After a crazy Wild Card Weekend, the NFL continues to roll on with the Divisional Round coming up.
To briefly recap the NFC Wild Card matchups, it all started with the Rams predictably shutting down the Seahawks and pulling off the upset on Saturday afternoon. Tom Brady and the Buccaneers held off the NFC East champs in the night cap and New Orleans sat on cruise control past the punch less Bears offense.
Now, heading into the Divisional round, there are just four teams left in the NFC. There is a highly anticipated rematch between the Buccaneers and Saints as well as the game between the Rams and top-seeded Green Bay Packers in the frozen tundra known as Lambeau Field.
The game between AFC South rivals will be the most watched game of the weekend. Tom Brady has joined this Buccaneers team and pretty much done everything except defeat the Saints. New Orleans has proven to be a tough matchup for the talented Buccaneers with their defense. Tampa Bay’s strength has been the offense this season behind some of the best weapons in football. Behind Brady, the Buccaneers boast three of the best wide receivers in football in Mike Evans, Antonio Brown and Chris Godwin. On top of that they have Rob Gronkowski and Cameron Brate at tight end and Ronald Jones and Leonard Fournette at running back.
Not many teams can match up and stop the Buccaneers offense, but New Orleans has done that with a strong front seven and a lot of talent in the secondary. Guys like Trey Henderson, Cameron Jordan and David Onyemata have proven to be difference makers on the defensive line with all three combining for over 30 tackle for losses. Behind the line are linebackers Kwon Alexander and Demario Davis, who run the defense and have become two of the league’s top linebackers.
The biggest issue for Tampa Bay though might stem from the secondary of New Orleans. They have two corner backs that can shut down opposing wide receivers in Marshon Lattimore and Janoris Jenkins. Plus, safeties Malcom Jenkins, Chauncey Gardner-Johnson and Marcus Williams have made it very difficult to attack them through the air.
While the Saints defense can match up with the Buccaneers, it doesn’t appear to go the other way. The Saints offense is loaded with talent, including Drew Brees, Alvin Kamara, Latavius Murray, Michael Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, Taysom Hill and Jared Cook.
The Tampa Bay defense’s strength comes in the front seven with a strong defensive line and two very good young linebackers. Ndamukong Suh, Rakeem Nunez-Roches and William Gholston anchor the line with help from outside linebacker/pass rusher Jason Pierre-Paul. This group has been the heart of the defense with Linebackers Devin White and Lavonte David.
The issues in the defense come in the back end, which is trouble when you a play future hall of famer in Brees. Antoine Winfield Jr. has been a nice addition, but with Carlton Davis, Sean Murphy-Bunting and Jordan Whitehead they have a very young group that has been exposed throughout the season.
The Saints won both regular season games, but everything changes in the playoffs. It is very difficult to defeat a team three times in a season. The Buccaneers didn’t show much over the first two meetings to lead anyone to believe they can get past the Saints, but it isn’t the smartest idea to count Brady out.
The Buccaneers have the weapons to pull off the upset, but they are going to need a better game from their secondary and their offense has to do more against a tough New Orleans defense.
The other matchup doesn’t seem as attractive at first glance, but Sean McVay and the Rams are one of the most dangerous teams in the league. They will have to travel to the very cold Lambeau Field in Green Bay, but that definitely isn’t enough to count them out.
First, it is worth noting that the Rams play up and down to their competition. They have played some of their worst games against the league’s worst teams, such as the Jets. At the same time, they have played their best games against the fiercest competition, such as the Seahawks last week in Seattle.
Los Angeles has one of the game’s best young coaches in McVay. He has led the Potent Rams offense the last couple seasons and with Jared Goff at quarterback, the two have proven to be a dangerous combination.
With running backs Cam Akers and Malcom Brown, Los Angeles has been able to run the ball very effectively without Todd Gurley. And with wide receivers Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp and Josh Reynolds to go with tight ends Tyler Higbee and Gerald Everett, the Rams have more than enough on offense to keep opposing coaches up at night.
On defense, the Rams boast two of the best defensive players in the entire league. Aaron Donald is enough to wreck a game alone, but he is partnered with Jalen Ramsey, a cornerback who can take away an entire half of the field. The rest of the defense is filled with more than competent players. The Rams defense has taken over games all season long and it wouldn’t surprise anyone if they do the same in Green Bay.
The Packers will always be dangerous at home and the offense will always be respected with Aaron Rodgers under center. Adding Davante Adams and Aaron Jones at wide receiver and running back almost makes things unfair. The key is almost. If any defensive back can neutralize Adams, it’s Ramsey. The Packers offense has proven to be successful without Adams, but Rodgers is definitely not as comfortable without his top target.
The Packers defense could be the key in this game. They have come into their own as of late, holding four of their last five opponents under 16 points. The Rams offense is very good, despite some struggles this season. The Packers may not be able to score a lot of points in this game, so the group lead by the Smith brothers, Preston and Za’Darius Smith will need to continue to play well.
Overall, it feels like there may be an upset brewing, just like the last time the Packers held the No. 1 seed in the NFC and lost to the 9-7 Giants in their first playoff game. The Rams offense against the Packers defense feels like a better matchup than the Packers offense against the Rams defense. At the same time, betting against Rodgers is never a great idea.