The Ice Bowl.
Tom Brown’s heroics in the 1966 NFL title game.
Troy Aikman, Michael Irvin and Emmitt Smith dominating the 1990s.
The Dez Bryant ‘Catch’ — Or ‘No Catch’ — game, and Mason Crosby’s 2016 heroics.
The Green Bay Packers and Dallas Cowboys have produced some of the most remarkable playoff games in NFL history. Fittingly, the series between two of the league’s most storied franchises is knotted, 4-4, with the Packers winning the last two meetings.
That will change Sunday, when Green Bay heads to Dallas for a wildcard matchup at 3:30 p.m. The Cowboys are currently 7.5-point favorite.
Here’s who has the edge at each position.
Dallas’ Dak Prescott, a fourth round draft pick in 2016, has already had a brilliant career with 202 touchdown passes, 74 interceptions and a 99.0 quarterback rating. The 2023 season has been arguably Prescott’s best as he led the league with 36 touchdown passes, threw just nine interceptions and posted a career-best 105.9 passer rating.
Prescott is just 2-4 all-time in the postseason, though, and has never led the Cowboys past the divisional playoffs.
“Just his consistency, his personality and work ethic, and how he handles all that, and navigates all that, and he goes out and performs every week,” Dallas coach Mike McCarthy said of Prescott. “I think it’s special what he has to endure. I think the intensity of the microscope on Dak, I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Green Bay’s Jordan Love, in his first year as the Packers’ starter, had a brilliant season himself. Love ranked second in the NFL in touchdown passes (32), threw just 11 interceptions and had a 96.1 passer rating.
In the last eight games, Love has thrown 18 touchdown passes, just one interception, completed 70.3% of his passes and has a 112.7 passer rating. Love will be making his first playoff start this week
“I’ll be the same,” Love said of starting his first playoff game. “Every game I go through a checklist of what I tell myself, things to try to tell myself to relax, calm down, see the game, let it come to me and just focus on all the little details that I can focus on, control what I can control.
“So I don’t think it will be any different than any other game. Obviously it will be an away game, it will be a loud environment. So just trying to get my feet and get settled into the game will be huge.”
Green Bay’s Aaron Jones has 358 rushing yards in the last three games and is averaging 5.7 yards per carry. The Packers are 3-0 in those contests.
Jones has enjoyed remarkable success against Dallas during his career.
In three career games vs. Dallas — all Green Bay wins — Jones has 62 rushing attempts for 370 yards (6.0), 11 receptions for 102 yards (9.3) and six total touchdowns.
“Just the way he hits the line of scrimmage is pretty elite in this league,” Packers offensive coordinator Adam Stenavich said of Jones. “There’s a few guys that have that ability to hit the line of scrimmage with that speed and just attack the defenders. I love watching him run, I love how he approaches it, I love how he gets off on the snap and just frickin’ hits the holes. It’s fun to watch, it really is.”
Tony Pollard took over as the Cowboys’ bellcow this year, and hasn’t been as explosive as his first four seasons. Pollard ran for 1,005 yards, but averaged just 4.0 yards per carry — more than a full yard below his career average of 5.13.
Pollard also caught 55 passes, but averaged just 5.7 yards per reception.
ADVANTAGE: Green Bay
Dallas’ CeeDee Lamb has enjoyed a career year and is arguably the best wideout in football today.
Lamb’s 135 catches led the NFL and he also had 1,749 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns. In each of his last two games, Lamb had 13 receptions. He can single-handedly destroy a defense.
“They’re going to try to find different ways to get him the ball and he’s such a threat in terms of his ability to make people miss, to use his speed to outrun people,” Packers coach Matt LaFleur said of Lamb. “He’s a big, strong guy. He can break tackles, so we’ve got to make sure we know where No. 88 is on every snap.”
Second-year tight end Jake Ferguson (71 catches, 5 TDs) has become Prescott’s security blanket, veteran Brandin Cooks (54 catches) can still fly, while Michael Gallup is a steady, proven No. 3.
The Packers don’t have a true No. 1 among their young group. They do have a bevy of players that would be No. 2 receivers on many teams, though.
