It happened. Sitting at 4-6 with a measly 11.4 percent chance at the playoffs, the Packers ran the proverbial table and won the NFC North. Green Bay’s offense went from a middle of the pack squad to the fourth highest scoring team in the NFL. The defense went from forcing 10 turnovers and allowing 27.6 points per contest in their first 10 games to forcing 15 turnovers and allowing 18.6 points per contest in the final six games. The team rallied and now enters the playoffs riding a wave of momentum greater than any other team in the NFL (save for maybe the Steelers, who won their final seven games). That being said, the entire organization knows that it will all be for naught if they flare out in the playoffs. Now isn’t the time to look back and marvel at what they accomplished, but to have all systems looking towards continuing the winning ways. Success in professional sports is measured first and foremost by championships (sorry to any Vikings and Lions fans reading this), and another Lombardi would cement the already incredible legacies of Aaron Rodgers, Mike McCarthy, and Ted Thompson. Without further ado, let’s delve into the Packers’ playoff matchups and their road to a fifth Lombardi Trophy.
Green Bay will host the New York Giants on Sunday, January 8th in the wild-card Round. The Packers hosted the Giants back in Week 5 in what was a very different game than should be expected this week, as both teams were still figuring themselves out at the time. Eddie Lacy led the Packers in rushing on the day while Aaron Rodgers and Eli Manning threw for a combined completion percentage of 49 percent (Rodgers had two interceptions on the day). Since that time, both the Packers and the Giants have hit their stride and enter the playoffs with a swagger and a confidence that they can handle any opponent.
On the Season, the Giants have the second ranked scoring defense, allowing just 17.8 points per outing. The telling statistic for New York is their pass defense. They’ve allowed 251.1 pass yards per game, the 8th worst mark in the league, which should allow Rodgers and the Packers’ offense to thrive. However, the flip side of the coin also holds true. Odell Beckham Jr. and the Giants offense struggled against the Packers in Week 5, but Green Bay has allowed the second most passing yards on the season (269.3 passing yards per game). All signs point to both teams coming out ready to sling the ball at Lambeau on Sunday.
The Packers are the favorites over New York, and rightfully so given how they’ve played in recent weeks. Here’s hoping Green Bay doesn’t harken back to the brutal home playoff losses to New York of yesteryear (2007 and 2011).
Opponent: Dallas Cowboys or Atlanta Falcons
Assuming the Packers are able to get the W over the Giants, their second round matchup will depend on the results of the Seahawks and Lions wild-card game. If Seattle wins (which appears the most likely scenario) the the Packers will head to Dallas. If Detroit wins the Packers will play the Falcons in Atlanta. In case of either scenario, we’ll take a look at both teams.
Anybody who tells you they saw the success of the Cowboys this season coming from the very beginning is lying to you. The rookie duo of Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott have helped lift the Cowboys to a 13-3 record and a No. 1 seed in the playoffs just one year after the team finished 4-12. The Cowboys have the second best rushing attack in the NFL on the season and the best running game of any team to make the playoffs (149.8 rushing yards per game). Not to mention they’re also the fifth-highest scoring offense in the league. Against the Packers in Green Bay in Week 6, Dallas scored 30 points and gashed the Green Bay defense for 191 rushing yards and 6.8 yards per play. Playing in Dallas on turf, there’s no telling what the Cowboys’ offense could do to the Packers’ defense.
Much like the Giants, the saving grace for the Packers against the Cowboys is the Dallas pass defense. Dallas has the fifth-best scoring defense but the 7th worst pass defense (they allowed 260.4 pass yards per game during the regular season). Green Bay’s ability to win will hinge on the offense scoring early and often and avoiding turnovers (they turned the ball over four times in the Week 6 loss to Dallas). Dallas would be favored in this matchup, but, if Aaron Rodgers and company can turn the game into a shootout, Green Bay will have as good a chance as anybody.
A matchup with Atlanta would seem eerily similar to 2010, when the Packers dismantled a top seeded Falcons squad after losing in Atlanta on the final possession of their regular season matchup. This year’s Falcons squad is the seventh highest scoring team in NFL history (540 points during the regular season) and would figure to push the Green Bay defense to the brink.
I’ve said it once, I’ve said it twice, I’ll say it a third time now, the pass opponent’s pass defense might very well save the Packers. Atlanta has the worst scoring defense of any playoff team (25.4 points allowed per game) and the second worst pass defense. If there’s any team that Aaron Rodgers, Davante Adams, Jordy Nelson, and the rest of the Green Bay offense should tear apart, it’s Atlanta. If the Pack wind up facing the Falcons we should all expect a shootout, and a very winnable game for Green Bay.
NFC Championship Game
Opponent: Dallas Cowboys, Atlanta Falcons, Seattle Seahawks, or Detroit Lions
The most likely scenario, should the Packers make it this far, is they head to Dallas or Atlanta, whichever they didn’t play in the Divisional Round, for the NFC Championship. The only other realistic opponent is the Seattle Seahawks (Sorry Detroit, I have no faith in your ability to win one, let alone two playoff games), in which case the NFC Championship would be a rematch of 2014.
The 2014 NFC Championship loss to the Seahawks has gone down as one of the worst playoff collapses in NFL history and arguably the worst loss in Packers’ history. Green Bay blew a 16-0 halftime lead and lost on a 35-yard touchdown pass in overtime. Thankfully for the Packers, things look a bit different this time around. Green Bay throttled Seattle just a few weeks ago to the tune of a 38-10 blowout in which they forced six turnovers. The Seahawks’ defense again ranks in the top ten in every major statistical category, but they’re without one of their best defenders, safety Earl Thomas (broken leg), and they’re dealing with plenty more injuries on both sides of the ball. Seattle’s home-field advantage is second to none, but Green Bay would likely still be favored with the Super Bowl on the line in this rematch.
Opponent: New England Patriots, Kansas City Chiefs, Pittsburgh Steelers, Houston Texans, Oakland Raiders, or Miami Dolphins
All of the AFC playoff teams are listed here as a mere formality. In truth, it would be a huge surprise if a team other than New England, Kansas City, or Pittsburgh made the Super Bowl. Ultimately, any matchup would result in a similar situation to the first three rounds of the playoffs. Green Bay’s defense just needs to not lose the game and give MVP candidate Aaron Rodgers and the rest of the Packers offense a chance to win it. Expect an in depth analysis of the Super Bowl matchup in a few weeks, should Green Bay make it that far.
Oddsmakers have put the Packers at 8-1 odds to win the Super Bowl, the second best mark in the NFC (Dallas is 7-2) and the third best mark of any playoff team (New England is 7-5). I won’t tell you it’s going to happen, but fans have as much reason as ever to believe in the Green and Gold.