NFL Divisional round 2021 – Saturday

Evaluating both the Packers and Rams based on the entirety of the season is easy enough but it’s also hardly relevant as the teams who will actually turn out today are not exactly the same the teams who have taken the field all season long.

The Rams ended the season 10-6 and 4 of those losses were on the road, the Packers on the other hand ended the season with just 3 losses in total and the only home loss came way back in week 8 to the Vikings.  In that game the teams were level at halftime with 14 points apiece but the Vikings siezed the initiative in the third quarter as they scored 2 more touchdowns and prevented the Packers scoring until the 4th Quarter. 

Playing with a lead is vital for the Rams since that will allow them to lean heavily on their run game and try to dominate time of posession as they did last week against the Seahawks (32:57 to 26:14).  All 3 of the games the Packers have lost ths season have involved the opposition running all over them, the Colts allowed the Packers to score 21 points in the second quarter and still beat them in Overtime on the back of 140 rushing yards, when the Vikings won at Lambeau Dalvin Cook racked up 163 of the Vikes 173 yards and the Buccaneers beat them in Tampa Bay as they carried the ball 158 yards on the ground. 

The Packers have allowed on average 4.5 yards per carry over the course of the season and Rams running back Cam Akers has averaged 4.3 yards per carry and in worse news for the Packers the Rams other two backs Darrell Henderson and Malcolm Brown have averaged 4.5 yards and 4.1 yards per game respectively so it’s safe to say this team is built to play Playoff football (probably because they’ve got Andrew Whitworth and Rob Havenstein in the Offensive line who I absolutely love). 

The Packers Offence is largely Aaron Rodgers and whatever magic he can conjure up with Aaron Jones and Devante Adams as his glamourous assistants and in 2020 they have been very succesful at pulling rabbits out of hats.  Rodgers has thrown 48 touchdowns with just 5 interceptions and was the consensus MVP in the regular season.  However Rodgers has been allowed to conjure a lot of those scores by the foundation provided by the Packers Offensive line anchored by David Bakhtiari who suffered a season ending knee injury in week 18.  To replace the Bakhtiari shaped void the Packers signed Jared Veldheer from the Colts practice squad and he was set to take his place in the Packer Offensive line this week until the dreaded COVID-19 struck. 

And that’s why both teas may not resemble their normal selves this week, both currently have 8 players on the Injury List for this week and that doesn’t include the players who have been ruled out for the entire season.  How healthy Aaron Donald and Cooper Kupp are will be vital for the road team in Lambeau but the Rams Defence have the most sacks of any team left in the playoffs and are one of the least penalised in the league which is always a great indication of a well coached unit.

The Rams are 5/2 outsiders with some bookmakers and that;s a very tempting prospect, they have allowed just 17 passing touchdowns this season whilst making 14 interceptions and they are only allowing 3.8 yards per carry to opposing rushing offences.  One person who will definitelt be worth keeping an eye on for the Packers is AJ Dillon, he’s currently ranked 3rd on the running back depth chart but if the Packers need a surprise factor agains the Rams defence he cab definitely provide some raw power.  Here’s a random fact too, the last time Packers kicker Mason Crosby attempted a Field Goal in the playoffs he missed it and that was back in 2016 against the Falcons however he has never missed an extra point in the postseason.  Rams kicker Matt Gay has only played in 1 playoff game but it was last week and he went 6/6 with 3 Field Goals.

I’m just going to come straight out with it, I’m rooting for the Bills hard in this game.  The Four falls of Buffalo is a wonderful documentary about how the city reacted to their Super Bowl heartbreaks with Jim Kelly at quarterback in the early 1990’s and it would be fairy tale stuff if Josh Allen could take them back there.  The Bills had the toughest schedule of any of the AFC playoff teams and they ended the season by winning 6 games on the bounce after their bye week so there should be plenty of confidence in western New York at the moment.  In those last 6 games they outscored their opponents 229 to 110 so if any team was coming into the postseason on a hot streak it was the Bills.

The Ravens didn’t so much glide into the playoffs as their name suggests but crash into it in a manner more fittting a buffalo, they had major COVID-19 issues during the regular season but once they seemed to recover from that they went on ther winning run of five games to the end the season where they putscored their opposition 146 to 89 and that’s where the strength of schedule really kicks in, Buffalo beat the Chargers (who have a very exciting Offence if not much in the way of Defence), the banged up 49ers who Josh Allen put up a QB rating of 139.1 against as he threw 4 TD’s and no picks, the Steelers who were looking like an AFC contender in week 14 as Sreffon Diggs caught 10 receptions for 130 yards and a TD, Denver and New England who were pretty disastrous by the end of the season and Miami who were attempting to the make the playoffs who they absoultely battered by 30 points.  The Ravens on the other hand beat a Dak-less (and directionless) Dallas, the Bengals without Joe Burrow, Cleveland (who’s leading receiver was a running back) and Jacksonville and the Giants (groan and double groan), obviously the weakness of theor opposition is nothing to do with the Ravens but going into a game against the high flying Bills (incidentally that’s a great name for a band) you would ideally want to have been tested against better teams.  Even in the Wildcard round the Ravens played the Titans who’s Defence is ranked 24th by the same people who rank the Rams 1st in the league, the Bills for their part are ranked 16th (the Ravens are ranked 2nd but the Bills Offence have the 2nd best Offence).

So I’ve tried to talk myself into a Bills victory (and it’s not that far out of the question, an inspired Josh Allen + Steff Diggs display would make it a total shoot out) but I think it’ll be very difficult for the Bills to stop the Ravens plethora of running backs and Lamar Jackson if he gets his legs working first may very well light up the BIlls defensive backs too.  Obviously there’s always the hope that it goes to Overtime and we;re treated to a Justin Tucker/ Tyler Bass shootout, Tucker got his annual miss out of his system last week though so I expect that if he has to win the gamewith hos boot he’ll be cool as a cucumber so I’ll have to go with another win for the road team in this game.

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