The Packers are a lock for the playoffs this year with a 12-3 record and 2 games remaining on the schedule. They’re also closing in on locking up the number 1 seed and getting a first round bye. Even though 14 potential wins and a first round bye makes this team sound dominant, there are definitely some teams that could give the Pack more trouble than others.
Wild Card Round
Even though the odds are in favor of the Packers to get a first round bye and skip this round, I’d still like to look at what matchups could be good, and which may spell an early exit.
Arizona Cardinals. This may seem strange as they were the number 1 seed in the NFC as recently as a couple weeks ago, but they seem like a better matchup then some of the other options. Outside of the fact the Packers have already beaten this team while shorthanded and on the Cards home turf, their play style tends to benefit Green Bay as well.
Even though they have 2 solid backs in James Conner and Chase Edmonds, they aren’t a run dominant team. They put a lot on the shoulders of their young, and inconsistent QB, Kyler Murray. He is very dynamic with his legs but it seems like injuries here and there have made him more hesitant to run. That’s a blessing for a defense that generally struggles with mobile quarterbacks.
Then there is the fact Murray has struggled with his accuracy, especially when pressured. The Packers run defense may be questionable, but their pass rush has been consistent all season. If they could continue to force Kyler to throw off of his back foot, the secondary could have a heyday.
Philadelphia Eagles. Even though the Eagles are similar to the Cardinals in their QB’s traits and offensive styles, the Eagles still worry me more. They have been very successful running the ball down the stretch with Miles Sanders who is now injured. We have seen Doug Peterson struggle with balancing the run and pass in the past but when he does do it, the offense for Philly hits a different gear.
Hurts has also been more healthy and his ability and desire to run, hasn’t been effected. His efficiency at times has left something to be desired, but his playmaking ability with his legs could be the difference against a defense that has seemed to regress.
Finally, the Eagles defense has been very good the last couple of weeks. Sure, their schedule could be a big reason for that, but it has also been an improved run defense that struggled mightily early in the season.
Divisional Round/ Championship Round
I lumped these 2 rounds together since the opponents we could see in either are pretty interchangeable. With so many solid teams sitting a game behind the Packers for the number 1 seed, it’s anyone’s guess who will make it to the conference finals.
Los Angeles Rams. Picking the “Super Team” as the best case scenario for the Packers isn’t as far fetched as it may seem. Yes they are loaded with talent at almost every position on the field. They also made a huge upgrade under center before the season started.
Their downfall, however, seems to be relying too much on that new quarterback. Stafford is by no means new to the Packers. We’ve seen him put up stats and turn the ball over for years. Yes, he is an upgrade from Goff but counting on him to win big games may end up being the Rams demise.
The Rams do have a solid run game with Michel and Henderson, but they haven’t shown they’ll make it a priority, instead choosing to ride or die with the arm of Stafford. With the Packers pass rush, the expectation of Jaire to come back, and the already opportunistic secondary, the Pack have no issues forcing Stafford to win the game.
The Packers have also proven to be able to out scheme the star studded defense. They have done it by spreading the ball around through the air and leaning heavily on the run. The offensive line has consistently gotten the better of the Rams defensive line in their matchups of late.
Dallas Cowboys. I was tempted to put the Bucs here but with their secondary being banged up, I think the Cowboys are tougher on paper. There isn’t much to dislike about the Cowboys as a neutral fan. They have a dynamic offense, and a defense that yes may be leaky, but makes plenty of plays.
Even though Mike McCarthy could find a way to bog his offense down with questionable play calling, they have far too many weapons to fully shut down, and multiple ways to use them. Whether it’s the 1-2 punch of Zeke and Pollard or the trio of receivers in Lamb, Cooper and Gallup, not too mention Schultz at tightened.
Even though their defense has given up yards and points at times this year, they have improved dramatically from last season. Their pass rush has been a plus, Diggs has emerged as one of the best ball hawking corners in the league, and the addition of Parsons through the draft has given them playmakers at all 3 levels.
I have zero doubt the Packers can beat this team, especially on a cold day in Green Bay, but they don’t have many weaknesses which makes them the hardest matchup on paper.
The AFC has been up and down all season. The top of the conference may not be as good as the NFC but the middle makes up for it but making it extremely competitive from top to bottom.
Buffalo Bills. The Bills came into this season with extremely high expectations, and rightfully so. After a hot start, they’ve come crashing down to earth. Their defense for the most part continues to play at a high level. However the one area where they are gettable, is on the ground. The Pats gouged them time and time again in windy conditions during week 13.
Their offense, led by one of the best young QB’s in the league, has been inconsistent. They are a pass first team and aren’t shy about it. Allen makes up for that a bit by being willing to use his legs but they are still a relatively one dimensional team. They have weapons outside, but the fact they don’t run much and the offensive line has had its struggles, the offense has been far from consistent week to week.
The Packers main focus would have to be containing Allen in the pocket and letting the secondary got to work on overly optimistic or aggressive throws.
For starters, the Colts have one of the best run games in football. Jonathan Taylor is someone all Wisconsin sports fans should be familiar with and rooting for. The only time this changes is if he faces the Packers. He has been carving up defenses ever since Indy committed to being a run first team.
Wentz hasn’t been flashy, but he’s kept the turnovers down, and used play action to punish defenses stacking the box. This offense may seem rather straight forward to stop, but they don’t rely on one pass catcher and have a work horse back that has more than enough home run potential.
On the flip side, their defense is very good as well. They are similar to the Packers where they give up some yards here and there, but do a good job of taking the ball away. The only slight complaint about the Colts defensively is they aren’t great at getting to the quarterback and the Packers tend to do a good job of keeping theirs clean.
Overall, the Colts may not be the best team in the AFC, but how they play could be the toughest for the Packers to deal with.