Packers at Cowboys: DVOA Preview


Everything old is new again. The Dallas Cowboys and Green Bay Packers will meet in the playoffs for the ninth time, which will tie for the most playoff matchups between two teams in the Super Bowl era. The setting feels familiar. Green Bay will bring a hot, young quarterback who replaced the long-time star at the position after the star quarterback wore out his welcome and got real weird. Dallas will bring high expectations and Mike McCarthy.

Both teams had to manage new realities on the way to the playoffs. Jordan Love stepped in for Aaron Rodgers with the youngest offense in the league and despite a few growing pains during the regular season, that side of the ball improved over 2022. At worst, the Packers will leave the 2023 season with what appears to be a quarterback worthy of building around and several talented offensive playmakers. Many in Green Bay might have considered the season a success if that was the only result. But a 9-8 record got the Packers into the playoffs with the potential for more.

The Cowboys were supposed to be here. Preseason DVOA projections had Dallas with the highest mean win total in the league. The talent was clearly there but the biggest question was how the offense would function after Kellen Moore was let go as offensive coordinator and Mike McCarthy took over play calling. McCarthy passed that test but now faces a bigger one. Dallas has been in this spot before — with McCarthy.

In his second season at the helm, the Cowboys entered the playoffs first in DVOA but lost to the San Francisco 49ers. Last year’s Cowboys were seventh in DVOA, blew out an under-.500 Buccaneers team in the opening round, then lost to the 49ers in the Divisional Round. The pressure is on to not repeat those exits. This is a franchise that has not gotten past the Divisional Round since the team won the Super Bowl after the 1995 season.

Expectations should remain high for Dallas as the Cowboys are favored by 7.5 points according to the oddsmakers, DVOA suggests it should be a bit closer at 5.1 points, but still the second-highest spread of the weekend.

All stats are for the regular season only. Week-to-week charts represent that team’s single-game total DVOA, not just offense. The extra line is a rolling five-week average. If you’re checking out FTN’s DVOA for the first time, it’s all explained right here.

  GB (9-8) DAL (12-5)
DVOA 1.6% (13) 19.1% (4)
WEI DVOA 5.3% (12) 21.0% (4)
Packers on Offense
DVOA 13.0% (6) -8.7% (5)
WEI DVOA 19.1% (3) -7.4% (6)
PASS 34.9% (4) -3.3% (7)
RUSH -4.2% (15) -15.4% (5)
Cowboys on Offense
DVOA 8.2% (27) 8.8% (9)
WEI DVOA 11.3% (28) 11.6% (8)
PASS 17.8% (26) 24.9% (11)
RUSH -3.3% (26) -4.3% (16)
Special Teams
DVOA -3.2% (31) 1.6% (10)


The Packers have figured it out on offense. They’re third in weighted DVOA and second in passing DVOA since Week 10. The weighted DVOA and pass DVOA for the 2023 season are close to the numbers put up during Green Bay’s 2021 season that won Aaron Rodgers his second-straight MVP award.

While those Rodgers Packers teams typically had a dominant No. 1 wide receiver to rely on, Jordan Love finished the season sixth in both DYAR and DVOA mostly by spreading the ball around. The closest Green Bay has to a No. 1 is rookie second-round pick Jayden Reed. Reed saw 24% of the Packers’ targets and his role has increased in production and creativity as the season progressed.

Reed is 35th among receivers in Route DVOA this season but is not the most efficient Packer on a per-route basis. That would be rookie fifth-round pick Dontavion Wicks, who ranks 30th despite running a route on fewer than half of Green Bay’s dropbacks this season. Reed and Wicks have been the big play threats, which is where the Cowboys can be vulnerable.

The Cowboys have gone from fourth in defensive DVOA over the first nine weeks of the season to 13th since Week 10. It’s still a good defense, but it hasn’t been as successful, even without a significant dropoff in turnovers. One of the problem areas is against the deep ball, where the Cowboys are 19th in DVOA — opposed to first against short passes. Love ranked just 15th in deep passing DVOA but was tied for the second-highest rate of deep passes.

Part of Love’s mediocre ranking on those deep passes is that he has the propensity to throw deep when pressured. That could come into play against a Cowboys defense that ranks fourth in pressure rate this season. Micah Parsons is tied for third in knockdowns and can come from anywhere around the line of scrimmage.

The Cowboys have upped their blitz rate this season from 23.4% (18th) in 2022 to 28.5% (13th) in 2023. Dallas has been a better defense when they’ve blitzed too, allowing 5.9 yards per play and -4% DVOA when they don’t blitz as opposed to 5.0 yards per play and -20% when they do.

Love has been one of the most blitzed quarterbacks on a per-dropback basis this season — two games against the Vikings and one against the Giants can do that to a seasonal average — but it has knocked him off his game. Love has a 36% DVOA when not blitzed and that falls to 7% when blitzed. However, it should be noted Love shredded the Vikings on their heavy blitzing in Week 17.

