Getty Images

FRISCO, Texas -- Depending on who you ask, a year can feel like nothing at all or an entire lifetime ago. The same can be said for the 12-5 Dallas Cowboys and the 9-8 Green Bay Packers entering Sunday's Super Wild Card Weekend showdown at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

Dallas, the NFC's No. 2 seed, now has at least 12 wins three seasons in a row under head coach Mike McCarthy after going 12-5 every year since 2021. This stretch marks the second time in franchise history for that to occur, joining the Cowboys' 1990s dynasty run from 1992-95 in which they won three Super Bowls in four seasons. 

McCarthy is the first Cowboys head coach to accomplish this feat. Hall of Famer Jimmy Johnson was Dallas' head coach for the first two of those seasons in the 1990s (from 1992-1993), but Barry Switzer was the Cowboys coach for the 1994 and 1995 seasons. 

Just like last year, the Dallas defense is dominant. It is fifth in scoring defense once again (18.5), and All-Pro edge rusher Micah Parsons is as much of a game-wrecker as ever. In 2023, Parsons led the NFL in quarterback pressures (103), quarterback pressure rate (21.8%) and pass rush win rate (35.3%), which is when a defender beats his block in less than 2.5 seconds. This is remarkable considering Parsons was double-teamed on 35% of his pass-rush plays in 2023, the most in the league among edge players, according to NFL's Next Gen Stats. No other edge rusher was double-teamed at a 30% or higher rate.

For the Packers, the NFC's seventh seed, and their offense, life couldn't be more different. Future Hall of Fame quarterback Aaron Rodgers, a four-time NFL MVP and Super Bowl XLV MVP, is now a New York Jet after 15 seasons as the team's starter. Green Bay, meanwhile, now has the youngest playoff team since the 1974 Buffalo Bills -- the average age is 25 years, 214 days old -- including first-year full-time starting quarterback Jordan love. Its 302 receptions, 3,642 receiving yards and 31 receiving touchdowns by first- or second-year players are all the most by a team in a single season since the 1970 NFL/AFL merger. 

Jordan Love
GB • QB • #10
View Profile

However, as is typical with Packers starting quarterbacks since 1992 -- Hall of Famer Brett Favre's first season as Green Bay's starter -- Love is playing like one of the league's best anyways. His 32 passing touchdowns in 2023 are four more than Rodgers had in his first season replacing Favre in 2008, ranking second in the league this season behind only Dak Prescott's NFL-best 36. That makes Sunday's contest the first-ever wild card game between the top-two outright league leaders in passing touchdowns. 

"Love has been playing some good football in his first year as a starter," Cowboys safety Jayron Kearse said Monday. "Thirty-plus touchdowns. He's being put in great situations, they're scheming some great things up. You got those running backs, A.J. Dillon and Aaron Jones, doing a great job of controlling the game with the run. They definitely provide a challenge. With Green Bay, they've won, they know how to win. It's definitely going to be a challenge, but one that we will definitely be up for. Love has been playing pretty good. They have (Matt) LaFleur, who is dialing things up."

The 25-year-old signal-caller hit some turbulence early on, but he finished the regular season as one of the league's best deep-ball passers. Love's 40 completions of 25 or more yards are tied for the second most in the NFL with Texans quarterback C.J. Stroud and trail only San Francisco 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy's 47. 

"I think as I've started some (film review), you can see where the season started to where he is now, going from 3-6 to 6-2 to close the season, there's a big difference," Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn said Monday. "What really jumped out to me is how impressive he is throwing the deep ball. He has great touch to do that. Good play-action team with Matt since the time he has been there, and that has been carried on. You can see the number of yards per catch for a lot of these receivers and tight ends. There's a lot of deep balls, a lot of explosive plays. That is one thing I was very impressed by. His ability to take shots and hit the deep ball. That's where these explosive plays live."

Only Prescott had more touchdown passes (19) than Love (18) in the last eight games of the regular season. Naturally, Green Bay won as many games in that span (6-2) as it lost in its first nine contests (3-6). 

"He started off hot, had some trials and tribulations, covered him all year," edge rusher Micah Parsons said Thursday. "I think Jordan Love has grown toward this end of the year, this back-end stretch, into the player that the Packers thought he would be at that pick they took him. A lot of people questioned why they took him. I think he had proven a lot of people wrong. One of the greatest seasons by a Packer as a starter. Jordan Love is doing exactly what he's supposed to do. It's something that we talked about in the offseason. He was like, 'I'm going to go out there and ball out.' So super happy for him."

