Murray leading the league in rushing, as well as Romo arguably having his best year.
It presents a challenge, but I think we're all up for it. We're ready for it to showcase this defense and what we're about.
The potent Green Bay offense offers enough to be excited about in any matchup, but the Cowboys are one team capable of matching the Packers' offensive firepower. Each offense poses a unique problem for the opposing defense.
Will the Cowboys secondary hold up against a hobbled Rodgers, or will Nelson and Cobb find space deep down the field? Can the Packers limit Romo's weapons and stifle Murray on the ground, breaking a trend of struggles against top backs?
It's too simple and naive to suggest that whichever team executes the most in that one area will win the game, but the importance of it can't be undervalued.