The Journal Gazette
 
 
Saturday, January 16, 2021 1:00 am

Divisional playoff preview

Packers, Rams play to their strengths

Associated Press

No NFL team scored more points during the regular season than the Green Bay Packers. Nobody has played better defense than the Los Angeles Rams.

That sets up an intriguing showdown of strength vs. strength when MVP favorite Aaron Rodgers and the Packers (13-3) host All-Pro defensive tackle Aaron Donald and the Rams (11-6) in an NFC divisional playoff game today.

“This is what you love,” Rams coach Sean McVay said. “These are the type of matchups and opportunities that as a competitor, you can't wait for.”

Both of these units are at the top of their game.

The Packers have won six straight games and have been held below 22 points just once all season. Los Angeles got to this point by sacking Russell Wilson five times in a 30-20 victory at Seattle last week.

“They went to Seattle, played a familiar opponent and played really, really well, and they're coming in with the confidence that they should have,” Rodgers said. “And we're coming in with confidence as well, the season that we've had and what we believe we're capable of.”

Rodgers has set franchise single-season records for touchdown passes (48) and completion percentage (.707) this year while throwing just five interceptions for an offense scoring 31.8 points per game. Donald calls Rodgers a “great quarterback that's playing lights out this year.”

Donald leads a defense that allowed the fewest points and yards of any team during the regular season.

“At any time, at any quarter of the game, a different guy could make a big-time play for us,” Donald said. “It's not just one or two guys. When you've got a group of guys – all 11 out there – who are pretty much playmakers who can make that game-changing play at any time, you've got a great group.”

This will be the first time the NFL's top-ranked scoring offense and scoring defense have faced off in the postseason since the New England-Atlanta Super Bowl on Feb. 5, 2017. The Patriots had the top-ranked defense and the Falcons had the No. 1 offense that year.

This also will be the Rams' first playoff game at Lambeau Field. These two franchises have met in the postseason just twice before, with the Packers winning 28-7 in Milwaukee on Dec. 23, 1967, and the Rams winning 45-17 in St. Louis on Jan. 20, 2002.

John Wolford started at quarterback for the Rams against Seattle, but left early in the game with a neck stinger that will prevent him from playing today. That means the Rams will turn to Jared Goff, who is less than three weeks removed from thumb surgery.

The Rams' most important offensive players right now might be rookie running back Cam Akers and left tackle Andrew Whitworth. Although both are recovering from recent injuries, they're the keys to a revitalized ground game that racked up 164 yards rushing last week.

The Packers won't have All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in practice Dec. 31.

Green Bay's offensive line fared well without Bakhtiari in a 35-16 victory at Chicago to close the regular season, but his absence is more of a concern against a Rams team that led the NFL with 53 regular-season sacks.

Donald left the Seahawks game last week with injured ribs, but the Rams have expressed confidence the six-time All-Pro will play today. McVay said that “unless something unforeseen happens, the Terminator will be ready.”

“I feel good,” Donald said. “I feel strong. I'll be ready come Saturday.”

AFC: Ravens at Bills

Baltimore coach John Harbaugh was impressed by Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen's competitive fire after their first face-to-face encounter in an NFL setting.

It happened in the 2018 season opener, when the then-rookie Bills quarterback was shoved into the Ravens' sideline. Allen hopped up and exchanged words with players and Harbaugh before officials stepped in to separate everyone.

“He came up jawing and talking and shoving and pushing,” Harbaugh recalled as fifth-seeded Baltimore (12-5) prepares to face the AFC East champion Bills (14-3) in a divisional playoff tonight. “Rookie quarterback. Man, I love this guy.”

Allen blossomed into a star this season by setting numerous franchise passing and scoring records, while finishing fourth in the NFL in completing 69.2% of his passes – a 10.45% jump over last year.

An NFL MVP candidate, Allen is the key reason the Bills matched a franchise record in winning 13 regular-season games and clinched their first division title in 25 years.

Allen benefited from spending three years being groomed by offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, and the influx of talent brought in by GM Brandon Beane. The most notable addition this offseason was acquiring Stefon Diggs in a trade with Minnesota.

Buffalo is without rookie running back Zack Moss, who sustained a season-ending ankle injury last weekend. Coach Sean McDermott said T.J. Yeldon will take over the role behind Devin Singletary.

The Ravens are only the third team in NFL history to have three players top 700 yards rushing in a single season with Jackson (1,005 yards), rookie J.K. Dobbins (805) and Gus Edwards (723).

Schedule

Today

L.A. Rams at Green Bay, 4:35 p.m.

Baltimore at Buffalo, 8:15 p.m.

Sunday

Cleveland at Kansas City, 3 p.m.

Tampa Bay at New Orleans, 6:40 p.m.


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