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Cheese Curds, 1/8: The young Packers are a year ahead of schedule

Between Love’s surprisingly quick development and the young receivers emerging, this team could be a real force as soon as 2024.

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Chicago Bears v Green Bay Packers Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

This team was not supposed to be a playoff team in 2023. With a first-year starting quarterback and wide receiver/tight end rooms filled with nothing but first- and second-year players, the Green Bay Packers should have gone through a year of growing pains, figuring out of Jordan Love really was the guy and building towards playoff aspirations in 2024 and beyond.

Instead, that growing period lasted all of half the season, and in mid-November, Love and his young teammates figured it out. They finished the season 6-2 in the last eight games, and now they get a date with the Dallas Cowboys in the Wild Card round next Sunday. Love put up numbers that only two other quarterbacks have ever matched in their first years as starters — big names, too: Patrick Mahomes and Kurt Warner — and he did it without having any one receiver hit the 800-yard mark.

This team is playing with house money this year, and after coming through a high-pressure regular season finale over the Bears with a convincing victory, they can go into the heart of Texas with all the pressure on their former head coach and his Cowboys team. And then, regardless of how this season ends, Green Bay should be in position to be a viable contender for an NFC title in 2024 and beyond rather than out into 2025.

It’s a great position to be in, especially when you contrast that with the uncertainty swirling around the NFC North rivals that Green Bay just defeated to earn that playoff berth.

Packers return to playoffs with 10th straight win over rival Bears | NFL.com
Here's the national media take on Sunday's game and the Packers' playoff-clinching victory.

Wild Card Playoff Primer - ESPN
ESPN has a neat little breakdown of all 14 playoff teams, including reasons for optimism (Jordan Love, obviously) and concern (that defense).

Jordan Love in complete control of Packers offense vs. Bears | Packers Wire
Love's best game of the season by passer rating was on Sunday, and two of his four best this season came in the two games against the Bears.

Key to the game: With heavy heart, Dontayvion Wicks helps propel Packers to postseason | Packers.com
One big contributor to Love's big day was Wicks, who combined with fellow Jayden Reed to form the team's top 1-2 receiving punch. Wicks delivered both of the Packers' touchdowns, and did so on his late teammate's birthday.

Bears’ Jaquan Brisker Rips Packers’ Receivers; Aaron Jones Gets Last Laugh - Sports Illustrated
Brisker's comments are hilarious and illogical in hindsight, and both Jones and Tucker Kraft got in the action making fun of him.

Another Bears loss in Green Bay makes you question the team all over again - The Athletic ($)
If you need a little extra schadenfreude, here's a look at the reaction from a Bears-focused writer.

Competition Chinese chess player says he's suing after losing title over a defecation - ABC News
It's time for another rectal scandal in the world of competitive chess!