Final Countdown: Plenty of Confidence as Rodgers Gets Ready for Playoff Push

The big matchups, an expert prediction, the view from Vegas and much, much more as the Packers host the Rams in Saturday's NFC divisional playoff game.
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GREEN BAY, Wis. – Time is running out on Aaron Rodgers. You know it. I know it. Rodgers knows it.

The 37-year-old quarterback is having arguably the best season of his career. Rodgers not only led the NFL in passer rating and touchdown passes, but he became just the third quarterback in NFL history to lead the league in completion percentage, touchdown percentage and interception percentage. His 121.5 passer rating is the second-best in NFL history. Rodgers posted a 122.5 rating in 2011, an offensive juggernaut so good that Randall Cobb was seventh on the team in receptions.

How long can Rodgers play at an elite level? Can he do it again next year if Aaron Jones and Corey Linsley depart in free agency and the team has to get rid of good players to get under the salary cap? And, of course, there’s the elephant in the room of Rodgers’ future after the team used its first-round pick on Jordan Love.

The Packers are coming off their second consecutive 13-3 season. This team has a different feel, though. Last year’s offense was Mike McCarthy-style mediocre. In fact, the 2019 team scored exactly the same number of points as the 2018 team. It was totally overmatched by the San Francisco 49ers’ juggernaut defense.

This team led the NFL in scoring. Its red-zone attack might be the best the NFL has ever seen. With dominance in the red zone (first in the NFL), third down (second) and giveaways (league-low 11), the Packers have the type of offense that’s necessary to win it all.

For Rodgers to finally win his second Super Bowl, he’ll have to get through the Los Angeles Rams’ juggernaut defense on Saturday on the nowhere-close-to-frozen tundra. A win on Saturday will mean a trip to the NFC Championship Game, with actual winter weather in next weekend’s forecast.

“I think the belief is very similar,” Rodgers said. “I feel like we thought we could win it last year. You know, the Niners were such a dominant team last year. I think that kind of hit our confidence maybe a little bit. We didn’t maybe have the exact same type of belief. But, look, confidence is an interesting thing. I felt like we all went into that NFC Championship with confidence we were going to win that game and go to the Super Bowl. That obviously didn’t happen. They got out to a really big lead early. 

2. Rams’ DC Focused on Rodgers, Not New Job

Rams defensive coordinator Brandon Staley is a hot name among teams searching for a new head coach. He’s had at least two interviews and a couple more requests.

Staley, however, said he’s been focused on the challenge at hand – Rodgers – and hasn’t been losing any sleep in trying to craft a winning game plan to stop the presumptive MVP.

“The sleepless thing, it could actually make you sleep longer, because you’re so tired thinking about it,” Staley told reporters this week. “You know you could go that way too, that’s happened to me too. You either lose sleep or you fall asleep right away because you’re just so tired. So, it goes both ways.

“Guys like this, I think the physical ability of Aaron and his talent as a thrower, as a mover, all that I think is obvious to people. But I think that game within a game that makes the truly elite quarterbacks special is how they beat you with their mind. He’s got an incredible awareness of all 22 guys on the field. He’s aware of your sideline. He’s aware of the officials. He has full command over what’s happening on the field and that’s what truly makes him special.”

3. The View from Vegas

The Packers started the week as 7.5-point favorites but that’s down to 6.5.

“That sounds like we’re heavy on the Rams but far from it. It’s been pretty much all Packers money,” Johnny Avello, the director of race and sportsbook for DraftKings, told Casino.org. “The sharp money took the 7.5 and the 7, so that tells us the sharps are liking the Rams’ side. I think we’re going to get pushed back to 7. That’s exactly what happened last week with the Bills-Colts game. When we got close to kickoff, we got pushed to 7. The sharps were on the 7.5 and the 7. The Bills won the game but did not cover, so that was good for us.”

At FanDuel, 87 percent of the spread money is on Green Bay and 64 percent is on the over of the 46.5-point total.

“It’s a great matchup,” Avello said. “The Rams had a highly explosive offense a few years ago but they haven’t been able to put that back together. Now, they’re struggling to score in the 20s. So, that’s the game plan: be conservative on offense and hope the defense can get a pick-six, like last week, and put a lot of pressure on Rodgers. That’s the plan. That did it last week; we’ll see if they can do it again this week.”

At BetMGM, 78 percent of the money is on Green Bay, making it the most lopsided game of the week.

4. Expert Predictions

In this story about Jalen Ramsey vs. Davante Adams, six experts – two players, two scouts and two position coaches – weighed in on the big matchup. As for the game itself, who will win? Five of the six said Packers; the other said it was too close to call.

