GREEN BAY, Wis. – The 1967 Western Conference Championship Game between the Green Bay Packers and Los Angeles Rams featured the legendary quarterback Bart Starr vs. the NFL’s best defense.
The 2020 NFC Divisional playoffs will feature legendary Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers vs. the Rams’ league-leading defense.
More than a half-century ago, Starr’s Packers crushed the Rams 28-7 on a 13-degree day in Milwaukee on their way to their fifth and final championship of Vince Lombardi’s Glory Years teams. These Packers are hoping history repeats itself on Saturday afternoon for second-year coach Matt LaFleur.
Beyond the history, this is a game dripping with story lines. Here are four.
1. Best Offense vs. Best Defense
In boxing, the adage is styles make fights. This game will have a lot of style.
Green Bay finished first in the NFL with 31.8 points per game. Los Angeles finished first in the NFL with 18.5 points allowed per game.
The Packers dominated where it mattered most, ranking second on third down and perhaps No. 1 in NFL history in the red zone. On a per-play basis, Green Bay was second in passing, seventh in rushing and third overall.
Los Angeles was first in yards allowed per game and per play, first in passing yards allowed per game and per play, third in rushing yards allowed per game and per play, and third on third down and 12th in the red zone.
2. Best Quarterback vs. Best Defensive Player
Based on the landslide that was All-Pro voting, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is going to win the MVP. He is coming off one of the greatest seasons of quarterbacking play in NFL history. He led the NFL in completion percentage, touchdown percentage and interception percentage. That “Percentage Triple Crown” been done only once in the Super Bowl era, when Steve Young did it in 1992. Before that, you’ve got to go all the way back to Sammy Baugh with Washington in 1940.
Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald might be in line for his third NFL Defensive Player of the Year in four seasons. In seven seasons, he has 85.5 sacks. He is having a monster year, with 13.5 sacks and four forced fumbles in the regular season and two sacks in Saturday’s playoff victory over Seattle before exiting with an injured rib. He is expected to play.
The Packers finished fifth in sack percentage allowed in providing superb protection for Rodgers for most of the season. The Rams finished second in sack percentage and made life miserable for Seattle’s Russell Wilson on Saturday. Expect Donald to line up across from Lucas Patrick on practically every critical snap.
3. Elite Receiver vs. Elite Cornerback
In an All-Pro matchup, it’s Green Bay receiver Davante Adams vs. Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey.
Adams had 115 receptions for 1,374 yards in 14 games. He led the NFL with 98.1 receiving yards per game and 18 receiving touchdowns. Of the top 19 in yards per game, he was No. 1 in catch percentage. According to Pro Football Focus, Adams led the league in yards per route run (2.96).
Ramsey was dominant, pacing a defense that allowed a league-low 17 touchdown passes. Of the 78 cornerbacks who played 50 percent of the coverage snaps, he was second with 18.2 coverage snaps per reception and first with 0.53 yards per coverage snap, according to PFF. He gave up less than 50 receiving yards in every game other than the opener.
4. Two Elite Young Coaches
Hired by the Rams in 2017, Sean McVay is 43-21. In the previous four seasons, the Rams were 24-40. The Rams went from 224 points in 2016 with Rob Boras as offensive coordinator to 478 points in 2017 with Matt LaFleur as offensive coordinator.
With McVay running the NFL’s hot offense, the Packers picked LaFleur – despite a tepid one season as Tennessee’s offensive coordinator and play-caller – to resurrect Rodgers and the franchise. It’s been a rousing success. LaFleur went 13-3 and reached the NFC Championship Game in 2019 and 13-3 with the No. 1 seed in 2020.
LaFleur’s Packers got smacked twice last year by one of his mentors, 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan. Now, he’ll have to get the best of McVay to advance to the NFC Championship Game.