Do Los Angeles Rams feel like a trap for the Green Bay Packers?
For all of you Green Bay Packers fans out there, this weekend might just be considered the true beginning of the season.
The 13-3 record compiled in 2019 might still be a disappointment as the Packers didn’t win the Super Bowl, or even get to that game after a loss to the 49ers in the NFC Championship game.
As a Detroit Lions fan, I would consider that the zenith of not quite 50 years of NFL fandom. But as a Packers fan, you of course have higher standards.
Another 13-3 regular season in 2020 was good for getting the best record in the conference, and therefore, the only wild-card bye in the NFC. That plus they get the “worst” team left in the conference — the No. 6-seeded Los Angeles Rams.
And they get to play them right in the cozy confines of Lambeau Field. With the way the weather is predicted, there could easily be snow around the stadium, if not on the field, when the game kicks off midafternoon Wisconsin time on Saturday.
So why do I — and by extension those of you with a real vested interest — have an uneasy feeling about this game?
Maybe it’s the collision of the No. 1-ranked offense of Green Bay with the No. 1 defense in the Rams. Somebody used the term “efficiency” with those units to make those ultimate rankings on TV the other day. I just go with it.
Will the Packers roll this Southern California team the same way they’ve been doing the past couple years to the Chicago Bears? I mean, the Rams and Bears are both not just defense-first, but probably closer to defense-only teams.
Or will L.A.’s Aaron Donald, Jalen Ramsey and Leonard Floyd wreak havoc on the Packers’ reconstituted offensive line, hounding MVP candidate quarterback Aaron Rodgers into looking only average? Remember what Tampa Bay’s defense did to that Green Bay unit in their midseason game that ended up 38-3.
In this strange coronavirus-themed year, just about anything seems possible, even as the Rams’ already-uninspiring offense limped into the playoffs with starting QB Jared Goff having a broken thumb. And backup John Wolford got knocked out early in last week’s game, albeit in a win over who some considered a Super Bowl-worthy team in the Seattle Seahawks.
They had to bring the one-thumbed Goff in to play most of the game and got the win.
With this introduction to the divisional, second round of the NFL playoffs, let’s take a look at the weekend lineup. Games are listed chronologically with conference, seeding, current record, time and TV network:
NFC No. 6 Los Angeles Rams (11-6) at No. 1 Green Bay (13-3), 4:35 p.m. Saturday, Fox — The kickoff to what will probably be the best overall weekend of the playoffs starts in what hasn’t been the Great White North this winter.
That might all change by game time, with a mild snowstorm that’s likely to miss the Upper Peninsula, instead aiming straight for the Fox River Valley from what I can see.
While all the attention, all the concentration and all the blather is focused on the Packers’ offense and the Rams’ defense, it’s just as important to consider what happens when L.A. has the ball.
And that should be the key to this game. Even though Green Bay’s defense isn’t exactly lights out, the Rams’ offense may make it look that way.
It’s an understatement to say Goff and Wolford both are dinged up. On Thursday, it was announced that Wolford is out and Goff will start. But how much can you expect out of a guy who, while struggling even when he’s healthy, can only do so much with a healing thumb on his throwing hand?
What is the alternative if Goff has to come out? Last week it was Wolford, who had never before taken a snap, let alone thrown a pass, in the NFL.
Wide receiver Cooper Kupp didn’t practice Wednesday with a bad knee, and even the seemingly invincible Donald on defense has some bad ribs.
For many of the same reasons that Kansas City blows past its opponents all the time, Rodgers & Co. might be able to put together one good quarter — heck, 10 good minutes — and score more than the Rams do the entire game. And I just can’t see Rodgers allowing his offense to implode, even if he gets harassed all game long, and letting the L.A. defense win all by itself.
So for that reason, I’ll take the Packers, 27-19.
AFC No. 5 Baltimore (12-5) at No. Buffalo (14-3), 8:15 p.m. Saturday, NBC — Other than the fact these are the only other playoff teams left in their conference outside of KC and Cleveland, these seem like the only AFC teams who could possibly hope to take down the vaunted Chiefs.
Baltimore is on a six-game winning streak, quickly lurching out of a 1-4 funk suffered at midseason. Of course, of the Ravens’ final five regular-season opponents, only Cleveland managed to get into the playoffs. The rest of the not-so-rouges’ gallery (Or were they rogues? What is a rouge?) were Dallas, Jacksonville, the New York Giants and Cincinnati, the wins over those four each by at least 14 points.
The Bills would be working on an 11-game winning streak — yes, 11 wins! — if it weren’t for the “Hail Murray” pass thrown by Arizona QB Kyler Murray at the end of the Cardinals’ 32-30 win on Nov. 15. Seattle and Pittsburgh were the only playoff teams among Buffalo’s final 10 regular-season opponents, though.
What’s worrisome was the struggle Buffalo had in getting past Indianapolis last weekend. That plus the fact it was the Bills’ first playoff win in a quarter century — yes, 25 years!
Looking at a few stats, I see Baltimore is ranked 32nd out of 32 NFL teams in passing yards per game. However that seems to be because they run so much, as their average yards per passing attempt is exactly the league average, 7.2, and even their completion percentage of 63.3 isn’t that far off the league average of 65.2.
There’s been some talk that Ravens QB Lamar Jackson has never played in snow before. Well, they’re talking about rain Friday night and less than an inch of snow on Saturday when temperatures will be above freezing.
I’ve been burned by stats before — padding your numbers against teams like Jacksonville doesn’t lend itself to playoff wins, does it? — but I like the matchup, so in the upset of the weekend, I’ll take the Ravens, 24-22.
AFC No. 6 Cleveland (12-5) at No. 1 Kansas City (14-2), 3:05 p.m. Sunday, CBS — OK, so the Browns beat their hated enemies, Pittsburgh, in back-to-back weeks. Washington was 1-0 against the Steelers, too. When I made the Packers’ offensive comparison to the Chiefs, it was for a reason. Patrick Mahomes & Co. regularly erase 20-point deficits in a quarter or less.
On the other hand, KC was on a 10-game winning streak before it ended in a meaningless end-of-the-regular season loss to the Chargers in Week 17. That’s the good part. The bad part is that in the final seven games of the win streak, every one of them was by six points or less. Two were over playoff teams, Tampa Bay and New Orleans, and both on the road.
But I say, if you can beat the Bucs or Saints by any margin, I like your chances against Cleveland.
Looking at the Browns, QB Baker Mayfield has had interception problems in the past. And while the Chiefs aren’t known in this era for their defense, one thing they can do is force turnovers as they had 22 this season.
Look for Mayfield to throw multiple picks and Mahomes to toss multiple TDs, so I’ll take the Chiefs, 33-20.
NFC No. 5 Tampa Bay (12-5) at No. 2 New Orleans (13-4), 6:40 p.m. Sunday, Fox — Until last weekend’s win over NFC “Least” winner Washington, the Bucs had a stunning contrast to their season — they were 10-0 against nonplayoff teams and 1-5 vs. teams that eventually got into the playoffs.
The “1”? As mentioned earlier, the 38-3 pounding of the Packers way back on Nov. 8. It didn’t make any difference if it was the Bears or the Chiefs, Tampa couldn’t beat ’em if they became playoff-worthy. Except Green Bay.
Oh well, everyone has to have an Achilles heel.
Drew Brees hasn’t had to check that leg part against the Bucs, but it’s also tempting fate to think New Orleans can beat Tom Brady’s team three times in the same season. I’ll go for it, though, with the Saints, 29-24.
Last week — 2-2, 50 percent.
Steve Brownlee can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is email@example.com.