As the other six NFC playoff teams prepare for battle this weekend, the Green Bay Packers can focus on staying healthy and getting ready for whoever survives Super Wild Card Weekend.
For their passionate fan base, however, the week gap is filled with anticipation and perhaps even some anxiety. While the 2021 team has arguably been the best team the Packers have put on the field in at least the last eight years, you’d be forgiven if you aren’t feeling at least a little sense of existential dread. It’s understandable given how the Packers’ playoff runs have ended short of the Super Bowl for a decade.
Is that fear warranted? Well, anything can happen in the playoffs as Packers fans well know from the 2010 team that barely made the field before winning Super Bowl XLV. Just one year later, Green Bay was on the other end of that spectrum as the 15-1 team was beaten at home by the wild card New York Giants in the divisional round.
We won’t recap every heartbreaking Packers playoff loss the past ten years but it is safe to say some nervousness is warranted.
So let’s do something about that and see exactly what and who the Packers have to fear in the NFC as they await their first opponent on the road to their date with destiny in Los Angeles for Super Bowl LVI. These will be ranked from the lowest to the highest amount of fear.
If Philadelphia upsets the defending champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday, they will be the Packers’ divisional opponent since the Eagles are the lowest seed in the conference.
That would be one the biggest playoff upsets in recent memory and it would honestly be a welcome one since it would prevent a rematch of last season’s NFC Championship Game. Keeping Tom Brady out of Lambeau Field should be at the top of every Packers fan’s wish list this week and next.
As for the Eagles themselves, they didn’t play the Packers this year and they’re right around the middle of the pack in scoring offense (12th) and defense (18th). They don’t seem to be much of a threat on either side of the ball, however, a mobile quarterback like Jalen Hurts has given the Packers fits in postseasons past.
The same team that took the Packers to the brink in Arizona earlier this season? Shouldn’t that be a little more concerning than just some discomfort?
Since their Week 8 primetime thriller that put Rasul Douglas on the map, the Packers and Cardinals have gone in opposite directions. After the win, Green Bay had an identical record to the Cardinals at 7-1. They would go 6-3 the rest of the way while the Cardinals ended up losing the NFC West after a 7-0 start falling all the way to 11-6 going 4-5 after the loss to the Packers.
What changed in those nine games? Like many teams who start to flame out after a fast start, it begins with the quarterback. It’s hard to believe that Kyler Murray would miss three games yet still have been the starting quarterback in five of Arizona’s six losses. He struggled after returning from his hip injury, throwing seven touchdowns and three interceptions versus 17 in his first eight starts when he was touted as an MVP candidate.
Murray and coach Kliff Kingsbury have been unable to regain the early season heights the offense achieved and unless they explode against the Rams Monday night, they will be a shell of their former selves going into Green Bay should they draw the Packers as the next opponent.
The only reason Arizona is listed here is they still showed how potent they can be even if they haven’t played that way in a while. That should be enough to at least get Joe Barry to sit up.
Oh, and a warm-weather dome team in playing in likely frozen Lambeau Field on a short week? Good luck.
Cause for concern
Los Angeles Rams
Yes, it’s Matthew Stafford at Lambeau Field in the playoffs. The same Stafford who turned back into his old self after coming out firing at the start of his first season with the Rams. This might make you wonder why they are on the concerned list, especially given how Green Bay dominated their regular season meeting before the defense let Los Angeles back into the game.
The concern with the Rams is two-fold. The first is the only wide receiver who can go toe to toe with Davante Adams and that is Cooper Kupp. As rough as Stafford was late in the season, Kupp provided a heck of a lifeline to the struggling quarterback as he fell just short of Calvin Johnson’s single-season receiving yardage record. He still had a triple crown year, however, leading the league in receptions, touchdowns, and yardage. If there is one player that balances out Adams’ impact on the Packers, it is what Kupp means to the Rams.
Thankfully the Packers are getting healthy in the secondary at the right time with the return of Jaire Alexander and he will be tested immediately should the Rams be the opponent.
The other issue is the Rams defense and while they were ranked in the middle of the league (15th in scoring defense), there are pieces there that can do some damage like Jalen Ramsey and especially Aaron Donald.
Again the Packers have pieces that can counteract those two. Adams has gotten the best of Ramsey more often than not when they have played and the return of David Bakhtiari and Josh Myers shores up the offensive line to deal with the challenge an all-time great like Donald presents.