One area where the Cowboys have struggled is over the middle of the field, where they rank 24th in DVOA. This could be a call for tight ends Tucker Kraft and Luke Musgrave, also both rookies. Musgrave flashed at the beginning of the season but missed six games at the end of the year before he returned for limited snaps in the regular season finale. In his absence, Kraft stepped in and played the majority of snaps. These two have only played 71 snaps together but regardless of which one he’s thrown to, Love ranked sixth in DYAR targeting tight ends during the regular season.

Green Bay could potentially get something going on the ground, where both teams have been about average in DVOA over the second half of the season. The Packers found a groove over the past few games, especially with Aaron Jones on the field. Green Bay ranks eighth in adjusted line yards on runs to the right tackle and seventh to the right end while Dallas is 24th defending runs to the right tackle and 18th to the right end.


There might not be a bigger mismatch of two units over Wild-Card Weekend than the Cowboys offense against the Packers defense. If there was a defense Dallas could dream up to play against, it might be this one.

The Cowboys have leaned into the passing game as the season has gone on, putting more on the plate of Dak Prescott, who finished the regular season fifth in DYAR and DVOA. Dallas only finished the season 11th in pass offense DVOA but that went from 14th in Weeks 1-9 to seventh from Week 10 on.

That improvement has coincided with a focus on getting the ball to CeeDee Lamb. Before the Cowboys’ bye, Lamb lined up in the slot for nearly two-thirds of his snaps and was targeted on just over 20 percent of his routes. Since the bye, Lamb has seen a near-even split between snaps out wide and in the slot, which has helped his slot efficiency, and he’s been targeted on almost a third of his routes. The biggest development is a lean into the slant.

Targeting the middle of the field is targeting the weakness of the Packers’ defense and it’s an area Prescott will target when given the opportunity. No full-time quarterback averaged more yards after the catch per reception on throws to the short middle of the field than Prescott (6.2) this season.

It’s not just the slants, Prescott will rip a ball down the seam if that becomes available. Against the Packers, it likely will. Green Bay is 23rd in DVOA on throws to the middle of the field and 26th in DVOA against tight ends.

Under Joe Barry, the Packers remain committed to the highest rates of soft zone coverage, which can leave wide open spaces for passing windows. Even having a healthy Jaire Alexander might not make much of a difference for Green Bay. Alexander has allowed 37.4% DVOA in coverage over his limited snaps over the second half of the season. Health is also a question as Alexander rolled his ankle in practice on Wednesday.

Dallas also won’t be afraid to test the Packers deep. That will be the job of Brandin Cooks on the outside. There have been games this season when Cooks was nonexistent in the plan, but Cooks’s involvement has been a fairly good indicator of how the offense is going. The Cowboys have averaged 36.3 points in games when Cooks catches at least three passes and 22.8 in games he does not. No quarterback finished with more DYAR or a higher DVOA than Prescott on deep passes this season.

If the Cowboys are going to get themselves in trouble, it will be committing to the run on first down. Dallas has mostly gotten out of that habit, but the offense still ranks 20th in DVOA on first down. Luckily the Cowboys rank eighth in DVOA on second down and fourth on third down, including first on third-and-long, to bail out some of those first-down inefficiencies.


If the Dallas offense vs the Green Bay defense isn’t the biggest mismatch, the Cowboys’ advantage on special teams might be.

Brandon Aubrey has been nearly automatic in his rookie season at kicker, though success on field goals and extra points has not translated to kickoffs, where the Cowboys have slightly negative value on the season despite Aubrey’s league-leading touchback rate. Dallas is fourth in kick return value thanks to a few big runbacks from KaVonte Turpin, though that’s only come on 10 returns. Dallas will take the touchback, but when Turpin does take the return out, it rarely goes wrong — the Cowboys start at the 32-yard line on those occasions.

The Packers come into this game with the second-worst special teams unit in the league. Green Bay has provided negative value in every special teams category except kick returns, where Keisean Nixon has tried his best to make an impact. Nixon has eight more kick returns and 271 more kick return yards than any other player in the league but the Packers still finished just 14th in kick return value.


The Packers’ development has been a fun watch this season and they have the offense to hang in this game. Unfortunately for Green Bay, Dallas has an offense that can match and a heavy advantage in the two other units.

Of course, the Packers know that and are coming into this game with house money. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Green Bay get more aggressive in an attempt to turn this into a shootout — there is a reason this game is projected with the second-highest total of the weekend, just barely behind Rams-Lions.

On the other hand, the Cowboys have everything to lose here. Packers fans know all too well what can happen to Mike McCarthy in these high-leverage situations. Aggressiveness fades. Late-game decisions become more questionable. We’ve already seen some hints of that recently. It hasn’t hurt the Cowboys yet but doesn’t mean much going forward. The Cowboys have everything riding on not just winning this game but advancing past next week as well. This team, with the talent advantage they have overall, has the best chance to do that.

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