The Dallas Cowboys will face the Green Bay Packers in the playoffs for the third time in 10 years. We don’t need to remind fans what happened the last two times they met because we’re sure some of us still have nightmares about it. But the past is the past as head coach Mike McCarthy is now coaching for the good guys as he hopes to keep his Cowboys/Packers winning streak going. Here are five things to watch when these two legendary NFL teams face off on Wild Card weekend.
1. GIVE DAK TIME TO OPERATE
It feels like the determining factor in the Cowboys winning games is whether or not they can keep Dak Prescott comfortable in the pocket. Between pass protection and play-calling, when Dak can get into a rhythm, the offense is deadly. The Cowboys are 9-0 this season when he’s completed at least two-thirds of his passes. So, what this comes down to is, can they dial up the easy button for their quarterback?
The Packers are all right at getting to the quarterback, but it’s nothing that strikes fear into opposing teams. Their pass-rush win rate is ranked 19th in the league. Their pass defense as a whole is vulnerable. They are bottom five in the league in passer rating allowed to wide receivers and second worst in creating interceptions. We can talk all we want about other aspects of the game that are up for grabs, but this is it for Dallas. Getting Prescott comfortable and allowing him to get rolling is the best advantage they’ll have in this one.
2. LOVE POTION NUMBER 10
Prescott isn’t the only good quarterback in this one as Jordan Love is having a great inaugural season in his first year as the team’s starting quarterback. Similar to Aaron Rodgers, he’s had to sit behind a Packers legend for multiple years before getting his chance. Well, he has the keys now and he’s making it count. He started the season off hot with two straight 3 TD/no pick games, but then fizzled and was rather forgettable over the first half of the year. But over the second half of the season, Love has got it going on as he’s only had one pick over his last eight games and the Packers have gone 6-2 in that span. Love will be playing in his first playoff game, so this will be a new element for him, but he has some wild card in him.
3. WHAT’S LOVE GOT TO DO WITH IT
The Packers don’t have a great pass rush, but the Cowboys do. The team’s strongest unit pressures the quarterback 43% of the time, most in the NFL. Micah Parsons leads the league in pass-rush win rate for the third straight year. Or put another way, nobody has won their pass-rush rep at a higher frequency than Parsons in every year he’s been in the league. That’s crazy.
While the Cowboys bring the heat, the Packers' offensive line does a great job. They’ve only allowed 30 sacks this year, third-best in the league. Getting to Love won’t be easy, and if they’re not able to generate pressure, it could open an avenue where the Packers have a shot, which brings us to...
4. SPREADING THE LOVE
Okay, that’s the last love pun, we promise.
The Cowboys have one dynamic receiver and that’s CeeDee Lamb. When the Cowboys are on offense, we know who’s getting fed. However, when it comes to the Packers, it’s anyone’s guess. The Packers haven’t had a player who’s led them in receiving yards in back-to-back games since Week 4 (Romeo Doubs) and have had nine different players lead the team in receiving during a game this season. In short, Love spreads it around.
This could be taxing on the Cowboys' defensive backs. If the Packers find a weakness, look for them to attack. Christian Watson is the guy we remember, but keep an eye on Jayden Reed who’s having a great rookie season.
5. A DEFINING GAME
With the play of Jordan Love, the Packers could be trending in the right direction. After starting 13-3 in his first three seasons as head coach, Matt LaFleur endured his first losing season last year as we all watched Aaron Rodgers have his worst NFL season. And all signs are pointing to them transitioning nicely from Rodgers to Love. A big road win in his first-ever playoff game will show the world that there’s a lot more to love (oops, we lied) coming soon.
On the Dallas side of things, an early playoff departure could spell trouble for Mike McCarthy and his “good-but-not-great” football team. However, a signature win over his old team could be the first sign of what we hope is a different team.