Saturday, January 13, 2024

2023 NFL Season Recap & Wildcard Game: Packers vs. Cowboys Preview & Prediction

Who'da thunk it, Packer fans? The youngest team in the NFL this season, with a first-year starting QB by the name of Jordan Love and loads of first and second-year players, made NFL history by becoming the youngest team ever to make the playoffs. And how was it done? By turning their season around at mid-season and going 6-2 in the final eight weeks of the season to finish at 9-8 and gain the seventh playoff spot. And, lest we forget, finishing things off in fitting fashion last weekend by beating Da Chicago Bearz at Lambeau Field in the final game of the regular season. Sweet.

By way of a very quick recap, if you go back to our preseason preview in September, we had the Pack finishing at 10-7 ... so close. Especially when few were projecting the team to win more than 6 or 7 games in this changeover season. Given the Packers could have / should have beaten at least one or more of the Falcons, the Raiders, the Broncos, or the Steelers, our prediction can be said to be ... not too bad.

Anyway, with all that said, let's take a sneak peek at the Wildcard game vs. the Cowboys down in Jerry World, shall we?

Packers QB Jordan Love has put together remarkable
and historic performances over the second half of the 2023
season. Fans are hoping that trend continues in his Wildcard 
playoff game against the Dallas Cowboys Sunday.
(Photo by Mark Hoffman/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

The Preview

The Packers come into this game riding high. Too young, some say, to know they aren't supposed to win this game against the highly favored Dallas Cowboys. They did what they had to do in the second half of the season to turn things around and give themselves a chance at making the playoffs.

This required epic performances from their first-year starting QB, Jordan Love (including back to back weeks as NFC Offensive Player of the Week, something neither Brett Farve or Aaron Rodgers did in their careers), solidifying the play of the offensive line, getting the young first and second-year receivers in sync with their quarterback, having RB Aaron Jones get healthy at the right time, and getting at least occasional "This is how you should be playing every game" performances from the Joe Barry-led defense, which was also missing the highest-paid cornerback in the NFL for a good chunk of the season (and who also might not be able to play in this game because of an ankle, not shoulder, injury).

It really is remarkable. And regardless of how the game turns out, this is already a successful season, Packer fans. One that sets things up very well for the future.

With Aaron Jones in the backfield to take some of the pressure off Love, with the O-line protecting against very good defenses, and the receivers and tight ends running great routes, making contested catches, and gaining valuable yards after the catch, the Packers can score points. Which is something we said last week, too, that actually didn't play out in the final score, although to be fair the Pack left at least 6 points on the field with a missed field goal (a growing concern with K Anders Carlson) and running out of time at the end of the first half without even having a field goal attempt ... plus there were those two touchdown-catch drops that would have put points up, as well. The offense will need to be near-perfect against the Cowboys to stay in the game and win.

That's because the Cowboys come into this game undefeated at home this season and putting up something like 37 points on average per game in their home wins. Yowzers.

The Dallas defense is one of the best in the league. So a creative offensive game plan, perfect execution, no turnovers, and scoring touchdowns instead of field goals (or having missed ones) in the red zone will be essential to a Packers win. Simple. No? One indication of how Green Bay will be feeling is if they take the ball if they win the coin toss. We're saying if that happens, the Pack will go on offense first. They'll want to get out front if at all possible.

The big question — as it has been most of the season — has been which Green Bay defense will show up? Is it the one that made Steelers QB Tommy Devito and Buccaneers QB Baker Mayfield look like All-World players with zone coverages where no one was even in the same area code as the receivers? Or will it be the one that helped win against the Lions and the Chiefs and also held even Da Bearz to only field goals? We don't know. But it seems that after the embarrassment of the game against Tampa Bay, when head coach Matt LaFleur indicated he was taking on more of a role with the defense, there has been a change from zone coverages to more man, as well as more blitzing ... and that has made a difference. A huge difference.

The Packers defense and their veteran front and linebackers, along with over-achieving players in the secondary, will need to contain Cowboys QB Dak Prescott, WR CeeDee Lamb and their other weapons to keep the Pack close.

The Prediction

Not many are giving the Packers much of a chance in this game. The oddsmakers, at the time of this writing, have the Cowboys favored by 7 points over the Packers. That's a pretty big spread.

We haven't even gotten into the various storyline aspects of this game including the big one: Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy coaching against his former team with, rumor has it, his job on the line if he loses. But that translates to this: the real pressure is on Dallas to win, not the Packers. The Pack, as some have said this week, are playing on "house money": they're there and shouldn't be so win or lose, it's OK. It's experience for a very young squad they can build on next season.

But, you know what? This season isn't done yet. The game is afoot, as Sherlock Holmes used to say.


We're riding the vibes with our heart and not our head and calling it Packers 24 - Cowboys 23.

Go Pack Go!!!