The NFL’s decision to expand its playoff format for the 2020 season is already paying dividends for the league. Super Wild Card Weekend provided fans with six competitive games, a few upsets, and eight teams now remain with hopes of lifting the Lombardi Trophy on Feb. 7 in Tampa Bay.
The defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs will begin their title defense against the Cleveland Browns, while MVP favorite Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers play host to Aaron Donald and the Los Angeles Rams. After winning their first playoff game since 1995, the Buffalo Bills host the Baltimore Ravens, while Drew Bree’s and the New Orleans Saints square off against Tom Brady and the red-hot Tampa Bay Buccaneers to cap off the divisional round. Although the COVID-19 pandemic remains a threat to disrupt the playoffs, each of the eight remaining teams survived the wild card weekend, with the Super Bowl now in clear view.
Division Round Preview: Los Angeles Rams at Green Bay Packers
Date: Saturday January 16 at 4:35 p.m. ET
How to watch: Live on DAZN
This matchup is already shaping up to be a classic, pitting the Packers’ top-ranked scoring offense against the Rams’ league-best scoring defense. Rodgers is the presumptive MVP favourite and Davante Adams rightfully earned a first-team All-Pro selection, while Donald should lock up his third Defensive Player of the Year award, as Jalen Ramsey and the Rams’ secondary will be swarming for turnovers. Simply, this is the type of game we’ve been waiting for all year.
Rodgers doesn’t need much external motivation but was reportedly incensed when the Packers selected quarterback Jordan Love in the first round of the 2020 draft. Instead of brooding, Rodgers submitted one of the greatest seasons of all-time — his 2011 MVP campaign is the only one in his catalogue that’s comparable — throwing for a league-best 48 touchdowns against five interceptions, while forming the NFL’s most dangerous QB-WR combo with Adams. Marquez Valdes-Scantling emerged as a solid No. 2 option, while tight end Robert Tonyan posted 11 touchdowns. Rodgers also benefited from playing behind the NFL’s best offensive line, featuring first-team All-Pros David Bakhtiari and Corey Linsley.
It’s not the juiciest storyline, but how the Rams’ defensive line fares against the Packers’ offensive line may dictate this matchup. Donald is an otherworldly force, but he will undergo an MRI on a rib injury incurred against the Seahawks, and though it would take a season-ending ailment to keep him out, his effectiveness may be diminished. Although the Rams’ secondary will be tested by Rodgers, who is at the top of his game, it’s a deep unit well-equipped to slow the Packers down. Ramsey will likely shadow Adams, Darious Williams — who was arguably the best player on the field against the Seahawks — will take Valdes-Scantling, while safeties John Johnson and Jordan Fuller are quietly among the best tandems in the NFL.
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Jared Goff returned to action after John Wolford was taken to the hospital Saturday with a neck injury. Goff underwent thumb surgery on Dec. 28 and in an ideal world shouldn’t even be playing, but he rallied his team to a 30-20 victory. Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp are two of the best receivers after the catch and knowing that Goff’s velocity is significantly diminished, the Packers will be able to mix up man and zone coverage as freely as they’d like. Cam Akers rushed for 131 yards and a touchdown against the Seahawks, and could loom large for the Rams again, but they’ll have to get the passing game going to keep pace with Rodgers.