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Playoff Game Preview

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NFC Divisional Round playoff preview: Rams at Packers

Viewers can watch the broadcast live on FOX/FOX Deportes at 4:35 p.m. ET on Saturday as well as stream live on the NFL App and Yahoo Sports app.

Rams vs. Packers: The Backstory

Four fingers help explain the 2020 story of two Cal quarterbacks suiting up for Saturday's postseason bout at Lambeau field. 

Aaron Rodgers' MVP-worthy season began to coalesce back in April during the 2020 NFL Draft when the Green Bay Packers selected his eventual replacement, Jordan Love. The QB famously said after finding out about the pick, he poured himself "four fingers" of tequila to get through the night.

 Those four fingers of liquid stimulus were the beginning of a scorching hot campaign for Rodgers, who is the favorite to bring home the AP Most Valuable Player award. Rodgers' 2020 season is the fifth in NFL history in which a player had 40-plus passing touchdowns and a 115-plus passer rating; each of the prior four won MVP (including Rodgers once). 

Rodgers led the NFL with 48 passing TDs and a 121.5 passer rating this season, the first player in the last 10 seasons to lead the league outright in both metrics. Comfortable in Matt LaFleur's system in his second year, we saw a more patient Rodgers than the past few years, willing to dice up defenses, seemingly lulling them to sleep before taking his shots. 

With dynamite sidekicks in Aaron Jones and Davante Adams, Rodgers exploited defenses with play-action, picking apart coverage weak spots. Under LaFleur's guidance, the Packers used play-action on 28.2% of drop-backs and threw 20 TDs on such plays, the most scores on play-action for any QB in the past five seasons.  

The Packers' defense was up and down through the season, but played better down the stretch. Through it all, Rodgers dismantled opponents with the precision of a bomb technician. 

Saturday afternoon, Rodgers faces his toughest test of the year, going up against the NFL's No. 1 defense, which includes two-time AP Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald and corner Jalen Ramsey. Saturday will be Rodgers' third career postseason game versus the No. 1 pass defense. He lost the past two outings versus such clubs (2014 NFC Championship Game at Seattle, 2019 NFC Championship Game at San Francisco).

Last season's 13-3 Packers record was lipstick on a pig, masking issues for a team that got walloped by better clubs, including in the postseason. The 2020 version of LaFleur's squad is better suited to compete versus the elite, best of the best.

For Jared Goff, we're starting at the end when discussing the quarterback having just four healthy fingers on his throwing hand.

Goff's fractured right thumb suffered in Week 16 that required surgery to insert pins thrust question marks under center heading into Saturday's bout. The Cal product didn't start last week's game due to the injury, with Sean McVay electing to ride AAF Hotshot John Wolford. When Wolford suffered a stinger that required a hospital visit, Goff was back under center.

The high-priced QB managed the offense last week, not making a costly error, allowing the defense to do the heavy lifting in the win.

With Wolford officially ruled out, the onus falls on to Goff, who gutted through last week's game, to improve three weeks out from undergoing surgery. In the cold of Green Bay, with four good fingers on his throwing hand, the QB can't afford the ghastly errors that have plagued his season for stretches.

The Rams offense has been an up and down affair all season with Goff at the helm. One week it looked like it found a formula that worked (vs. New England); the next, it stubbed its toe and faceplanted (vs. New York Jets). Which crew will show up Sunday in Green Bay?

Luckily for McVay, new defensive coordinator Brandon Staley guided the NFL's best defense, which has bamboozled and flummoxed opponents. The two-high defensive approach has squashed passing games. The scheme helps, but having studs like Ramsey, Darious Williams, Troy Hill, John Johnson and Jordan Fuller on the back end helps turn a good plan into a great product. It's also beneficial to have the world's best defensive player in Donald, a career year from Leonard Floyd and Michael Brockers et al. dominating upfront.

The Rams boast a defense that can win games outright, needing the offense not to screw up. With uncertainty at quarterback once again, McVay will need the D to carry the load once again. This time they face the MVP favorite.

Under Pressure

Packers offensive line: Aaron Donald dealing with a rib cartilage tear is like the Hulk handling a broken pinky. Don't expect the painful injury to slow down the best defensive player in the NFL. Donald can still dismantle interior offensive lines. If the Packers try to test the two-time DPOY's health with single blocks, Rodgers could wind up on his back plenty. The Packers, led by All-Pro center Corey Linsley, have their hands full with Donald. Equally pressing is how Green Bay replaces David Bakhtiari at left tackle. The O-line held up in Week 17 sans one of the league's best left tackles. Facing the Rams is a different beast. Rick Wagner's knees are still hurting after a week off and he's been limited in practice, but, regardless, there is no fully replacing the game's best pass-blocking left tackle. If the line crumbles in front of Rodgers, the rest of the offense would be in jeopardy of sinking.

Rams run game: With a less-than 100 percent QB at the helm in Goff, the Rams run game must carry the load. Cam Akers should be the focal point of the offense once again. When Cam can hit the line at full-speed, the rookie is a rocket tunneling his way through space. Last week, Akers' 176 scrimmage yards were the second-most by a rookie in a playoff game in the Super Bowl era. L.A. needs a repeat performance. The Packers' run defense has been susceptible this season, allowing 100-plus yards rushing 11 times. The Rams offensive line, which looked better last week with Andrew Whitworth back in the lineup, will need to create creases for Akers to exploit. The Rams' game plan entering Sunday should be the same as every other team that has been successful against Green Bay this season: Run the ball, milk the clock, keep Rodgers on the sideline, and punch the ball into the end zone. In their three losses this season, the Packers have given up an average of 157 yards on the ground. That's the goal for Akers and McVay on Saturday. McVay is a master at coaching around his QB. With Goff's thumb injury, Saturday might be the coach's biggest test at managing a high-pressure game.

Matchup to watch

Packers WRDavante Adams vs. Rams CB Jalen Ramsey: Best on best. My No. 1 vs. Your No. 1. This is like Captain America vs. Iron Man, Sampras vs. Agassi, Petty vs. Pearson, Beth Harmon vs. Vasily Borgov. However, you'd prefer to slice it, these are the best at what they do.

Saturday's contest gives us perhaps the best matchup we will see all playoffs when the best route runner in the league faces off against the NFL's stingiest corner. I've already broken down their superlatives this week, so we don't need to plow worn ground. Just know: Adams is THE BEST receiver in the game at getting off the line of scrimmage. Ramsey is the best at gluing to receivers and forcing the ball to be thrown elsewhere.

Keep an eye on how much the two actually go one-on-one. The Rams' two-deep scheme could also roll coverages toward Adams. The Packers receiver has done less of his damage against two-safety looks than single-high coverage this season. For their part, Green Bay could utilize Adams out of the slot more this week, a place Ramsey doesn't always venture.

Styles make fights, and when these two do go heads-up, the viewing world will be in for a treat.

Final thought

It's no small thing that the Packers secured the right for the road through the NFC to run through Green Bay. The cold weather should play to the home team's advantage Saturday against the club from Southern California. As previously stated regarding the times Rodgers has lost in the playoffs to No. 1 rated pass defenses, note that both were on the road. Also, this tidbit of trivia is fun if you're a Packers fan: The 26-year-old Goff has a 34.5 career passer rating in two games below 35 degrees in his career. There might not be 80,000 screaming fans, but there will be home field enough for Green Bay.

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