Rookie Jayden Reed led the team in catches (64) and yards (793), and tied for the team lead in touchdown catches (eight). Steady Romeo Doubs (59-674-8) had a solid second year and will play after suffering a chest injury last week.
Rookie Dontayvion Wicks has 29 catches and three TDs in his last three games, while emerging rookie Bo Melton has 16 catches for 218 yards in his last five games. Speedy Christian Watson (hamstring) will be a game-time decision.
“They’re taking advantage of the opportunity they got and they’re just trying to go out there and make the most of that, and they’re doing a really good job of it,” Love said of his wide receivers.
Rookie tight end Tucker Kraft has also traveled miles in his first season and has 21 receptions for 260 yards in the last five games. Rookie tight end Luke Musgrave also returned last week after suffering a lacerated kidney on Nov. 19.
Dallas has one the best offensive lines in football, ranked seventh in sacks allowed (40) and leans heavily on this group to control football games.
Left tackle Tyron Smith, the ninth overall pick back in 2011, has long arms, huge hands, is a rare athlete and hasn’t lost a beat. Left guard Tyler Smith, a first round draft pick in 2022, is an emerging star.
Center Tyler Biadasz, a former fourth University of Wisconsin standout, has blossomed after being taken in the fourth round in 2020. Biadasz has allowed just four sacks in his four-year career, although three of those came this season.
Right guard Zack Martin is a nine-time Pro Bowler and most likely a future Hall of Famer. Many believe he’s the best right guard in NFL history.
The weak link is right tackle Terence Steele, whose return from a 2022 ACL injury has been slow.
“Like anything, anytime anyone has a major joint injury, that first year back, it’s a challenge,” Dallas coach Mike McCarthy said of Steele. “He is definitely still fighting back a little bit from the injury.”
Green Bay’s offensive line has gotten better and better throughout the year and allowed just 30 sacks all season — which tied for third.
Right tackle Zach Tom has been Green Bay’s best player, allowing just two sacks in 1,068 snaps.
“I’ve really just liked how he’s handled himself,” Packers offensive coordinator Adam Stenavich said recently of Tom. “A guy that prepares the right way every week, plays with the right attitude, the right mentality. You can see him just keep getting better and better as the season goes on.”
Packers center Josh Myers (five sacks allowed, five penalties) has had an up and down season and is a player Dallas will likely try to exploit.
The Cowboys run a 4-3 defense and rotate seven or eight players up front to try wearing down opposing fronts.
Defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence, now in his 11th season, remains a force, while veteran Dorance Armstrong is a solid player himself. Third-year tackle Osa Odighizuwa had his best season, but veteran tackle Johnathan Hankins has slipped.
Green Bay defensive end Kenny Clark has already set a career-high with 7.5 sacks. Rookie defensive end Karl Brooks continues to have an impressive first season.
Dallas outside linebacker Micah Parsons is arguably the best in the business at his position. Parsons led the NFL with 103 quarterback pressures in 2023 and finished seventh in sacks with 14.0. Dallas will move Parsons all over the field, looking for matchups to exploit.
“Micah’s a freak show, a game wrecker and you better know where he’s at,” Packers coach Matt LaFleur said. “They do such a great job of moving him around.
“He can line up on the edge, he can line up at linebacker, at the three technique, at the shade. They use multiple personnel groupings, so they do a really good job of scheming you up and trying to create one-on-ones for him, especially in those pass-rush situations.”
Middle linebacker Markquese Bell is an oversized safety who runs well (4.41), but can be bullied in the run game. Weakside ‘backer Leighton Vander Esch (neck) was lost for the season midway through the year. The falloff to former fifth round draft pick Damone Clark has been substantial.
Inside linebacker Quay Walker led the Packers for the second straight year in tackles (118), while outside linebackers Rashan Gary (9.0) and Preston Smith (8.0) ranked first and second in sacks.
Dallas cornerback DaRon Bland led the NFL with nine interceptions and set a new league record by returning five of them for touchdowns. A fifth round draft pick in 2022, Bland has been picked on at times, but has also won more than his share of battles. Veteran cornerback Stephon Gilmore, a five-time Pro Bowler, remains a high-level starter, but might have to play with a harness due to a shoulder injury.
