The top seed in the NFC (and the first-round bye that goes with it) is there for the taking, and the Green Bay Packers are well-positioned to grab it.
But whether they go in as the top seed or not, sooner or later they’re going to have to play somebody in the postseason. Even if there are no true juggernauts in the NFC, there are plenty of teams who could give the Packers trouble.
Who’s the scariest? Here’s what our writers had to say to that question.
Paul Noonan - Lambeau Field
I like the history of Lambeau, the small-town charm of Lambeau, and the (makes “drinky-drinky” motion) of Lambeau. What I don’t like is having playoff games in terrible weather that serves to neutralize the passing game, favoring good defenses and strong running attacks. The weather has already thwarted the Packers at least once this season, in an insane loss to the Vikings at home, and I’d wager it was a factor last Saturday against Carolina. I very much look forward to seeing what happens this week at night, possibly in snow and wind, against Derrick Henry.
You can’t exactly change Lambeau of course, but this is where the team is hurt by a lack of an upper-tier defense. The Packers are built to outgun people, not to stop them. If you limit the passing attack, they’re not really built to win another way.
This has burned them before in the past, especially against the Giants, and it’s my biggest fear every time the playoffs roll around now. There’s a good argument to be made that they would benefit from being a wild card and touring domes. If they win the one seed and at least get to skip a game, that’s helpful, but should they fall to the 2, that’s essentially a worst-case scenario. As Aaron Rodgers gets older, he’ll also start to get worse in the cold, and I suspect this is already happening. It happened to Farve, and it happens to all of us eventually. If the Rams roll into a cold day with their defense and rushing attack, look out.
Tex Western: Kyler Murray
If there’s one thing that has given the Packers’ defense fits over the years, it’s elite rushing quarterbacks. I fear that would be the case again in 2020 if the Arizona Cardinals come calling, as Kyler Murray is the most terrifying rushing threat at that position in the NFC since Colin Kaepernick. Murray didn’t work out at the Combine last year so we can’t compare direct athletic measurements between the two (boooooooo) but he seems to be at least as dangerous as Kaepernick was with his legs, if not more so. The Packers just don’t have disciplined athletes at inside linebacker to help contain that, and their edge rushers too often seem to push deep up the field, allowing running lanes for QBs.
The overall matchup with the rest of the Cardinals does not particularly frighten me. They have an elite receiver in DeAndre Hopkins, but the Packers have an elite cornerback to help take him away or at least help keep his impact contained. They have a pretty good defense, ranking 8th in DVOA against the pass and 9th overall, but again, I’m not too worried about that as they do not have the type of elite linebackers or edge rushers that have given the Packers trouble this year.
But in the playoffs, one X-factor matchup can change everything. It was Kaepernick earlier this decade. It was Michael Vick at Lambeau Field in 2002. And I fear that Kyler Murray could be that player if the Cardinals make the postseason and end up playing at Lambeau Field, whether that would come in the Wild Card or Divisional round.
Jon Meerdink: Los Angeles Rams
It’s just something about the NFC West. Every other team in that division has sent the Packers home at least once during the Aaron Rodgers era (strange but true!) and if there’s one team from that division, that scares me this year, it’s the Rams.
I think the Saints are the best team overall, but the Rams seem like they’d travel the best. And with it looking more and more likely that the Packers will be at home for as long as they stay in the playoffs, I think the Rams are the scariest team. They have a great offensive mind at the helm in Sean McVay, a running game that can take advantage of matchups, and a passing game that seems like it can exploit weak spots. To me, that adds up to a team that can beat the Packers at Lambeau Field in January.
Rcon14: New Orleans Saints
It’s kind of boring, but the Saints are pretty clearly the best non-Packers team in the NFC (they might be better than GB). Despite playing the dumb Taysom Hill tries to play QB for a few weeks card and dropping their most recent game to the juggernaut Chiefs, the Saints are a very well-rounded team. They rank #1 in DVOA, primarily backed by their awesome defense. Their offense is not what we’ve come to expect with Drew Brees, however.
Alvin Kamara is enjoying a nice season and was able to waltz through Green Bay’s defense back in week 3. Mike Pettine allowed Drew Brees to dink and dunk his way down the field in that matchup, and I fear that even frigidly cold frozen old man Drew Brees can still 4 yard throw you to death if you just let him. There are a bunch of good contenders in the NFC this year, but the Saints have a combination of strong defense and good enough offense, particularly against Green Bay’s suspect defense, to put them at the top of the list.