Los Angeles Rams vs. Green Bay Packers: Matchups, prediction for likely playoff preview

Matthew Stafford and the Los Angeles Rams visit Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers in the biggest game of NFL Week 12.

The Green Bay Packers (8-3) are the NFC’s No. 2 seed and haven’t lost at home all year. The Los Angeles Rams (7-3) have a super team, but thanks to their current two-game losing streak, they would need to win at least two road games to reach the Super Bowl if the season ended today. So the intrigue is thick in this 97th edition of a rivalry that stretches back to 1937. The all-time series is tied 47-47-2, with the Packers taking six of the last seven meetings.

Los Angeles Rams offense vs. Green Bay Packers defense

What in the world is going on with Sean McVay’s offense? After averaging 30.6 points in their first eight games, the Rams have scored just 26 in their last two. Turnovers (4 in LA’s last two games) tell part of the story, but not all of it. The Rams have also been brutal on third downs (7-of-25) and in the red zone (2-of-7). Pass protection has been another issue. Matthew Stafford has been sacked 7 times and hit 15 times during Los Angeles’ skid.


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But it’s not like the Packers have been on their game either. Last week was probably Green Bay’s worst defensive performance of the season. In a late loss to the Minnesota Vikings, Joe Barry’s group surrendered 34 points — including 10 in the final 2:17 — 25 first downs and conversions on 9 of 13 third downs. It was an inevitable regression for a group that has had warning signs for a while. While Green Bay’s top-line stats are good — seventh in yards per game (318.8) and sixth in yards per play (5.2) — it has been a far-below average third-down (45%) and red-zone (73.3%) defense.

Matthew Stafford vs. Packers defense

Even after two absolute stinkers, Stafford still has a legit shot to win MVP. He’s first in QBR (67.9), third in yards per attempt (8.3) and touchdowns (24), fourth in passer rating (106.1), and fifth in EPA + CPOE (0.15).

It should be like old times for the Packers, who are facing Stafford for the 21st time Sunday. Stafford’s Lions lost 13 of the previous 20 meetings, and his 20 interceptions in those games were a contributing factor. Still, his career numbers against Green Bay — 61.5%, 37 touchdowns, 7.5 yards per attempt, 89.9 passer rating — aren’t terrible. The Packers rank fifth this year in yards allowed per pass (6.1) and ninth in interception rate (2.9%).

Advantage: Stafford

Rams weapons vs. Packers defensive backs

Odell Beckham Jr. should be locked into McVay’s system and Stafford’s timing after two more weeks of work. Expect a much larger role than he had in his Rams debut (15 snaps, 3 targets, 2 catches for 18 yards). Robert Woods averaged nearly 8 targets per game before his freak injury, so someone needs to pick up the slack. Beckham makes the most sense. It’s not like Cooper Kupp can do much more than he has (85 catches for 1,141 yards and 10 touchdowns on 116 targets).

It was a rough Week 11 for the Packers’ secondary. Standout rookie Eric Stokes was OK but not great, allowing 4 of 6 passes thrown his way to be completed for 46 yards, including a touchdown. But he was better than Kevin King, who continues to have defensive lapses and is unlikely to play Sunday due to hip and knee injuries. Rasul Douglas got turned around on the game’s most important play, letting Adam Thielen get behind him for a big gain that set up the Vikings’ game-winning kick.

Advantage: Rams

Rams offensive line vs. Packers front seven

The Rams’ ability to protect Stafford had been one of the most consistent parts of a totally unpredictable NFL through the first two months. But in losses to the Titans and 49ers, Stafford saw way too much pressure. The group — from left to right, Andrew Whitworth, David Edwards, Brian Allen, Austin Corbett, and Rob Havenstein — has had two weeks to figure it out. The Rams still have the league’s fourth-best sack rate (4.1%), although they rank 23rd in yards per carry (4.0).

The Packers can be run on. They’ve allowed 4.4 yards per carry this season and their goal-to-go defense (77.3%) is bad. Still, they do get after the quarterback with frequency (6.8%) and have two stud outside linebackers in Rashan Gary (5.5 sacks, 19 quarterback hits, and 3 tackles for loss) and Preston Smith (5, 10, 5). If the Packers can ever get Za’Darius Smith back, they might be the favorites to lift the Lombardi. There is some uncertainty if Gary will play Sunday due to an elbow injury.

