DETROIT – The Green Bay Packers earned a critical first-round bye in the NFL playoffs by beating the Detroit Lions on Sunday. While the Packers won the Super Bowl as a wild card in 2010, that’s been the exception. Of the 12 teams to reach the Super Bowl the past six seasons, all 12 had earned byes.
To be sure, the Packers are a flawed 13-3. Then again, the rest of the NFC playoff field has flaws, too.
No. 1 San Francisco: Remember that 49ers defense that ran roughshod over the Packers on Nov. 24? The 49ers need to get back to that standard. Over the last 10 games, the Niners are 20th in points allowed (24.6 per game), 19th in opponent passer rating (91.5), 25th in yards per carry (4.71) and tied for 13th in takeaways (14). They allowed less than 20 points only once during that span – against Green Bay. Also of note: The 49ers’ 23 giveaways are the most for any playoff team. Finally, the 49ers are young. That didn’t seem to matter in big wins at New Orleans and Seattle. Still, the playoffs are a different animal.
No. 2 Green Bay: For years, the Packers lived and died on the right arm of Aaron Rodgers. It’s really no different this season. During the second half of the season, 31 quarterbacks threw at least 150 passes. Rodgers is 24th in that group with an 84.2 passer rating, 26th with a completion rate of 58.7 percent and ahead of only Detroit rookie David Blough with 5.87 yards per attempt. His inefficient play might work against the Redskins, Bears and Lions of the world; it’s probably not going to work against the Saints or 49ers. And don’t forget Green Bay’s season-long struggled against top tight ends. San Francisco’s George Kittle, New Orleans’ Jared Cook and Philadelphia’s Zach Ertz could eat Green Bay’s defensive alive.
No. 3 New Orleans: Green Bay is being dinged by having eight of its wins come in one-score games. Well, the Saints are 7-1 in games decided by eight points or less, so this isn’t some indomitable juggernaut. Troubling for the rest of the NFC is the Saints’ offense has been off-the-charts good the past four games with a whopping 40.0 points per game. However, how will Drew Brees and Co. fare in a cold night at Lambeau Field if they collide in the divisional round? In the Brees era, the Saints are 1-3 in games with a kickoff temperature of 32 or less, with their last freezing game being way back in 2010. They haven’t played a single game with a kickoff temperature of 25 or less. On the other side of the ball, defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins and pass rusher Marcus Davenport are on injured reserve.
No. 4: Philadelphia: The Eagles will enter the postseason with a four-game winning streak – an amazing feat considering their injury list. Receivers DeSean Jackson and Alshon Jeffery and cornerback Ronald Darby, three of the team’s top players, are on injured reserve. Despite a watered-down group of targets, Wentz ranked sixth in the league with a 100.8 passer rating and seventh with 67.6 percent accuracy during the winning streak. All of that comes with the obvious asterisk of all four wins coming against teams from the woeful NFC East. Can they cobble together enough offense to win a playoff game? In Week 12, Seattle went into Philly and won 17-9. Its minus-3 turnover margin is the worst of the playoff teams.
No. 5 Seattle: After winning five in a row to take command of the No. 1 seed, the Seahawks have lost three of their last four games. Remember that vintage Legion of Boom defense? That’s not this defense. The Seahawks have allowed at least 24 points in five consecutive games. They are No. 23 in the league with 24.9 points allowed per game – the worst of the playoff field – and rank in the 20s in rushing defense, passing defense, total defense, sack percentage and red-zone defense. The saving grace has been turnovers – a third-ranked 32 – but they’re 3-4 when forcing zero or one.
No. 6 Minnesota: The Vikings are a hard team to figure out. They’ve got an efficient quarterback, elite running back, superb receiver tandem, elite pass rushers and a star-studded defense. And yet, the Vikings are 1-4 against teams with winning records. Minnesota is fifth in the league in scoring defense and eighth in scoring offense, and it is excellent in the red zone and on third down on both sides of the ball. Those are signs of a dangerous playoff team. But something doesn’t add up. They should have crushed the mistake-prone Packers by halftime last week. Instead, they lost by two touchdowns. Until Kirk Cousins puts together a big game in a big game, it’s hard to take the Vikings seriously – despite their talent.