NFL

NFC Divisional Round Matchup Previews and Predictions

Two of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history Drew Brees (9) of the Saints and Tom Brady (12) of the Buccaneers share a few words of encouragement after the regular season game between the New Orleans Saints and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on November 08, 2020 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida.
Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

After an exciting wild card weekend, eight teams remain in the NFL postseason. Wildcard Weekend lived up to the hype as four of the six games were won by the lower seed. As the top two seeds are now entering the brackets, here are the previews and predictions for the two NFC divisional games.

Los Angeles Rams vs. Green Bay Packers

 Strong safety John Johnson #43 of the Los Angeles Rams tackles running back Aaron Jones #33 of the Green Bay Packers in the first quarter at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on October 28, 2018 in Los Angeles, California.
Photo by John McCoy/Getty Images

Spread: Green Bay Packers, -6.5

After upsetting the Seahawks in the wildcard game, the Rams will face the No. 1 seed Green Bay Packers in the divisional game. Based on the dominant performance in the wildcard game, the Packers should be wary of the in-form Rams.

Rams came out firing against the Seahawks, and it paid off. They frustrated Seattle early on, as the Seahawks had net yardage of just 11 yards through their first three drives. The Rams defense came up big with a pick-6 as well as five sacks on the day. The constant pressure in Russell Wilson’s face created unforced errors on Wilson’s behalf. Jalen Ramsey, Darious Williams, and Jordan Fuller were just a few of the players in the Rams secondary that did a fantastic job of limiting the Seahawks passing game.

The Rams survived a scare when quarterback John Wolford sustained a neck injury that knocked him out of the game. Starting quarterback Jared Goff stepped in and did the job, throwing for 155 yards and a touchdown. However, there was cause for concern after watching Goff play with his damaged thumb.

Goff’s Performance

On paper, Goff had a solid and efficient game. However, watching the game, it was clear that Goff was barely half the quarterback he normally is. Six of Goff’s nine completions were for less than ten yards. His two largest completions were a 44-yard pass to Cooper Kupp and a 44-yard completion to Cam Akers. On the Akers completion, the former Florida State back got 40 yards after the catch after Goff’s short check-down. On the Kupp reception, Goff clearly was feeling some pain as he visibly underthrew the pass. 

This type of play was expected of Goff, who was less than two weeks removed from surgery. However, such conservative play-calling versus the Packers may not be enough for the Rams to get a win. The Rams can only hope Goff’s thumb significantly heals before the game.

Packers Preview for Divisional Round

The Packers enter this game aftering enjoying Wildcard Weekend from their couches at home. After finishing first in the NFC North, the Packers received a first round bye. 

It is impossible to preview the Packers without starting with quarterback Aaron “Bad Man” Rodgers. In year 15, Rodgers had arguably his best year yet. His 70.7% completion percentage and 48 touchdowns were both career highs. His 121.5 passer rating was the second-best single-season rating in the history of the league. To say he had a phenomenal season would be an understatement.

While Rodgers enjoys the majority of the credit (for a good reason), he certainly had his fair share of help surrounding him. Receiver Davante Adams continued to make a strong case that he is the best receiver in the league with another record-setting year. His 18 receiving touchdowns led the league, and that total is tied for the third-most receiving touchdowns in a single season ever. Running back Aaron Jones is also a major piece on offense.

Injury Concerns and Defensive Preview

It should be noted that the Packers will be without starting left tackle David Bakhtiari when they face off with the Rams. Bakhtiari suffered a torn ACL in practice just before the New Year. The highest-paid offensive lineman in NFL history, Bakhtiari allowed just one sack in 12 games started this year.

The Packers defense ranks in the middle of the pack in most statistical categories. Outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith is the primary playmaker of the Packers’ front seven as he finished the season with 12.5 sacks. In the secondary, safety Darnell Savage led the team with four interceptions. 

The Packers defense ranks 7th-worst in forcing turnovers. The offense has been stellar enough to overshadow this lack of playmaking up until this point in the season. However, the Rams are a fundamentally sound team, and the Packers will need to make plays to get the upper hand this Saturday.

