In a rematch of a brutally cold 1967 playoff classic dubbed the “Ice Bowl,” the Dallas Cowboys and Green Bay Packers top a weekend of intense knockout clashes.
The Cowboys, unbeaten on the road this season, travel to Green Bay, perfect at home in the campaign, in sub-freezing conditions and one team will have its title dreams ended on Sunday (Monday (AEDT).
“We don’t pay attention to them being 8-0 on the road because they haven’t come here and beaten us here at Lambeau,” Packers defensive back Micah Hyde said. “But it’s going to be a tough matchup and we understand that.”
It’s the first time the Cowboys have visited Lambeau Field for a playoff game since New Year’s Eve in 1967, when Bart Starr’s late touchdown plunge in wind chills averaging minus-48 (minus-44 Celsius) gave the Packers a 21-17 triumph on their way to winning the second Super Bowl.
The last time an unbeaten road team visited an unbeaten host in the playoffs came in 1972 when visiting Miami won at Pittsburgh on the way to the only undefeated Super Bowl championship run.
“This will be a big challenge,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said.
“It’s definitely something that jumps off the stat sheet when you see eight wins on the road.”
The Cowboys, featuring NFL rushing champion DeMarco Murray and standout quarterback Tony Romo, have lost their past six road playoff games while the Packers, whose quarterback Aaron Rodgers has been nagged by a calf injury, has thrown 38 touchdowns without an interception in 477 passes over his past 16 home games.
The Cowboys have not reached the Super Bowl since winning their third in four seasons in 1996.
And since the Packers last won the Super Bowl in 2011, they saw a 15-1 season end with a home playoff loss to the New York Giants and exits to San Francisco the past two years.
The Packers-Cowboys victor will face the winner of Sunday’s (Monday AEDT) clash between defending Super Bowl champion Seattle or upstart Carolina, who are only the second playoff qualifier with a losing regular-season record, in the National Conference final.
In the American Conference, Denver quarterback Peyton Manning will guide the Broncos against his former club, the visiting Indianapolis Colts, on Sunday (Monday AEDT) while the top seed New England Patriots play host on Saturday (Sunday AEDT) to Baltimore, the Ravens fresh off winning their playoff opener at Pittsburgh.
Winners of the conference finals on January 18 will advance to the Super Bowl championship spectacle on February 1 at Glendale, Arizona.