This is the 49th year of the Super Bowl era, during which the Cowboys and Packers will have met seven times in the playoffs, tying the Packers with the Vikings and the 49ers as the second most common opponent for Dallas in their 60 all-time postseason games.
Only the Rams (eight) have played the Cowboys more in the playoffs. The Cowboys have beaten Green Bay in the last four after losing the 1966 and 1967 NFL Championship Games.
Over the course of that span, it is difficult to say that both teams have been Super Bowl contenders simultaneously very often since the 1960s. Instead, when one was very good, the other was trying to return to that status.
In 1995, the two met again in the NFC Championship Game at Texas Stadium as the Packers were building against the Dallas dynasty, but since, only 2007 and here in the 2014 playoffs, would both teams be considered “Super Bowl hopefuls” in the same season. Yet, of those 49 years, there have been just 10 where both Dallas and Green Bay missed playoffs in the same season.
This version of the Packers is their fourth consecutive division champion. In 2010, they won the franchise’s fourth Super Bowl and 13th NFL title in the Cowboys’ home stadium. This team retains 16 players from that Super Bowl team and a roster filled with the most players in the league who have never played with another franchise. Ted Thompson believes in homegrown talent at all costs.
Let’s examine a handful of players who might affect this game based on our study of their roster beyond the QB and his receivers:
DE Mike Daniels
The Packers utilize the Dom Capers 3-4 defense most of the time and require active and athletic bodies up front to cause chaos. Their best and most consistent lineman has been Daniels, a fourth-round pick from Iowa in 2012. He is barely 6-0 tall and under 300 pounds, but energetic and great with his hands, which allows him to leverage his strength and shed blockers on runs inside.
His pass rush is based on not quitting on any play and running well for a big man. He has grown into an important piece for them at a juncture where they had looked outclassed up front on defense in 2013.
LB Clay Matthews
A player who gets plenty of notice, Matthews is fully healthy in 2014 for the first time since 2011. He is also just completing his fourth season of double-digit sacks out of six years and is one of the best edge rushers in football.
However, the story of the Packers’ defense this year changed dramatically when Matthews was moved to inside linebacker (on run downs) after their bye week and instantly upgraded the entire unit. That move allowed them to deal with the runs inside, use his speed from sideline to sideline, and disguise his pass rush locations even better. You can believe that finding No. 52 will be a high priority for Cowboys center Travis Frederick.
CB Sam Shields
The Packers have featured Tramon Williams and Sam Shields at corner since 2010, and while both will concede yards, they excel at man coverage with minimal assistance. They generally will stay on their respective sides and are looking for the ball.
Shields, in particular, has impressive catch skills as a former wide receiver at the University of Miami, and Cowboys fans probably will not soon forget his interception of Tony Romo on a pass to Miles Austin that directly led to the Cowboys’ collapse in a 2013 game. Dez Bryant has had success against them, but they seem to survive on that one throw that is not precise that they can take away.
RB Eddie Lacy
Lacy, like the Packers in general, did not get rolling until October, but since then he has been an important component of the offense with 1,356 yards from scrimmage in his last 12 games.
He features bruising runs, solid blitz pickups and even a flair for receiving in the flat as a safety valve for Aaron Rodgers. He spent last December in a walking boot between games, which slowed his efforts, but he appears back in form as the Packers enter the portion of the year they had in mind for a man of his size running the ball and affecting the play-action opportunities for the Packers in a similar fashion to what the Cowboys employ with DeMarco Murray and Romo.