Green Bay has the tools to cancel out what the Rams have but the mind of Sean McVay can’t be dismissed either. It really depends on which version of Matthew Stafford shows up to determine how this hypothetical matchup would go.
San Francisco 49ers
This year’s version of the 49ers could arguably be the weakest one the Packers will have seen in the playoffs in the Rodgers era but Green Bay’s playoff history against San Francisco is the reason why they are ranked in this tier
Sometimes a team just has another team’s number and that is the 49ers to Rodgers in his career. From the Colin Kaepernick debacle to the heartbreaking loss on a field goal at home to the blowout in the NFC Championship two years ago, Rodgers has yet to beat his childhood team in the playoffs.
That said, there are reasons this year’s team should concern fans.
Despite needing a Week 18 thrilling win to get into the playoffs, the 49ers are much better than what that would indicate. Their offense finished the year ranked 13th in scoring (7th in yardage!) and their defense was even better finishing 9th in scoring and 3rd in yardage.
The thing holding the 49ers back has been their pass defense, allowing a passer rating of 97.0 which is 25th in the league as well as inconsistent play from Jimmy Garoppolo. We say it every year: imagine if Kyle Shanahan had a consistent and good quarterback. There’s a reason why San Francisco was in on both Tom Brady and Rodgers the last two years.
Their strength is their ground game and their pass rush. Green Bay’s recent struggles in stopping the run is one thing to watch especially with the dual-threat from San Francisco in Deebo Samuel. It’s terrifyingly easy to see him giving the Packers fits despite him only getting two carries in the teams’ game in Week 3.
Meanwhile, the 49ers pass rush, much like the Rams, could be hindered by the strengthened Packers offensive line but don’t be surprised if they give the interior linemen fits especially with Lucas Patrick now at guard. It will be a good test for Jon Runyan Jr. too, who has been stellar all year.
Admit it: given how the Packers’ seasons have ended the past few years you’ve started to figure how it is going to happen this year in the back of your head.
The first, and I believe worst, scenario is former coach Mike McCarthy coming to Lambeau Field with the Cowboys and getting to his second Super Bowl going through Rodgers to do it. This is absolutely nightmare fuel for any Packers fans.
It would take a tall feat for this matchup to happen as Dallas would more than likely have to beat the Buccaneers in Tampa Bay in the divisional round but it can’t be ruled out. Dallas’ offense finished first in both scoring and yardage under Kellen Moore and they would provide a stiff test to the Packers. The dual threat of Ezekiel Elliot and Tony Pollard combined with Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb give Green Bay’s defense plenty to think about.
Defensively Dallas has gotten much better under Dan Quinn but at least here Green Bay can have their way. Micah Parsons and Trevon Diggs provide an ample challenge to LaFleur and Rodgers but Diggs has at least shown he can routinely be beat deep, something Green Bay can definitely exploit presuming Marquez Valdes-Scantling’s back heals up.
Overall though it’s the thought of McCarthy winning an NFC championship at Lambeau coaching someone else than the Packers that should scare people the most.
The good news though? Rodgers would have no issue getting fired for this game. It’d be like showing off in front of your ex how happy you are with your new partner. Is Rodgers that petty? You bet he is.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
This is honestly the matchup fans have been dreading for a year now since the Buccaneers ended Green Bay’s Super Bowl dreams.
It’s Brady, it’s Rob Gronkowski, it’s the narrative that follows them no matter what team they play for. Losing at home to the Bucs for a second straight year is probably how the most pessimistic of Packers fans saw this year ending.
On the plus side, Tampa Bay would come in more wounded than before with Chris Godwin out for the year with a torn ACL but the Bucs still have found a way to be the 2nd overall offense in scoring and yardage while the defense finished 5th in scoring and 13th in yardage.
With Lavonte David being designated to return, the Tampa defense gets even tougher for Green Bay to crack. This should be the matchup that scares every fan the most.
That being said, winning this game would do so much for the Packers and particularly Rodgers. He would finally vanquish Brady in the postseason, a legacy-altering move in the eyes of many national talking heads and it would kill a demon that has haunted the team for a year since they were oh so close to completing a comeback.
This matchup has felt borderline inevitable for a while and is the one most likely to keep fans up at night should it come to pass.
In other words, Fly Eagles Fly.