Key Matchup: Jalen Ramsey vs. Davante Adams

While he has been one of the most controversial players in the league, Ramsey continues to back it up with stellar play. According to Pro Football Focus, Ramsey allowed only 0.53 yards per snap in coverage during the regular season, the second-lowest average in the league. According to the NFL Next Gen Stats, Ramsey held Seahawks top receiver, D.K Metcalf, to 3 receptions for 33 yards on seven targets.

It is a well-known fact that Adams is Rodgers’ go-to guy. The wide receiver depth behind Adams is not substantial, one of the weaknesses that the Packers neglected to address in last year’s draft. Adams is too talented to be limited to absolutely zero production. However, if Ramsey can limit him to a mediocre game, the Packers will struggle to move the football against the stout Rams defense.

Prediction: Packers win, 24-13

New Orleans Saints vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Michael Thomas #13 of the New Orleans Saints scores a touchdown as Vernon III Hargreaves #28 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defends during the first half of a game at the Mercedes Benz Superdome on October 06, 2019 in New Orleans, Louisiana.
Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

Spread: New Orleans Saints, -3

The NFL playoffs have produced yet another divisional matchup as the Buccaneers will face the Saints for the third time this season. There is some legendary history between the two quarterbacks, and they will meet yet again with all the marbles on the line this time.

There will be multiple records broken with the meeting between Saints quarterback Drew Brees and Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady.

 “The matchup between the two will be the highest combined age for the two quarterbacks in a playoff game. It will be the most career passing yards among two quarterbacks in a playoff game as well as the most combined career passing touchdowns in a playoff game.

via Frank Schwab, Yahoo Sports

The Bucs are fresh off an eight-point win over the Washington Football Team in the Wildcard Game. In what was a closer game than expected, Brady and Co. pulled ahead at the end, but not without a fight. The Tampa’s offensive line did a great job of protecting Brady, giving up just three sacks to the stellar Washington defensive line.

Washington quarterback Taylor Heinicke totaled 352 yards from scrimmage to go with two total touchdowns. He had no issues working the Buccaneers secondary, which surrendered six receptions of 15 yards or more. Tampa seemed content to keep everything in front of them, allowing the Washington receiver to gain yardage in chunks. Despite an interception from Tampa corner Sean Murphy-Bunting, Tampa’s secondary will need to step up its game before a meeting against the Saints.

Saints Recap and Preview

The Saints also played their own wildcard game this past weekend. They defeated the Chicago Bears 21-9 on their home turf. The Saints defense stepped up big time against Chicago and took some pressure off of the offense for a game. New Orleans defensive line held the Chicago rushing attack to just 48 yards. The Bears’ offense was 1-10 on third down efficiency while the Saints offense was 11-17. The Saints outclassed the Bears from the get-go, and it was evident who the better team was.

New Orleans appears to have the Bucs number after sweeping the regular-season series 2-0. The Saints picked off Brady five times between the two games. Brady had a clean pocket during at least four of the five interceptions. However, some poor decision-making and miscommunications between Brady and his receivers led to key turnovers, which turned the tide of the game.

Key Matchup: Buccaneers Offensive Line vs. Saints Defensive Line

Similar to the wildcard game, the game will come down to who can get to the quarterback better. As mentioned above, the Bucs gave up just three sacks against Washington. It was evident as Brady had time to sit in the pocket and carve up the secondary using his impressive array of weapons. The Saints managed just one sack against a very average Bears offensive line.

Despite a lack of production in their first playoff game, the Saints have a very talented defensive line. Edge rusher Trey Hendrickson finished second in the league with 13.5 sacks this season. Cam Jordan finished with 7.5 sacks and is a six-time Pro Bowler. The Saints will need these two to show up big time to disrupt Tampa’s passing attack. While the Buccaneers look like the better team, it appears the Saints have Brady’s number this year.

Prediction: Saints win, 35-31

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