Advantage: Push

Green Bay Packers offense vs. Los Angeles Rams defense

Don’t blame the offense for the Packers’ Week 11 loss. They held up their end of the bargain, scoring 31 points, gaining 467 yards (including 8.6 per play), and protecting the football. It was probably the best game of the season for Matt LaFleur’s group. Now let’s see if they can do it consistently.

Last Sunday was just the third time all season the Packers have scored 30+ points in a game. Green Bay is middle of the pack in yards per play (5.7) and points per game (22.5), but they’re third in EPA play (0.11).

The advanced stats also like the Rams’ defense (ninth in EPA per play, 0.004). And despite giving up 59 points during their two-game losing streak, the Rams’ defense played pretty well in those games. The group was just put in tough situations.

The Titans and 49ers combined for just 529 yards (4.4 per play) and their 8 touchdowns came on a total of 365 yards of offense. The Rams still entered Week 12 ranking ninth in yards per play allowed (5.3) and had the NFL’s No. 11 red-zone defense.

Aaron Rodgers vs. Rams defense

Aaron Rodgers made a contribution to our national discourse this week by introducing the phrase “COVID toe.” But no joke: His broken pinkie toe is in a considerable amount of discomfort, so much so that he didn’t practice a down this week. Nevertheless, he’s expected to play Sunday.

Don’t presume that an injured Rodgers is a significantly diminished Rodgers. He still rung up the Vikings for 385 yards and 4 touchdowns in Week 11. Recent history suggests Rodgers — even at less than 100% — will have the edge Sunday.

He fileted the Rams for 296 yards and 2 touchdowns on 23-of-36 passing in the Divisional Round of the 2020 playoffs. The dagger? A 58-yard touchdown bomb to Allen Lazard late in regulation. The Rams bit on play-action, Lazard split Troy Hill and Jordan Fuller and went untouched for the game-clinching touchdown. Fuller remains the Rams’ starting strong safety while Hill left via free agency earlier this year.

Advantage: Rodgers

Packers weapons vs. Rams defensive backs

AJ Dillion got the promotion with Aaron Jones out with a knee injury against the Vikings, and the Packers didn’t seem to miss a beat. Dillon totaled 97 yards on 17 touches and had the second-most receptions on the team (6) behind workhorse Davante Adams (7).

Marquez Valdes-Scandling had a crazy stat line: 10 targets, 4 catches, 123 yards, and a touchdown. That tracks with his season production (43.3% catch rate, 8.6 yards per target). He’s boom or bust. As for Jones, he’s officially questionable to play Sunday.

We’re here for the Davante Adams vs. Jalen Ramsey matchup Sunday and hope we get it for 70 snaps. Ramsey has been as good as advertised again this year, breaking up more than 1 out of every 6 passes thrown his way and leading the Rams with 3 interceptions.

Darious Williams should be totally healthy after missing three games with an ankle injury. The touchdowns surrendered by the Rams’ secondary have largely been on their safeties. Taylor Rapp has given up 3 scores while Fuller has allowed 2.

Advantage: Push

Packers offensive line vs. Rams defensive front

Starting tackle Elgton Jenkins is out for the season with a torn ACL, and David Bakhtiari recently had another procedure on his surgically repaired knee. That means it’s Yosh Nijman time at left tackle for a Packers offensive line that ranks 17th in yards per carry (4.2) and 14th in sack rate (6.0%).

That group held up pretty well vs. Minnesota, surrendering 2 sacks and 4 quarterback hits to one of the league’s best pass-rushing teams.

The Rams have the fifth-stingiest defense in terms of yards per carry and sack the quarterback at a higher rate than all but five NFL teams. They’re a really, really good front that’s been a handful for years. And there’s a chance the best is yet to come.

We still haven’t seen what Von Miller can do with rest, health, and knowledge of the system. Your weekly reminder that Aaron Donald is absurdly good, courtesy of the Rams’ PR department: “Since the start of the 2014 season, Donald leads the league in tackles for loss, tallying 140 in 120 games played, including 9 TFLs during the 2021 regular season.”

Advantage: Rams

Betting line and game prediction

The Packers are 1-point favorites at home, and the line rightly reflects just how close these teams are. They’re third and fourth in offensive EPA/play (with the Packers owning a slight edge) and ninth and 13th in defensive EPA/play (with the Rams the better group). We simply can’t see the Rams losing three in a row, but this is a true coin flip game.

Rams vs. Packers Prediction: Rams 31, Packers 27


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