Here’s NFL Recap’s first-look preview of the NFC Divisional Round contest, Los Angeles Rams vs. Green Bay Packers, scheduled for Saturday, January 16th, at 4:35 PM ET (FOX/FOX Deportes).
Editor’s Note: For the rest of Mike Tanier’s individual NFL Divisional Round playoff previews, make sure to check out his full NFL Wild Card Recap. Not only does he give in-depth breakdowns of each game, but he also provides you with his Studs ‘n’ Duds.
The backdrop to the Rams vs. Packers matchup
Wild Card Weekend could not have worked out much better for the Green Bay Packers. Not only do the Packers face a beatable opponent vs. the Los Angeles Rams in the Divisional Round, but it’s a banged-up Rams team as well.
All-Pro defender Aaron Donald suffered a rib injury. Quarterback Jared Goff was forced to play through a thumb injury in the Los Angeles Rams’ 30-20 victory over the Seattle Seahawks on Saturday. Even with Goff and Donald healthy, Aaron Rodgers and the Packers are the far superior team on paper.
That means in order for the Rams to win, the Packers will have to suffer through one of those playoff games where everything that can go wrong for them does go wrong.
You know, like their loss to the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship Game last year. Or their loss to the Atlanta Falcons in the 2017 NFL Playoffs. Or their loss to the Arizona Cardinals in 2015, Seattle Seahawks in 2014, or the time Colin Kaepernick rushed for 181 yards … er, you get the picture.
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Los Angeles Rams vs. Green Bay Packers Divisional Round Preview
Let’s dive deeper into the Rams vs. Packers tilt.
How the Green Bay Packers got here
It was a Packers season like any other, only more so. Aaron Rodgers played at a Hall of Fame level. This despite the fact that Davante Adams was his only reliable wide receiver. Tight end Robert Tonyan did emerge as a dangerous complementary weapon as well.
Za’Darius Smith spearheaded a nasty pass rush, with Preston Smith rejoining him after a prolonged early-season slump.
The Packers dominated the NFC North but scattered just enough breadcrumbs of doubt — a run defense vulnerable to getting wheelbarrowed, a beating at the hands of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the late-season loss of left tackle David Bakhtiari — to worry fans that this season might end the way most Packers seasons end.
How the Los Angeles Rams got here
Rookie running back Cam Akers gained 176 scrimmage yards and scored a touchdown against Seattle. Donald spent so much time in the Seattle Seahawks backfield that he injured his ribs dragging down Russell Wilson so often. Goff came off the bench to throw just enough split-fingered fastballs to keep the Rams’ passing game viable.
It was shaky. It was costly. But it was just enough for a win over a Seahawks team that looked like it has been photocopying the same offensive game plan since 2018.
Green Bay Packers’ greatest strength
Let’s see. Which Rodgers-to-Adams stat split is most impressive? How about this one? Adams led the NFL with 405 yards on third-down receptions and finished second to Keenan Allen with 24 receptions for first downs.
Or, if you prefer red zone stats, Adams leads all receivers with 23 catches inside the 20-yard line and 14 red zone touchdowns.
You get the idea. In high leverage situations where teams want to stop Rodgers and Adams, they cannot stop Rodgers and Adams.
Green Bay Packers’ greatest weakness
The Packers inside linebacker tandem of Christian Kirksey and Krys Barnes may be the worst in the NFL. One result was that the Packers finished 28th in the NFL at covering opposing running backs in the passing game, per Football Outsiders.
Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine doesn’t do Kirksey, Barnes, or anyone else any favors when he rushes only three defenders. Asking Preston Smith to drop into coverage doesn’t help matters either.
What we learned about the Rams this week
Their secondary is truly elite. Setting aside D.K. Metcalf’s 51-yard touchdown when he slipped behind the coverage during a Wilson scramble, Seattle’s receivers combined for just eight catches for 117 yards on Saturday night. That’s even with the Seahawks playing from behind for most of the game.
Darious Williams has become the Larry Brown to Jalen Ramsey’s Deion Sanders. Williams jumps routes and produces pick-sixes when opponents play keep-away from Ramsey. Safeties Jordan Fuller and John Johnson are effective all-purpose defenders. Troy Hill does a fine job shutting down slot receivers. The Rams’ secondary matches up well against Davante Adams and the Perennial Disappointments.
Los Angeles Rams’ player to watch
The Chicago Bears allowed Leonard Floyd, the eighth overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, to walk as a free agent after four disappointing seasons. The Rams picked him up and were quietly rewarded with 10.5 sacks in the regular season.
Floyd notched two more sacks on Saturday night. He demonstrated that he had the athleticism to both chase Wilson down from behind and not get juked out by Wilson’s pump fakes. Look for Floyd to cause trouble for Billy Turner, David Bakhtiari’s replacement at left tackle.
Goff and Donald will almost certainly play against the Packers in this Divisional Round matchup. If Goff turns into Commander Numb Thumbs in what will probably be icy conditions and/or Donald is limited, the Packers will romp.
If Goff and Donald are close to 100%, the mismatch to watch is Sean McVay vs. Mike Pettine. If McVay finds and exploits the many leaks in the Packers’ defense while the Rams’ secondary contains Adams and shuts down everyone else, the Packers will be in for one of those games where the opponent rushes for 200 yards while Rodgers scowls at the sideline and daydreams about premium tequila.
It’s unlikely, but the fact that we have all seen examples of several such games means that it’s possible.
Early NFL Recap prediction: Green Bay Packers