The top-seeded Green Bay Packers (13-3) begin their postseason run after a bye week with a good test from the Los Angeles Rams (11-6), who are coming off a 30-20 wild card win in Seattle. Remember to check their NFL odds.
Los Angeles Rams vs. Green Bay Packers
Saturday, January 16, 2021 – 04:35 PM EDT at Lambeau Field
This is a classic great offense vs. great defense matchup. The Packers, led by probable MVP Aaron Rodgers, scored the most points this year while the Rams, led by Aaron Donald, allowed the fewest points in the league. Defenses tend to have the upper hand in these matchups come playoff time, including a 6-1 record in Super Bowls, but they are only 3-5 against the top offense in the earlier playoff rounds since 1970. The Packers have played more consistent team football than the Rams this season, which is why they are a 7-point favorite on most NFL betting sites.
The 2020 Rams Are Not the 2011 Giants
One narrative for this game is that the Rams can go into Lambeau Field and pull off the kind of upset the Giants did to Green Bay in the 2011 season, the only other time the Packers had the No. 1 seed in the Aaron Rodgers era.
There are many problems with this comparison, but the main one is that the 2020 Rams are a much different team than the 2011 Giants. Despite the presence of head coach Sean McVay and the size of Jared Goff’s contract, the Rams are carried by their defense this season. The 2011 Giants were carried by Eli Manning, who had his best season, and won a lot of close, high-scoring games. The defense was actually terrible until the playoffs where they went on another improbable run to a championship.
The Rams were just in the Super Bowl two years ago, but they only scored a field goal against the Patriots and lost. Goff has declined since then and he is not even 100% healthy at this point as he recovers from thumb surgery. He had to take over on Saturday after new starter John Wolford injured his neck.
It is safe to assume the veteran Goff will start this game for McVay, but the coach is being coy about naming his starter. Maybe both quarterbacks will play again, but either way, the Rams are really going to have to find a way to score more points on offense in this matchup. You cannot rely on getting a defensive return touchdown for the sixth time in eight games against a Green Bay offense that had a league-low 11 giveaways. The Rams have not scored more than 23 offensive points in their last five games.
While the Rams finished No. 1 in points allowed, they were only No. 22 in points scored, the third-lowest ranking since 1970 for a top-scoring defense. Two great defensive teams with similar profiles, the 2002 Buccaneers (No. 18 offense) and 2008 Steelers (No. 20 offense) won Super Bowls, but it is hard to do things this way.
Another potential problem for Goff is the weather. It could only be around 20 degrees on Saturday. Goff is from California and has only played in two NFL games under 30 degrees. Against the 2018 Bears, he threw four interceptions in a 15-6 loss.
Fortunately, Green Bay’s defense has been mediocre this season and struggled with some running backs (namely Dalvin Cook). That sounds great for the Rams, who love play-action passing to their two wideouts, creating YAC, and rookie back Cam Akers just rushed for 131 yards on the Seahawks. However, the Titans had a similar plan with their offense and only scored 14 points in the snow in Green Bay. The Packers have held four of their last five opponents to fewer than 17 points.
Green Bay coach Matt LaFleur was McVay’s offensive coordinator with the Rams in 2017. These two know each other well. So far in his career, LaFleur is 27-7 and the Packers have allowed at least 26 points in all seven losses. The Rams have to be thinking about that scoring range as the minimum for a win this week, but that will be tough with Goff’s health and shortcomings, as well as the knee injury situation to monitor with Cooper Kupp. Jaire Alexander is a Pro Bowl cornerback who could lock up Robert Woods on the outside.
Packers: Will Another Offensive Juggernaut Flop in the Playoffs?
It is unlikely that the Rams will be the toughest opponent the Packers see this postseason, but there should always be some caution when an offensive juggernaut meets the stingiest defense in January. The 12 teams with the most points scored in NFL history have won zero championships. That is one of the most stunning facts about professional football, over 100 years into the league now.
Fortunately, the 2020 Packers finished 20th with 509 points this year. They finished one point behind the 2009 Saints, the only team in the last 20 years to finish first in scoring and win a Super Bowl. In the last 20 seasons, the No. 1 scoring offense is as likely to lose its first playoff game (seven times) as it is to get to a Super Bowl (1-6 record). Kurt Warner, with the 1999 Rams, is the last player to win the MVP award and Super Bowl in the same season, so that is an ominous sign for the Packers and Rodgers given the high expectations they have this year.
The Packers have been bounced from the playoffs five times since 2012 by physical NFC West teams. The Rams absolutely have the type of defense to slow the Packers down. Aaron Donald has a rib injury to monitor, but if he is healthy enough to play, he is the most disruptive defensive linemen in the league and can get that crucial interior pressure on Rodgers, who has enjoyed the best pass protection this season. That protection will be tested with the loss of star left tackle David Bakhtiari. The Packers made up for his loss just fine in Week 17 against the Bears, but the Rams have to view that unfortunate injury as an advantage in this matchup.
The matchup defensive coordinator Brandon Staley would be foolish not to feature is having All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey shadow and cover All-Pro wideout Davante Adams as much as possible on Saturday. Adams does everything well and had a career-high 18 touchdowns in just 14 games this season. Adams also had 1,374 receiving yards while no one else on the Packers had 700 yards. He is crucial to this offense and Ramsey will have to live up to his great season where he only allowed 5.0 yards per target in coverage according to Pro Football Reference.
It is not that Green Bay lacks other skill players. Aaron Jones is a good back and tight end Robert Tonyan caught 88.1% of his targets this year. It is the fact that Rodgers has always been a quarterback who thrives best when throwing to his wide receivers, and Adams is so clearly above the rest of this corps. Marquez Valdes-Scantling can make big plays down the field, but his drops and mistakes have slowed the offense down at times this year too. Ramsey must win the matchup with Adams to keep the Packers under that 24-point mark to give the offense a chance in this one.
I trust the Rams defense enough to think this game will be interesting through the fourth quarter. I do not think the defense, which lost to the 0-13 Jets in case you forgot, is great enough or on a 2002 Buccaneers or 2015 Broncos level to power them through this game to an upset win.
The best and most comparable offense to Green Bay that the Rams have faced this year is Buffalo. The Bills shredded them in Week 3 in a 35-32 win that saw Goff almost pull off a 25-point comeback had the referees not made a brutal penalty call on a fourth down. That feels like eons ago when the Rams offense could score 32 points in a game. In this cold weather, I just do not see him having an Eli Manning moment here. At least Manning had past playoff success. Goff has thrown three touchdowns in five playoff games.
If I had to pick a Green Bay game this season that this one may look most similar to, I would pick the 24-16 win over Carolina in Week 15. Green Bay jumped out to a 21-3 win, but seemingly out of nowhere, the Panthers found a pass rush and sacked Rodgers five times to make things interesting. Green Bay was throwing very short, quick passes and looked to be concerned with the protection. The Rams could get them into that kind of game again. Green Bay held on in the end, which I see happening here as well in a 24-16 win where the Packers will get the cover at the top sportsbooks.
*The pick reflects the line at the moment the writer made the play, the odds at the beginning of this article show the live line movement. Since the lines might vary, don’t forget to refer back to our live odds.