Packers home streak meets Dallas road show
Josh Sitton doesn't know the source of his team's home-field dominance, and he's not alone.
Ask around the Green Bay Packers' locker room. Why are they the NFL's best home team this season? The questions draw puzzled expressions, players searching for answers.
Lambeau Field has always been a safe haven, where frigid temperatures, biting wind and raved fans make miserable opponents. This season, players say, the advantage has been even more potent. Sitton said he sensed it starting with the second or third home game of the season.
"It's not something tangible that you can really look at and maybe get some statistics or something," Sitton said. "There's a feeling at home, it's hard to describe. The fans have been extremely energetic, more so this year than in the past, I feel like. Our energy feels like it's higher.
"I don't know what it is. Something at home this year is just incredible."
Green Bay is the only NFC team to finish 8-0 at home — just the fifth time in franchise history that's happened — but it's more than wins.
The Packers scored at least 30 points in seven games. They're the only team in NFL history to score 23 first-half points in six straight games. Their 318 points scored at home was third most in NFL history, 11 behind the 2011 New Orleans Saints and three behind the '11 Packers.
Their plus-155 point differential was 25 more than any other team's home scoring margin this season.
Two days from a home playoff game, invincibility would be an easy — if not natural — feeling. No, the Packers don't lack for confidence. This place, they say, is exactly where they want to play.
But Green Bay can't be too comfortable when it hosts Dallas in the NFC divisional playoff round noon Sunday. The Cowboys may be the warm-weather team that plays indoors on field turf, who played zero games with temperatures below freezing this season, but they will also be in their comfort zone.
Dallas is only the eighth team in NFL history to finish a season undefeated on the road. It's only the second team in the past decade to go 8-0 away from home, joining the 2007 New England Patriots. Six of the previous seven undefeated road teams played in the Super Bowl that season.
"Home, away, parking lot or moon, you just go play," Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. "I think that's really an important concept. The best players, the best teams I've been around, have had that ability and that capability."
This week, perfection meets perfection. It's the first time in NFL history an 8-0 home team has hosted an 8-0 road team in the playoffs. Both streaks are impressive. One will end Sunday.
You can imagine which streak the Packers believe matters more.
"You give me your answer with that," cornerback Tramon Williams told an inquiring reporter Thursday. "You would guess home, home-field advantage, right?"
Ask the Cowboys, and you'll get the same awkward pauses. They, too, search for answer to explain their road dominance. Most teams, Garrett admits, play better at home than away.
It hasn't worked like that in Dallas.
The Cowboys were just 4-4 at AT&T Stadium this season. Their point differential for the season was plus-21, and that's after a 42-7 win over the Indianapolis Colts in their home finale. Yet, when their plane lands in another NFL city, Dallas accomplished what the past 25 Super Bowl championship couldn't.
"We just kind of put our head down and go to work," Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo said. "More than anything, we're going to run the ball a little bit, we're going to throw it down the field, we're going to be aggressive. It's kind of who we are and what we've been doing. We feel comfortable with that plan of attack.
"I don't know that we really get affected by where we're playing."
The Cowboys' road schedule had its share of cupcakes. Dallas won at Tennessee (No. 2 pick in this year's NFL Draft), Jacksonville (No. 3), Washington (No. 5), Chicago (No. 7), New York Giants (No. 9) and St. Louis (No. 10). Those teams finished with a combined 26-70 record.
Dallas' road to 8-0 wasn't exclusively paved with gimmes. The Cowboys' most important regular-season victory came Dec. 14 when it practically wrapped up the NFC East title in Philadelphia. Its most impressive came in Seattle on Oct. 12.
They are only the second team to win in Seattle the past three seasons. Their 30 points were more than the Seahawks had allowed at home since midway through the 2011 season.
"At the time," Romo said, "I think it just showed you that you can go and beat a good football team on the road. We put Green Bay in that sort of category in that they're both outstanding ball clubs. You just can't give them anything. You've got to play your best game, and you've got to do all those things to come out and win."
Seattle is proof the Cowboys can win anywhere, against anyone. So is their rough, physical style. Ask any coach, and they'll tell you nothing travels in the NFL like a strong running game. Dallas has the league's most challenging rush attack.
Three All-Pro selections line up along the offensive line, two more than any other group leaguewide. Together, they've paved the way for running back DeMarco Murray to not only lead the NFL in rushing, but break Hall of Fame tailback Emmitt Smith's single-season franchise record in the process.
With a running game that consistently chews up clock and first downs, it's easy to be confident. Most important, tight end Jason Witten said, the Cowboys proved to itself it could win no matter the venue.
"Any time you go on the road, it's always a challenge," Witten said. "It's always loud. It's going to be cold. I think we've done a really good with that, not just in our record but the way we communicate. We play well on the road.
"So it's no different. They're all the same. It's loud, you can't hear, it's going to be cold. The field is going to be beat up. All those things go into it. This team, we don't really worry about that kind of stuff."
There is no shortage of swagger inside the Packers' locker room. Mention the dominance at Lambeau Field, and their pride is clear.
Reference Dallas' undefeated road record, and responses differ.
"It means nothing to me," receiver Randall Cobb said. "… It's a stat. I don't really care about stats too often."
"We don't pay any attention to the 'they're 8-0 on the road,'" safety Micah Hyde said, "because obviously they haven't come here, and they haven't beaten us here in Lambeau."
Said Sitton: "That's a tremendous feat. Your goal every year — our goal anyway — is win your home games and win half the road games. So to go and be 8-0 on the road, it just shows the toughness of their team. It takes mental toughness to win on the road. It definitely catches your eye."
Williams is well aware the Cowboys bring an 8-0 road record into Lambeau Field. No way could he miss that detail, he said. It's been all over TV, all over the internet, all over everything. He understands. Perfection vs. perfection only "heightens the hype" around this divisional round matchup, he said.
For all Green Bay's home success — its .757 winning percentage in coach Mike McCarthy's tenure ranks third in the league —there's another distinction the franchise would like to forget. Since 2002, the Packers' five home playoff losses are most in the NFL. The Cowboys have lost their past six road playoff games.
With the Packers' home dominance this season, Williams said a playoff game at Lambeau Field offers an even bigger advantage.
"We've been doing it in impressive fashion," Williams said. "That speaks a lot. Obviously, saying that, we want to play our games here at home. We say that in the past, and we'll be like, 'Ah, we don't care if we go on the road or we're at home, because it really don't matter to us. We feel like we can do that.'
"But, obviously, we do want to be at home."
— firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @ByRyanWood