PLAYOFF PREVIEW: Packers and Rodgers should be tough to beat at Lambeau

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(WFRV) – They are NFC rivals with a colorful history, ranging from the infamous Fail Mary and Green Bay’s epic 2014 NFC Championship collapse in Seattle to the Packers’ wild playoff wins at Lambeau Field in 2003 (Al Harris INT return in OT) and 2007 (Snow Globe blow-out).

Their rivalry is renewed Sunday at Lambeau Field, with a berth in the NFC Championship Game on the line. The teams arrived at this NFC Divisional contest in opposite fashions: the Packers closed out the season with five straight victories—some in rather ugly fashion—after getting blown out in San Francisco on November 24 to earn a No. 2 playoff seed and bye.

NFL analyst Mike Ditka spoke to Local 5 ahead of the game, “Somebody told me a long time ago that character counts.  Coach Halas said great teams find a way to win, whether playing your best or not.  Just go out there and win.”

Injury-ravaged Seattle, 12-5, skidded to the finish line of the regular season, losing three of four games in December.  The No. 5-seeded Seahawks traveled to Philadelphia and defeated the Eagles, 17-9, in an NFC Wild Card Playoff game last weekend.

The NFL Hall of Famer continued, “Every team faces adversity and has injuries at this point of the season.  Other players have to step up and do the job in all three phases.  Having a bye week is a big plus.  Going on the road in the postseason is always a challenge, but weather shouldn’t matter.”

Ditka is most intrigued by the match-up of elite quarterbacks.

“It’s a great quarterback match-up, future hall of famers,” the former Chicago head coach said.  “They can’t do it themselves—it takes offense, defense, and special teams getting it done.  This is the playoffs—win or go home.  Every football fan loves to see Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson in a game like this.  Both of them can elevate the play of their teammates around them.  Which of them handles the pressure the best and makes difference-making plays for their teams?  We’ll find out Sunday.  I’m not one for making predictions, but the Packers and Rodgers should be tough to beat at Lambeau Field.”

For Green Bay, the offense flows through Aarons, as in Jones and Rodgers.

Under Matt LaFleur, the Packers’ revamped offense has been inconsistent throughout a 13-3 regular season—the best by a rookie head coach in franchise history.  The passing game has been erratic at times, with Rodgers missing open receivers, receivers dropping passes, or route miscommunication negating potential drive-extending plays.

“We’ve just been off on a lot of plays,” LaFleur said after the regular-season finale in Detroit.  “Whether it’s the guy dropping the ball or maybe the ball is just a tad off.  But. . .  he can’t do it himself.  The play around him has got to be better.  The guys that have opportunities, they’ve got to make plays.”

Rodgers has thrown for 4,002 yards, 26 touchdowns, and four interceptions (95.4 QB rating), and the veteran quarterback has caught fire in playoff runs before.  LaFleur has effectively managed the workload of Jones, who has emerged as one of the league’s best with 1,084 yards rushing and 16 touchdowns.  The offensive line–healthy and virtually intact all season—has been a major reason for the success.

“I’m the age now I believe that Brett was when I was drafted. . . obviously closer to the finish than the beginning,” Rodgers said last week.  “The most important thing is winning. . . winning is a cure-all. . . it’s been a lot of fun (this season).”

Pressuring Wilson, while still containing the star Seattle quarterback in the pocket, will be a key for Za’Darius Smith and Green Bay defense, which collectively has had an outstanding season and preserved several key wins.  Mason Crosby has kicked two walk-off, game-winning field goals and the formerly anemic special team return units have been sparked by new returner Tyler Ervin.

Ditka’s keys to a Packers victory: “Pressure Wilson or he’ll pick you apart.  Contain him or he’ll make plays with his legs.  Jones has to run the ball and have some balance for play-action (passes) and keep the defense honest.  It’s not a one-man show and Aaron Rodgers knows that—the Packers have to have others step up.”

Davante Adams has been stellar (83 catches for 997 yards and five TDs) coming off his injury and Allen Lazard has emerged as a reliable target.  But on the playoff stage, Green Bay must get production and big plays from the rest of the receiving corps, including Geronimo Allison, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Jake Kumero, Jimmy Graham, and Robert Tonyan.  Graham could be primed for a difference-making performance against his former teammates.

“Experience is everything at the quarterback position, especially in the playoffs,” Ditka said.  “But you have to execute on game day.”

NFC Divisional Playoff Picks

  • 49ers over Vikings 24-20
  • Ravens over Titans 30-20
  • Chiefs over Texans 27-17

This game will be won in the trenches, as the team that runs the ball effectively and pressures the opposing quarterback will prevail.  Rodgers and Jones and the Green Bay defense are the difference in this match-up with Russell Wilson and a beat-up Seahawks team.  Like nearly every game this season, it won’t come easy.

  • Packers 24, Seahawks 21

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