“They’ve got a good DC. He’ll mix it up and try to make it confusing on Aaron, which is hard to do,” one of the players said. “It’s going to be interesting to see how the O-line holds up with Dave (Bakhtiari) being out. That’s going to be a key factor. Either they’re going to lose because their O-line can’t hold up against Aaron Donald or the O-line holds up, which gives Davante enough time to do what he wants to do. That’s a reason why Jalen plays off so much. Their front is so good that he doesn’t have to press. He can sit back and watch the quarterback get sacked.

“I think it will be closer than people think. Once they get down, it’s over with because they’ve got to start throwing the ball and they’re not that great at throwing the ball. We’ll know early. If the Packers can stop the run early, it should play in their hands because it will force Goff to throw with four fingers and then Jaire (Alexander) and the safeties can do what they do best.”

5. Outside Views

Pro Football Focus looked at some of the huge performances from the 2020 season. Green Bay’s passing attack was downright lethal.

“None of this would be possible without Rodgers’ mind-meld chemistry with Davante Adams, who also deserves plenty of credit in his own right for emerging as arguably the single-best WR in the league at the moment,” PFF’s Ian Hartitz wrote. “Incredible throughout the entire regular season, the 2020 Packers offense deserves to be in consideration as one of the best passing games of the past decade regardless of how the postseason pans out.”

Also, here’s why Football Outsiders called the Packers “our favorite team to win outright this weekend.”

6. Blue Floyd

In 2016, the Bears used the ninth pick of the draft on Georgia’s Leonard Floyd. He was good but never great. In four seasons, he had 18.5 sacks, including just three last year. Floyd’s hit his groove with the Rams, though, with a career-high 10.5 sacks. Most of his playing time has come from the defense’s left side, meaning he’s likely to line up across from right tackle Rick Wagner.

“To be honest with you, I’ve always thought Leonard Floyd was a great player, when he was in Chicago and now that he’s with the Rams,” offensive tackle Billy Turner said. “He’s very, very athletic. He’s a tall guy, he’s lean and he’s athletic and he’s able to rush the passer, able to play the run. Sometimes, just a change of scenery can make it, to the outside looking in, seem like someone’s having a great year. We’ll have eyes on 99 (Aaron Donald), yeah, but we’re going to have eyes on 54 (Floyd) and the rest of their defense.”

7. Oldie But Goodie

Rams left tackle Andrew Whitworth turned 39 a month ago but you’d never know it. According to Pro Football Focus, he allowed zero sacks, zero quarterback hits and six total pressures in his nine regular-season games.

After missing the final seven games of the season with a knee injury, he allowed one hit and five total pressures last week vs. Seattle. Can Za’Darius Smith apply the pressure on wounded Jared Goff?

“Obviously, he’s a really smart guy,” outside linebackers coach Mike Smith said. “He understands angles. When I watch him, he understands pass-rush angles, he understands leverage, he understands who he’s going against. Obviously, every rusher’s different. You see a little bit of different things from him every week when you watch him but he’s a savvy guy. He understands the game, he understands where he needs to be. That’s why he’s played so long. It’s going to be a good challenge for our guys. I’m excited to watch them get after each other.”

8. If It’s Close …

It might be advantage to Los Angeles, not only because of its fourth-quarter superiority. According to Inside Edge, the Packers have scored on only 27 percent of their drives in close- and late-game situations. That’s the eighth-worst in the NFL. The Rams have allowed scored on 10 percent of those drives, the best in the league.

Also, the Rams are 35-0 when leading at halftime since 2017. Can they lead at the break against the Packers, who set an NFL record with their 219 second-quarter points?

9. The Big Matchups

– No. 1 offense vs. No. 1 defense: Who has advantage in playoff history?

On the sideline, it’s good friends Matt LaFleur vs. Sean McVay.

A longtime NFL defensive backs coach broke down Adams vs. Ramsey. Ramsey has been kryptonite some great receivers down the stretch.

– Can the Packers stop Donald from wrecking the game plan? “You can’t put a corner speed on a 295-pound man and say he’s normal. He can do just about anything when he wants,” Packers defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery said.

– For all the talk about the Packers’ offense vs. the Rams’ defense, the other side of the ball might tell the tale.

Both special teams stink. “Obviously the returner (Nsimba Webster)” stands out to Packers special teams coordinator Shawn Mennenga. “Everything starts with him. They’ve got a good core. They’re big up front, they have the three outside linebackers that have good size. I think Webster has done a good job for them as far as a kick returner and punt returner. He’s very elusive and he kind of gives them energy. He had a big return last week against. He’s definitely a threat every time he touches the ball. Then, obviously, (Johnny) Hekker’s one of the best punters in the NFL and can definitely flip the field and pin you down there.”

10. The Last Word Goes To …

Rodgers, who is trying to get back to the Super Bowl for the first time since winning in 2010.