After a disappointing 2018 campaign, the Green Bay Packers boasted the second-best record in the NFC — going 13-3 in 2019. Promising young pieces like Aaron Jones, Jaire Alexander and Elgton Jenkins all looked like stars at their respective positions. For both the short and long term, it was about as good of a season you could hope for as a Packers fan.
The opposite was true for Dallas Cowboys. The team went 8-8 in a year where they were fully expected to make a Super Bowl run.
Jason Garrett was fired as a result, and the front office handcuffed itself by paying Ezekiel Elliott the biggest running back contract in NFL history, which ultimately means the team will lose an All-Pro in either cornerback Byron Jones or wide receiver Amari Cooper this free agency.
Here’s the common denominator as to why each team took a different turn in 2019: record in one-possession games. The Cowboys were one of the best in that regard in 2018, but in 2019, the team finished just 1-6 in games that were within one score. A couple of bounces in Dallas’ favor would have easily netted them the NFC East crown, and in 2020, there is likely to be positive regression.
The Packers, on the other hand, were brilliant in close games, finishing with a staggering 9-1 record in matchups within one score. The bad news, however, is that a couple calls and plays the other direction could have easily put Green Bay in the 8-8, 9-7 range.
Another indicator that Green Bay’s 2019 season may have been fool’s good is their team stat numbers. Their total offense and defense statistics for the season were fairly average across the board, finishing no higher than 12th in the two major categories — points and yards for both offense and defense.
Additionally, Aaron Rodgers looks like a shell of himself. Age seems to be getting the best of him, and the downfield passing game for this offense has suffered substantially. Some blame goes to the lack of weapons and playmakers, but there is no denying that Rodgers’ play has declined. He’s not the same player he was even two or three years ago, and that isn’t changing next year.
Green Bay also has key decisions to make in free agency regarding offensive tackle Bryan Bulaga and linebacker Blake Martinez. It is uncertain whether one or both will be brought back for next season, but losing either would be a significant blow.
Look, this Packers team is talented with plenty of young, promising pieces. But I think most people can confidently say that this unit overachieved in 2019.
They won a lot of close games and ended up becoming the second seed in the NFC, but they were a couple of unlucky breaks away from being out of the playoff picture entirely.
There is a chance they can repeat that same kind of resume in one-score games next season, but the truth is that 9-1 record is likely to regress back to the mean. A lot of people expected the Cowboys to contend for a Super Bowl after a strong 2018 season, but they were unable to carry over their 10-3 record in one-score games from the previous year, and instead fell to 1-6 in those matchups.
The best chance the Packers have is to surround Rodgers with more playmakers to maximize his closing window, but I think it’s asking a lot for this team to repeat the kind of record it had last season.