GREEN BAY—Call it the "Desperation Bowl."
The Packers and the Cowboys will face each other on Sunday at the place of the McCarthy era's greatest triumph, in a game that's a must win for both teams. You could make the point that the loser of this game will likely not play football in January.
At 6-6-1, the Packers are a half game behind the Lions and the Bears in the NFC North. With a Packers win over the Cowboys on Sunday and a Lions loss to the Ravens on Monday, the Packers would be in control of their destiny. They would win the NFC North and guarantee a home playoff game by winning the final two games of the season, at home against Pittsburgh and against the Bears in Chicago.
On the flip side, however, a Packers loss and a Lions win would allow the Lions to eliminate the Packers from division title contention with a win over the Giants the following week. That's how dramatic this Sunday's game is for the Packers.
It's no different for the Cowboys. Their loss on Monday night to the Bears has left the Cowboys a game behind the Eagles in the NFC East race. The Cowboys will host the Eagles on the final Sunday of the season and need a win on Sunday to help set the stage for that showdown. Depending on what the Eagles do this Sunday, a Cowboys loss to the Packers could allow the Eagles to clinch the NFC East title in Week 16.
The Packers and Cowboys, though their styles are as different as their cheerleaders, are similar in at least one major way: They're both asking their defenses to perform at a higher level down the stretch.
Dallas is last in the league in defense. It is No. 28 against the run and No. 32 against the pass. The Cowboys defense hit bottom in a 45-28 loss to the Bears.
The Packers defense hit bottom in a blowout loss at Detroit on Thanksgiving Day, but rallied to shut out the Falcons in the second half of Sunday's 22-21 win, and therein lies the Packers' advantage for this game. Is the Packers defense poised to play at a higher level down the stretch?
It's one of two questions whose answers will likely determine the Packers' fate this season. The other one is: When will Aaron Rodgers return to action? Might it be this Sunday?
Here are 10 things the Packers have to do to beat the Cowboys.
1. Be aggressive—It was clearly the deciding factor in the second half of the win over the Falcons.
2. Make Romo be Romo—December has not been his best month.
3. Make plays in the passing game—Whether it's Rodgers or Matt Flynn, they'll be facing a defense that is allowing 298.5 yards passing per game.
4. Use the crowd against them—With Cowboys late-season failures fresh in the fans' minds, they could turn on the home team if given a reason to do so.
5. Focus on Bryant—Dez Bryant is worthy of extra attention. He has the talent to take over a game and that makes him the most feared player on the field.
6. Stay in your gaps—DeMarco Murray is a devastating cutback runner who's averaging 5.3 yards per carry.
7. Get rid of the ball—Flynn doesn't dare hold the ball with DeMarcus Ware coming from the blind side.
8. Win time of possession—The Packers had a more than seven-minute time of possession advantage against the Falcons. The Cowboys aren't a TOP team.
9. Break tackles—You think the Packers miss tackles? Sean Lee is, by far, the Cowboys' best tackler, and his status is uncertain due to a neck injury.
10. Know what this is—This is desperation. This is crunch time. Call it whatever you'd like, but this could be the season. Additional coverage - Dec. 12