After a 30-20 victory sent the Seattle Seahawks packing during Super Wild Card Weekend, the Los Angeles Rams must now face the NFC first-overall seed in the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field Saturday afternoon at 4:35 p.m. EST.
If the game history between the two teams is any indication, the football world should be in for a treat. Including postseason action, the Rams, dating back to 1937, lead the all-time series by the thinnest of margins (47-46-2). Despite this, both teams have only met twice in the postseason (Dec. 23, 1967 and Jan. 20, 2002). In their most recent playoff bout (if recent fits the description), the St. Louis Rams slaughtered the Packers, 45-17, due in large part to eight Green Bay turnovers.
While the 2001 Rams went on to lose in Super Bowl XXXVI to the New England Patriots, the team’s defense was an absolute force from start to finish. Specifically, the team allowed 17.1 points per game (which ranked seventh out of 31 NFL teams) and collected 34 opponent turnovers (which ranked ninth).
Fast forward to 2021, and the current rendition of the Rams, led by Sean McVay, show similar qualities to their counterparts 20 years their senior. This season, the Rams allowed 18.5 points per game, which ranked first among all NFL teams. The 22 turnovers scooped up by the Los Angeles defense, meanwhile, ranked 10th.
Nothing can be discussed about this stingy defense without bringing up perennial defensive tackle Aaron Donald, who has collected 13.5 sacks this season, tied for second among all NFL players (Trey Hendrickson of New Orleans). When adding in defensive backs Darious Williams, Troy Hill and Jordan Fuller (who have all collected at least three interceptions), the Rams possess a plethora of players who can diversify their scheming and coverage sets. The Rams also possess someone by the name of cornerback Jalen Ramsey, who has shut down top-caliber wide receivers this season, including D.K. Metcalf, DeAndre Hopkins and Mike Evans, among others.
Offensively, the Rams have not been the explosive unit that took the league by storm several years ago, as the team’s 23.3 points per game ranked 22nd out of all NFL teams. Heading into their road postseason matchup, the team will have to deal with health issues involving several high-caliber players (including offensive guard David Edwards and wide receiver Cooper Kupp). This is in addition to their dearth of healthy quarterbacks at the moment, as quarterback John Wolford (who started in the wild card game) is out after sustaining a neck injury. This will put more pressure on the Rams’ usual starter in Jared Goff, (still reeling from thumb surgery) and backup quarterback Blake Bortles.
Meanwhile, the Matt LaFleur-led Packers, fresh out of a postseason bye, will look to keep their offensive juggernaut going, as the team averaged 31.8 points per game during the regular season, first among all NFL teams.
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who tallied 4,299 passing yards for 48 touchdowns, picked up the best quarterback rating of his 16-year NFL career (121.5) since his 2011 MVP season (122.5). Davante Adams, Rodgers’ top receiving target, ignored the constant double and triple coverage all year and totaled a career-high 115 receptions for 1,374 receiving yards and 18 touchdowns (another career-high). To wrap up the triple-threat, Green Bay running back Aaron Jones rushed for a career-high 1,104 yards and pounded in nine rushing touchdowns.
Defensively, Green Bay allowed 23.1 points per game, which ranked 13th among all NFL teams. Leading the collective unit included the likes of Adrian Amos and Krys Barnes (who both collected at least 80 combined tackles), Darnell Savage Jr. (whose four interceptions led the team) and Za’Darius Smith (whose 12.5 sacks were tied for fourth among all NFL players).
Once you tally everything together, you have the top teams in the NFL’s entirety facing off in terms of defense (Los Angeles) and offense (Green Bay). Unfortunately for the Rams, they not only find themselves at a severe disadvantage when it comes to offense, but also in regard to health, as Green Bay is fully rested and primed to go after their first-round bye.
While Donald and Ramsey can certainly captain the defense to some stops, Rodgers will be too much in the air for the Rams to handle – in six career playoff starts at home, Rodgers has 13 touchdowns to only one interception. Sure, McVay will get creative, but at the end of the day, Rodgers will do what Rodgers does.
Prediction: Green Bay 31 – Los Angeles 16