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Dak Prescott, Dez Bryant will determine who wins the Packers-Cowboys rematch

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It’s a weekend of regular season rematches in the divisional round of the NFL Playoffs. NFL offensive lineman Geoff Schwartz breaks down what has changed since the first go-arounds.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Minnesota Vikings Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

This is a unique weekend of Divisional Playoff games — all four games are rematches of earlier contests. The Patriots beat the Texans on a Thursday night, the Packers lost at home to the Cowboys, the Falcons went on the road and barely lost to the Seahawks, and the Steelers destroyed the Chiefs on Sunday Night Football.

Rematches occur often in the regular season among division opponents, and aren’t much different in the playoffs. I played in one. In 2013, we (the Chiefs) lost to the Colts, 23-7, in Week 16, then went to Indianapolis in the Wild Card round. We unfortunately lost again, but this game being much closer, at 45-44.

The schematic advantage in rematches always goes to the losing team. The winning team shouldn’t change much of what they do. Why would they do that? They just won. So this gives the losing team an advantage. You know what’s coming and can prepare for it. For example, against the Colts, we knew we could run the ball well in the second game. We just didn’t have enough running opportunities in the first game because we got down early. Our offense came out with a few new runs the Colts hadn’t seen and we gashed them.

As with anything, there are exceptions to the rules. This weekend features two games that break my general thinking about how coaches scheme rematches: New England at Houston, and Green Bay at Dallas.

The best matchup of the weekend: Packers at Cowboys.

I’ve written extensively about the Packers and Cowboys. I wrote about the Cowboys’ run game against the Packers, and about the Packers’ sizzling finish. I bundled this game with Texans-Patriots because, although the schemes for the Cowboys and Packers will remain the same, Aaron Rodgers is playing at a level he wasn’t when they first met. In his last eight games, including last weekend, he has thrown 22 touchdowns and zero interceptions. He shredded a Giants defense built to stop him and did it without Jordy Nelson. Nelson is a game time decision with broken ribs.

The Cowboys defense has been amazing this season. Those players buy into the mantra of “doing your job.” They excel at being in the right place, and they are excellent tacklers. However, the pass rush has been suspect all season. It improved at the end of the season with the emergence of David Irving, but the Packers offensive line is the best pass blocking unit in the NFL. If the Cowboys don’t generate pressure — and I don’t think they will — Rodgers will pick them apart.

This game comes down to the Cowboys offense. The Cowboys must continue to run the ball well and limit the number of possessions for the Packers. Dak Prescott is still a rookie who has never been in this situation before. He’s facing a poor Packers secondary, which should help him.

Over the last few weeks of the season, Dak has developed a better on-field relationship with Dez Bryant. This will prove huge on Sunday.

And here’s the kicker: If Dak struggles, do the Cowboys go to Tony Romo? Do the Cowboys really want to go down with a healthy Romo on the sidelines? They have a team that’s capable of winning the Super Bowl.

This game will be high scoring, it will be entertaining, and while the Packers are the trendy pick, I see the Cowboys winning a close game at home.

Texans vs. Patriots will look a lot different in the playoffs than it did in September

The setup for this week’s Texans vs. Patriots game is vastly different than the one played in Week 3, but the outcome might be the same. The Patriots will be starting Tom Brady, not Jacoby Brissett who was playing in place of the suspended veteran. The Texans will start Brock Osweiler just like they did in September, but he will be in a different mental place after losing and regaining his job.

I can’t believe I’m about to type this, but ...

Houston’s top-ranked pass defense might be happier to see Brady this weekend.

Why? Because they know exactly what they’re getting in Brady. In the first matchup, Brissett was making his first start. The Pats were able to run plays like this one, where Brissett ran a bootleg for a touchdown.

The Texans couldn’t prepare for it. This weekend, the Texans will be able to unleash their pass rush knowing that Brady will be sticking in the pocket. With bookends Jadeveon Clowney (six sacks) and Whitney Mercilus (7.5), the Texans can pressure the quarterback into making mistakes.

That doesn’t mean they are going to rattle Brady, or he’s going to play poorly, but they know what’s coming. In the trenches, while New England has its best offensive line in years, and LeGarrette Blount has been dominating at times, the Texans still present a challenge. Big Vince Wilfork, former Patriot and current nose tackle for the Texans, will test the interior of the Patriots offensive line in the run game.

This is a good example of how a nose tackle does his job. This won’t show up on the stat sheet. Wilfork just eats up the center and guard, and it allows the linebacker to make this tackle.

That being said, the Patriots will score points. It’s up to the Texans to match them and I don’t see that happening. The Texans know exactly how the Patriots will play them after scoring zero points in the first matchup.

In general, the Patriots’ schemes, both offensively and defensively, vary game to game. They are the best at this in the NFL. However, one thing they love to do on defense is putting their top corner, Super Bowl hero Malcolm Butler, on a team’s No. 2 receiver and shutting down that option. While doing that, they double the No. 1 receiver all game with a safety. This held true in the first matchup. New England sat in Cover 2, with a safety almost exclusively playing matchup zone with Hopkins.

Here’s the first third-and-long of that game. Hopkins gets the double from the safety, and there was no chance he would get the ball.

Here are two plays where the double team either doesn’t come, or comes late. Houston must convert on all of these opportunities. The first they don’t, the second they do.

Cover 2 is designed to not allow anything over the top. It worked in Game 1. Osweiler completed 24 passes for just 196 yards. The Texans must find a way to get Hopkins in single coverage, using new formations and motions, to create big plays. Or if New England sells out to stop Hopkins (it will), the Texans will need big plays from their tight end and other options.

The best, and only, way to get a team out of Cover 2 is by running the ball. While Cover 2 is excellent at stopping the deep pass, it pulls defensive bodies out of the box, allowing offenses to run the ball more effectively (in theory). The Texans are middle of the pack in yards per carry as an offense. Running the ball to create that mismatch might be a lot to ask of them.

I just don’t see Houston mounting much of a fight against New England. Besides the obvious mismatches at quarterback, Houston was minus-7 in turnover margin during the season, and the Patriots were third-best in the NFL at plus-12. Houston’s special teams are ranked dead last in Football Outsiders DVOA rankings. This game will be a blowout for the Patriots.