Free safety Donovan Wilson has size and physicality. Strong safety Jayron Kearse — a former Viking and Lion — has had the worst of his eight NFL seasons.
“I think those guys do a good job, certainly well coached,” Green Bay coach Matt LaFleur said of the Cowboys’ secondary. “They jump a lot of routes, but you don’t see a lot of routes going over the top of their head, so I think that speaks a lot of those guys because you don’t always see that and all those guys on the back end.”
All eyes will be on Green Bay cornerback Jaire Alexander, who turned an ankle in practice Wednesday and will be a game-time decision. If Alexander is healthy, he’ll likely be tasked with chasing CeeDee Lamb around the field.
“The challenge when you match a guy … it’s the rest of the secondary that has to play off that,” Packers defensive coordinator Joe Barry said. “We’ve done it before and we feel comfortable with it. In today’s football, it used to be much easier years ago when a great receiver was just the X receiver or just the Z receiver and you knew exactly where he was going to be. That’s not the case in today’s football with these great wideouts. CeeDee absolutely is one of those. He plays Z, he plays X, he plays slot, he motions. That is the challenge.”
Rookie cornerback Carrington Valentine is scrappy, but has been picked on at times. If Alexander can’t go, Corey Ballentine will get the call. The Packers are 4-2 this year when Ballentine and Valentine have started together.
The safety tandem of Darnell Savage and Jonathan Owens is underwhelming.
Dallas kicker Brandon Aubrey has been sensational, making 36-of-38 field goals (.947) and 10-of-10 attempts from beyond 50 yards. Punter Bryan Anger ranks second in net average (44.9), while wideout KaVontae Turpin averages 29.2 yards per kick.
“Yeah, he’s a tremendous challenge,” Green Bay special teams coach Rich Bisaccia said of Turpin. “He’s got great speed, he’s got great vision, he can make you miss and he can score. He can go the distance. He’s really fast anyway, but he’s extremely fast in that particular stadium. How we deal with him in the punt game and how we deal with him in the kickoff game remains to be seen, but he’s a problem.”
Green Bay kicker Anders Carlson finished his first regular season 27-of-33 on field goals (81.8%) and 34-of-39 on extra points (87.2%). Carlson started the year strong, but has missed a field goal or extra point in eight of the last 10 games.
Packers punter Daniel Whelan ranks 28th in net average (39.7). Return ace Keisean Nixon (26.1) hasn’t been as dynamic as 2022, but still received first-team All-Pro honors from the Associated Press this week.
Green Bay’s Matt LaFleur has guided the Packers to the postseason in four of his five years. LaFleur is 56-27 in that time, giving him the second-best winning percentage in team history (.675). Green Bay is also the NFL’s third-winningest team in the league since 2019.
LaFleur was handed the NFL’s youngest roster this season and did arguably his finest job by leading this group to the postseason.
LaFleur is just 2-3 in the postseason, though, with forgettable coaching performances in all three losses — especially the 2020 NFC title game when he elected to kick a late field goal in what eventually became a 31-26 to Tampa Bay.
Dallas’ Mike McCarthy, who coached in Green Bay from 2006-2018, was the second-longest tenured coach in team history behind only Earl “Curly” Lambeau (1921-’49). McCarthy went 125-77-2 in Green Bay and led the Packers to the 2010 Super Bowl title before he was fired after 12 games in 2018.
McCarthy’s.618 winning percentage ranks fifth in team history behind Vince Lombardi (.754), LaFleur (.675), Mike Holmgren (.670) and Lambeau (.668).
In Dallas, McCarthy has gone 42-25 in four seasons (.627) and has led the Cowboys to two NFC East titles. McCarthy, who had relinquished play calling duties, took those back over this and led the NFL’s highest scoring offense (29.9).
McCarthy is just 1-2 in the postseason with Dallas, though, and if he can’t beat his former team Sunday, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones might make a coaching change.
PREDICTION: Green Bay 31, Dallas 27