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Galaxy Brain Packers - Super Wild Card Weekend

Getting In the Dance

Jordan Love is in the Matrix right now. He was sublime against the Bears. The Packers dominated Chicago in every respect, except the scoreboard. 432 yards to 192. 24 first downs to 13. Five sacks for the defense to one taken. Pick your favorite metric and the Packers probably crushed the Bears in it.

Love was 27 of 32 for 316 yards and 2 touchdowns. Two of the incompletions were end zone drops. His 9.875 yards per attempt meant the Packers averaged being 4 inches shy of gaining first down yardage every time he threw the ball.

As good as Love and the offense were, we shouldn't ignore the contributions of the defense. For the second time this season, they prevented Justin Fields from dominating the game with his legs, something Detroit couldn't do in either of their meetings. Holding the Bears to three field goals and no touchdowns was also important in a game that turned out to be closer in score than it should have been.

The final margin was one score only because of some unforced errors on the part of the Packers. Two drops in the end zone, a missed field goal, poor end-of-half clock management, and Love's fumble on a scramble all contributed to the Packers leaving at least 10 points, and probably more on the field.

Love accomplished what his predecessor could not in his final season as the Packers' starter; win an elimination game in Lambeau Field against a division rival looking to use the game as a springboard to success in the ensuing season. The Bears aren't as good as the Lions were at the end of last season, but this Packers team was significantly better in this spot than last year's version was.

Conventional wisdom suggests you have to learn to win in the playoffs. Being the youngest team to make the playoffs since 1974 makes that all the more daunting. This team can freely ignore those lines of thought because they are more capable of beating the Cowboys in Dallas. It won't be easy, Dallas is a very good team and hasn't lost at home in almost two full seasons, but this team has shown they can play with, and beat anyone. To paraphrase Matt LaFleur's predecessor and current coach of the Cowboys, "They're nobody's underdog".

Mixing some metaphors from other sports, the Packers are entering the playoffs with the hot goalie in Jordan Love at quarterback. They're also winning like a baseball team with an elite bullpen. They shorten the game with their offensive efficiency, allowing fewer possessions than their opposition expects. If you don't match that efficiency or force them out of their gameplan by getting up early, they can minimize your opportunities to score.

Dallas, especially at home, specializes in exactly that. They get up on their opponents early, making them play a game they don't to play, and keeping their home crowd engaged thoughout. Getting out to a fast start, like they did at Detroit and against Kansas City will be critical for Green Bay. I fully expect LaFleur to take the ball if the Packers win the coin toss.

Offensively, the Packers will have two avenues to attack the Dallas defense. Aaron Jones is in the midst of one of the best stretches of play in his career.

His early season injuries were a detriment to the offense, but the silver lining is he's now as fresh as any lead back going into the playoffs. The Dallas run defense can be exploited if you can keep the game close and keep the run game in play. Expect the Packers to lean on Jones heavily. The game script has to allow him 20 touches for Green Bay to have a chance to pull the upset.

The Cowboys are an excellent pass defense, but they are vulnerable in the middle of the field. Their linebackers aren't great in coverage and they don't cover slot receivers well. Fortuitously, this is exactly where the Packers pass offense has been attacking their opposition, especially since Christian Watson's injury. Getting Luke Musgrave some game reps last week was critical for the Packers. He and Jayden Reed will be keys to the Packers passing attack and both will need to have big games for them to play their keepaway game. If (major if) Watson is able to play, his speed on the perimeter could open even more space and depth in the middle of the field for Love to attack.

Defensively, the Packers will have one significant on-paper advantage over Dallas, Rashan Gary at left edge against Cowboys right tackle Terrence Steele. Gary will need to have a game similar to what he did in Detroit to disrupt the Dallas passing game. Dak Prescott to CeeDee Lamb is an elite combo, but the key to this game for the Packers will be shutting down the secondary options. Lamb is going to get his, it's inevitable, he's too good, but if you let the Brandin Cooks, Tony Pollard, and Jake Ferguson types beat you, you have no chance.

As for Special Teams, the less said about them the better.

Literally. The Packers cannot afford any ST snafus. No missed extra points or field goals that force the offense to need a touchdown late instead of a field goal (like in Pittsburgh). No killer turnovers after a defensive stop that destroys momentum (like in New York). Teams have been a struggle this year, but Rich Bisaccia needs to earn his salary this week with a perfect performance from his groups.

For the youngest team in the league, with a first-year starting quarterback to make the playoffs can be defined as nothing less than a successful season. It doesn't need to stop here though. The term "playing with house money" has been thrown around a lot this week, and it's completely appropriate. The Packers can go into this game with nothing to lose and the lack of pressure that accompanies it. As opposed to their opponent, who have a world of expectation on them.

All season we've heard how this was Dallas' best chance to break their nearly 30-year Super Bowl drought. This week, whispers have broken out that Jerry Jones could fire Mike McCarthy if they don't make at least a deep playoff run. If the Packers can keep the game close into the fourth quarter, that pressure could warp this Cowboys team. Green Bay is playing well enough to both force that pressure and take advantage of it.


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