Golden: Prescott, Cowboys have to tangle with red-hot Packers, Rodgers


Dallas’ Dak Prescott is the only quarterback suiting up for this weekend’s NFC semifinals without a playoff win.

Of course he hasn’t played in a playoff game.

That changes Sunday when Aaron Rodgers leads the league’s hottest team in into Jerry World against his top-seeded Cowboys.

I went with my preseason pick of the Green Bay Packers to top Pittsburgh in the Super Bowl, but the dominance of Dallas and New England over the regular season would put a wrench in those prognostications.

As far as Prescott is concerned, he will join Rodgers, Matt Ryan and Russell Wilson in the playoff win column if he makes it about about the Cowboys and not about his counterpart, a future first-ballot Hall of Famer.

The Packers won’t have any answers for Dallas running back Ezekiel Elliott and the offensive line can make things a lot easier by keeping its rookie quarterback clean. Green Bay is banged up on the defensive side of the ball, particularly in the secondary, so don’t be surprised to see Dallas score big to get Dak win No. 1.

Dak is on a similar career arc as that of Ben Roethlisberger, who led the Pittsburgh Steelers to 13 wins as a rookie in 2004 before losing in the AFC title game.

I expect Prescott to play well, but can the Cowboys’ overachieving defense continue to make plays against the most explosive offense it’s faced to date? Rodgers threw for 362 yards and four touchdowns Sunday against a Giants defense that had been much improved. Add to that he has 22 touchdowns, zero interceptions in his last eight games.

Dallas can eat the clock with the league’s best rushing attack, but they’ll have to figure out a way to get Rodgers off his game. One thing Dallas has going is Green Bay wideout Jordy Nelson may miss this one after getting blasted in the ribs on a sideline play against the Giants.

We really haven’t had an entertaining playoff game yet, but this has the makings of a shootout.

Houston Texans owner Bob McNair said after Sunday’s wild card win that he would have retained head coach Bill O’Brien even if the Texans had lost to the injury-ravaged Raiders. I tend to believe him because we watched him cling way too long to Gary Kubiak, despite a 37-43 record and no playoff appearances over his first five seasons before things turned around.

“There’s nothing to it,” McNair said of reports that O’Brien’s job was on the line. “I got a chuckle out of it. I’m not going to fire him. We’re already talking about next year.”

Next year? Isn’t there a game coming up?

Well, sort of.

The Texans won’t be around for much longer unless those 40-1 Super Bowl odds are way off. Houston is 0-4 all-time at New England, including the lone playoff meeting in 2012.

Brady vs. Osweiler isn’t exactly Kelly vs. Marino, but Houston’s only chance is for Brock Osweiler to play the game of his life and turn DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller into Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne. Fair or not, the Texans, a 16-point underdog, are an even worse bet to pull the upset than the Miami Dolphins, who were a 11-point dog at Pittsburgh before losing by 18.

So does Houston have a chance?

The numbers say no, history says no, and the coaching/quarterback matchups scream hell no.

Caught a bit of Texas’ 79-70 loss at Iowa State on Saturday. Guard Kerwin Roach was right when he said the team has tremendous fight despite its sub-.500 record.

I’m wondering if fight will be enough to get the Horns to at least a .500 record in the loaded Big 12. There’s still a chance because youngsters like Andrew Jones are starting to realize what goes into success on the college level. Right now the Horns look like a 8-10 Big 12 team but that can change if they can cut down on some of the brain lapses like the miscues and missed free throws that happened down the stretch at Ames.

Wednesday’s home game will be a tough one against much-improved TCU (12-3). That includes a near-upset of Kansas, which escaped Fort Worth with a 86-80 win on Dec. 30.

The Steelers had a near-perfect performance against the Dolphins, but head coach Mike Tomlin got caught slipping at the end.

How in the name of Terry Hanratty could he take running back Le’Veon Bell out of the game to preserve his health but leave injury-prone 34-year-old Roethlisberger in there?

Turns out that Roethlisberger hurt his ankle after being dragged down by Cameron Wake on an unnecessary pass play. Big Ben, who was sporting a walking boot at the post-game presser, told the Pittsburgh paper he aggravated an old foot fracture, but will play.

Come on, coach. Bell and Antonio Brown are amazing, but Big Ben is still the face of the franchise. Not a smart move.



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