Jordan Love this season

Love (2023 season)First nine gamesLast eight games 




Comp pct



Yards/Pass Att



Pass YPG






Passer Rating80.5112.7

* Sixth QB all-time with 18+ pass TD & 0 or 1 INT in final 8 games of a season

These last eight games provided the Packers with the knowledge that they have found their future at quarterback in Love. While it might seem hyperbolic to compare Love with his Packers predecessor in Rodgers, the team's all-time leader in passing touchdowns with 475, Love's closing stretch of 2023 resembled Rodgers' run toward his latest MVP award in the 2021 season. He became just the sixth quarterback all-time to throw for at least 18 touchdowns and one or zero interceptions in his final eight games of a year. Love finished 2023 with consecutive NFC Offensive Player of the Week awards in Weeks 17 and 18 at the Minnesota Vikings and against the Chicago Bears after throwing for 572 yards and five touchdowns on 78.5% (51-65)  passing. 

18+ pass TD and 0 or 1 INT in final eight games (NFL history)



Jordan Love


Aaron Rodgers*


Drew Brees


Lamar Jackson*


Cam Newton*


Tom Brady*

*Won MVP

One of the key characteristics of Love's game is his ability to maintain a strong amount of zip and arm strength on his passes while backpedaling in the pocket and throwing off of his back foot, a signature component of Rodgers' game. 

"It's tough because he's never in a compromised position," Kearse said of Love on Wednesday. "Usually when guys are throwing off their back foot and backpedaling and going off their back foot, it usually doesn't have much zip on it. It gives the defensive backs a lot of opportunities to get there and make plays on the ball. When he's doing that, there's still zip on it. He's still getting the ball there. That's something that's been tremendous when I talk about A-Rod-like things. That's one of the things I see."

Quinn, who began his NFL coaching career as a defensive line coach with the 49ers in the early 2000s, likened Love's movement to one of the league's best mobile quarterbacks of that era: six-time Pro Bowler Donovan McNabb.

"It is [unique]," Quinn said of Love's ability to be able to consistently have power on his throws despite fading backwards "It's tough to defend that, especially on blitzes where someone can backpedal and still rip the ball down the field. I think one of my first memories of that on the coaching side was Donovan McNabb where he could just get back. He had such a unique way on some pressures to be able to move back from the pocket and still rip the ball down the field. I think more than anything it speaks to the arm strength. Anybody who can move out of the pocket and not have to step up and hitch and throw, that's a special trait. He  [Love] definitely has that, and that's why I think you see so much success for them on these deep balls. He's got great accuracy. If you're a guy who can continually hit deep balls and have accuracy with that, you can change the field position quick."

Based on that movement and willingness to heave the football from a variety of arm angles and throwing platforms, he's been a tough player to gauge in film study during the week. 

"He's kind of unpredictable with his arm talent," cornerback DaRon Bland said Wednesday. 

"A lot of deep shots," Parsons added Thursday when asked what stands out about Love. "He makes his reads pretty good, make them quick. He can make any throw. He's fearless back there. And he's smart. It's going to be real challenging. A lot of styles. He trusts his receivers to go make (plays). You can tell he played under Rodgers. Some of his mechanics, some of his movements, reads, and fearlessness, you can tell he learned a lot from Rodgers. I think he has that ability (to throw off his back foot) because of his height. A lot of quarterbacks struggle because of their height and they're not able to still see, but his length adds another factor to how good he is and how good he will become."

The best gauge of how Rodgers-like Love is would be none other than Rodgers' head coach of 13 seasons, current Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy. He confirmed what his team sees when turning on the tape: the Packers' current No. 10 (Love) looks like the artist formerly known as No. 12 (Rodgers), who carried over qualities from the starter prior to him, No. 4 (Favre). 

"I've been really impressed with Jordan," McCarthy said Thursday. "I think he's made a lot of off-tempo plays, extended plays. His ability to hang on the back foot, their downfield passing game caught our attention, and he's a big part of it. I think he's definitely doing a hell of a job, and I think just like anything whether your football team is younger or not so young, you want to see progress through the year. Obviously, the quarterback position is a big part of that. He's done that and I think he's doing a hell of a job. There's stuff that carried over there (between Rodgers and Love). That's a huge benefit. That's the third time it's happened up there (in Green Bay)."