While the Green Bay Packers will get the extra week of rest having clinched the No. 1 seed in the NFC, whoever their opponent will be come divisional round weekend is to be determined this Saturday and Sunday. Four possible teams could head to Lambeau Field two weeks from now: the Washington Football Team, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Los Angeles Rams and Chicago Bears. Let’s keep this simple as possible and rank who the Packers would want to see in order from the best matchup to the worst.
1. Chicago Bears
This one is pretty clear cut. In two matchups this year, the Packers have gone 2-0 against Chicago outscoring them 76-41. The Bears defense hasn’t shown any ability to slow Green Bay’s offense in the two contests. Last Sunday’s tilt between the hated rivals had heavy playoff implications for both and the Packers won convincingly, 35-16.
The Bears have exhausted many avenues, none too successful. They tried playing looser in the first matchup, letting Trubisky sling it around. Part of that was dictated by the Packers pouncing early but still, that plan didn’t work for Chicago.
More recently, they tried the long, methodical, clock-bleeding drive after drive route. While successfully taking time off the clock on numerous possessions, the Bears couldn’t consistently capitalize and finish drives with points.
Meanwhile, Green Bay had some uncharacteristic mistakes and still put up 35 points. I promise I’m not here to pile on the Bears, but the truth is that the Packers are just a horrendous matchup for this year’s Bears team. I know the adage, “It’s hard to beat a team three times in one year.” We get it. But the Packers would welcome the Bears with open arms in the divisional round.
But you know what? Screw it, I’ll pony up. I believe the 10.5-point opening spread for the Bears game against the New Orleans Saints this weekend is way too much and that the Bears might actually win outright. The Bears have been playing much better lately and took the Saints to overtime back in November with Nick Foles playing (poorly) under center. Drew Brees has the name recognition but the gas tank seems almost empty. They are set to get Michael Thomas back for Sunday but how healthy is he, is he in tip-top shape? We’ll find out.
2. Washington Football Team
While I hesitated at first, the second-best matchup for the Packers of the three remaining options is Washington. Tip of the damn cap to Ron Rivera and what he’s done year one in D.C. Standing ovation for Alex Smith coming back and leading the way down the stretch after recovering from one of the most gruesome injuries the sports world has seen recently. It’s impossible to shade or cast hate towards the coaching and players on this team.
I hesitated because Washington has an incredible defensive front, spearheaded by rookie Chase Young along with Montez Sweat and Jonathan Allen. The Packers recently lost all-pro left tackle David Bakhtiari for the season so a matchup with this defensive front is a tad intimidating.
The offensive side is a bit of a mess, however. Alex Smith is dealing with a calf injury and is clearly not 100%. The running game has faded in recent weeks, and quite frankly this team has very minimal room for error. As good as the defensive line is, the Packers’ offense is well equipped to maneuver around and find other means for success if they were to face it.
But the overwhelming truth remains that in a matchup of these two teams, Washington would have to play near perfect and in fact, they will have to do so even this weekend against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. They aren’t built to play from behind and don’t have enough weapons to dig out of most deficits.
3. Los Angeles Rams
Speaking of great defenses, the Los Angeles Rams might have had the best one in the league this year. Aaron Donald is a physical specimen, most offensive linemen probably say a quick prayer to themselves as they line up across from him. Jalen Ramsey and Co. hold things down in the secondary and make life miserable for the opposing quarterback and wide receivers.
The red flag right now for the Rams, surprisingly, is the offense.
We don’t know who the quarterback will be against the Seattle Seahawks this weekend. Jared Goff missed Week 17 after undergoing surgery for a broken thumb. John Wolford filled in rather nicely, for the most part. After an opening drive interception, it would’ve been easy for the first-time NFL starter to crawl in a hole or come unhinged. Instead, Wolford stayed poised and rallied. But the offense is still an issue.
The Rams didn’t score a single offensive touchdown in their win over the Arizona Cardinals last Sunday and they haven’t put up more than 24 points in five weeks. Cam Akers had been grooving before an injury cost him a little time. Cooper Kupp was on the COVID-19 list for the Arizona game leaving Wolford with one less option. It’s all been taped together for the time being.
A potential matchup at Lambeau could see Goff playing in a cold-weather game, something his career numbers don’t stack up well with. While the Rams defense could limit the Green Bay offense more than these other teams, does the Los Angeles offense still have enough to keep pace?
4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
This is the toughest matchup of the four possible for Green Bay. The Bucs took Green Bay behind the alley and beat the ever-living hell out of them 38-10 all the way back in Week 6. The Packers led that affair 10-0 before the Buccaneers rolled off 38 consecutive points.
Why does Tampa Bay pose the biggest threat in the divisional round? They have an explosive offense with four legitimate studs in the passing game (Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Rob Gronkowski and Antonio Brown). They can run the ball very effectively as well with a healthy Ronald Jones, and Tom Brady‘s resume speaks for itself. There’s nothing to be typed that hasn’t already been said or isn’t already known.
The defense gave Green Bay fits with their physicality and speed the first time around. They’ve had somewhat of a roller coaster ride on that side of the ball, but you’d have to believe they’d be glowing with confidence heading into the matchup with the Packers based on the first game between the two.
Certainly, it’s far fetched that a rematch would provide the same score with the same winning team. In fact, maybe Rodgers is licking his chops at the idea of a rematch. The Buccaneers finished the season strong, but the Packers are not the same that traveled to Tampa Bay in Week 6.
This matchup is the one the NFL probably wants, badly. Brady vs. Rodgers in Lambeau with a spot in the NFC Championship on the line. How can it get better than that?
If you thought this would be a stress-free weekend for Packers fans, you are sadly mistaken. They will be paying close attention to who will be heading to the tundra in two weeks.