Following the 37-30 loss to the Detroit Lions in Week 18, the Green Bay Packers will get two weeks of rest before lacing them back up in the NFC Divisional Round at Lambeau Field. The Packers will sit back and watch the three conference games on wild card weekend. But there should be a definite rooting interest for Green Bay because some paths to the Super Bowl seem easier than others.
Given that it’s not a true bracketed format, and the Packers will face the lowest remaining seed, Green Bay can only face one of four teams in the Divisional Round — the Los Angeles Rams, the Arizona Cardinals, the San Francisco 49ers, or the Philadelphia Eagles. Let’s rank those four possible matchups in order from most to least desirable.
1. Philadelphia Eagles
If Green Bay has to play Philadelphia in the NFC Divisional Round, it would be amazing for two reasons. The first is that I don’t think the Eagles are really that good, and the second would be that Philly found a way to beat Tom Brady. It’s just hard to envision a scenario in which Jalen Hurts comes into Lambeau Field and beats the Packers. Hurts looked good in relief of Carson Wentz at a game in Green Bay in December 2020, helping to bring Philadelphia within one score in the fourth quarter of that Week 13 contest. But to actually beat the Packers in a playoff game is a whole different story.
2. Los Angeles Rams
Matthew Stafford has one turnover-free game in his last nine weeks, a 37-7 win over the mighty Jacksonville Jaguars. The Packers are 11-0 when they force a turnover this season. Heading into the second half against the Lions, the Packers led the league in turnover differential. Cooper Kupp may get his, but there isn’t enough there for this Rams team to pull off a road upset. Los Angeles had the 24th-most rushing yards, and relying on Sony Michel and a back-from-injury Cam Akers shouldn’t strike too much fear into Joe Barry and the Green Bay defense.
3. Arizona Cardinals
At its healthiest, Arizona is a terrifying proposition. But DeAndre Hopkins has been out since mid-December with an MCL injury, and Kyler Murray does not seem to be his same scrambling self, averaging just 4.7 yards per carry versus 6.2 a season ago. The Seattle Seahawks sacked Murray five times in Week 18, capping off a 4-6 finish to the regular season after the Packers spoiled Arizona’s 7-0 start. However, Murray has an ability to escape pressure and extend plays, traits that have haunted Green Bay recently.
4. San Francisco 49ers
It might be that the recent beatdowns are still fresh in my mind, but the Packers would most definitely like to avoid the 49ers if possible. Not only do they have a proven ability to run the ball with just about anyone, they have guys like George Kittle and Deebo Samuel who are terrifying to try to stop. Green Bay needed a minor miracle to beat San Francisco back in September, which started San Francisco’s four-game skid. But Kyle Shanahan has the Niners playing well, and they won’t be intimidated coming into Lambeau. The 49ers’ strengths translate best to cold weather, and the Packers would have their work cut out for them in the Divisional Round.
Assuming that Green Bay can win its Divisional Round game, they’d be in line, once again, to host the NFC Championship game. Philadelphia is the only team the Packers can’t host in this game, and teams like Tampa Bay (No. 2 seed) and Dallas (No. 3 seed) probably have the best odds of advancing to this round.
Here’s the order of teams that Green Bay would like to face with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line:
- Los Angeles Rams
- Arizona Cardinals
- Dallas Cowboys
- San Francisco 49ers
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers
For the Rams and the Cardinals, it’s the same reasons as above. The Cowboys slot in at No. 3 here because I’m not as worried about their weapons as I am San Francisco’s. Ezekiel Elliott might be able to grind out some yards, and Tony Pollard has some big-play potential, but I’d much rather take my chances against them than Elijah Mitchell and Deebo Samuel. Dallas put up 51 points on Philly in Week 18, but haven’t we seen enough out of Mike McCarthy over the years not to be too worried here?
The biggest test for the Green Bay Packers in the NFC playoffs is the same team as last season: the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Even without Chris Godwin and (perhaps) Leonard Fournette, there’s still Rob Gronkowski, Mike Evans, and (gulp) Scotty Miller to deal with. The defensive front seven that bottled up the Packers’ rushing attack for 67 yards on 16 carries in the NFC Championship game a season ago looks like it might be getting some important pieces at the right time.
More than anything with Tampa Bay, it’s respect for Tom Brady. He’s having arguably the second-best season of his historic career, after the Randy Moss campaign in 2007, where the New England Patriots went 16-0 in the regular season. Having weapons is purely a bonus, as anyone on the field becomes dangerous with Brady. The Packers didn’t have enough to match him at Lambeau last season, even after a very human game in which he went just 20/36 for 280 yards and threw three (!!!) interceptions. The demons are there, and Green Bay won’t easily exorcise them.
The easiest path to the Super Bowl is through Philly in the Divisional Round, then Stafford coming into the cold with a shot at the Super Bowl on the line. The most difficult, but perhaps most satisfying, is toppling the 49ers before Rodgers and Brady go head to head once again. Either way, Green Bay is more than happy to be at home resting their pinky toes as wild card weekend unfolds.