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(CBSLA) — The NFL moves on to the Divisional round of the playoffs. The NFC features one somewhat unlikely matchup and another everyone saw coming. The Los Angeles Rams managed to get by the Seattle Seahawks, despite seeing their inexperienced quarterback and best defensive player go down. Their reward is a trip to Green Bay, where the top-seeded Packers, fresh off a bye, await them.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers overwhelmed the Washington Football Team, and the New Orleans Saints subdued the Chicago Bears to set up the second divisional matchup.

Kenny White, SportsLine‘s the Wizard of Odds, looks at matchups for the NFC Divisional round.

All times listed are Eastern.

Los Angeles Rams @ Green Bay Packers, Saturday, January 16, 4:35 p.m. (FOX)

The Rams boast one of the league’s best defenses, and maybe its best defensive player. The unit gave up 281.9 yards and 18.5 points per game during the regular season, both tops in the NFL. Those averages basically held up in the Wild Card round. Russell Wilson was limited to 174 yards passing, and the Seahawks’ ground game managed just 136 yards. Defensive tackle Aaron Donald sacked Wilson twice before leaving in the third quarter with torn rib cartilage.

Wilson, who usually shines in the spotlight, didn’t really have a chance against the Rams defense. Aaron Rodgers will be an even tougher challenge for the Rams. Rodgers finished the season playing as well as any quarterback in the NFL. He tossed four touchdown passes in Week 17 en route to the Packers’ 35-16 rout of the Bears. His 48 TD passes and 121.5 rating both led the league.

Rodgers also delivers against the spread. According to White, “we always talk about the quarterback being the most important player on the field, and Aaron Rodgers is one of the best. In Aaron Rodgers’ career, in all of the games he’s played in, he’s covered the point spread 59 percent of the time. If you bet $100 on every game that Aaron Rodgers has played. You’re up $2,700.”

And that’s not even the whole story. “And let’s make it a little bit stronger,” White continues. “When he’s playing at home, he’s covered 64 percent of the time… amazing. Aaron Rodgers doesn’t lose. He’s 61-35 ATS in his home games.”

If any defense can contain Rodgers, it’s the Rams. Donald is currently listed as day-to-day, though he’s expected to play. Should he be unable to go, the matchup tilts more in favor of the Packers. Donald remains the linchpin of this unit.

“This is really strength versus strength,” says White. “Right now the Green Bay Packers, number one offense in the NFL, according to adjusted defensive and offensive ratings to their opponent. And the Rams number one defensive team. I think the game comes down to which unit operates better, whether it’s the Packers offense, or it’s the Rams defense. That’s going to make the difference in this football game.”

Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ New Orleans Saints, , Sunday, January 17, 6:40 p.m. (FOX)

As divisional foes, the Bucs and Saints have already met twice this season. The Saints won their Week 1 matchup, 34-23, as Tom Brady was picked off twice. New Orleans dominated Tampa Bay, 38-3, in Week 9, intercepting Brady three more times. For reference, Brady had 12 interceptions total in the regular season. Do the Saints just have the Bucs’ number this season, or will the third time be a charm?

“In the first trend with Aaron Rodgers being at home, the home crowd is not going to be the same as it was in all those games,” says White. “And the same thing here for the team that won the first two games. This has happened 21 times since 1970, that teams will play for the third time that one team has won the first two games. Out of those 21 times that team that won the first two, 14 times they won game three. Only seven times they lose. A 67 percent chance to win. But remember, there’s no home crowd, and this is Tom Brady getting points.”

It’s hard to bet against Brady in the playoffs, given his track record. Even at 43 years old, he put up 289.6 yards passing per game and tossed 40 TDs on the season. He’s hardly showing his age in the Bucs passing attack. Brees, however, had a much more subdued season. He averaged 245.2 yards per game and managed 24 TD passes. The longtime Saints starter also missed a month recovering from 11 broken ribs and only returned to action a few weeks ago.

At 41 years old, Brees is also nearing the end of his career. And some suggest that end might be closer than we think. According to White, “what I’m hearing, though, from the media is there’s so much talk about it that maybe this is it. Maybe Drew has kind of hinted that this is his last year, and he’ll be in the booth next year, being the next Tony Romo, talking about the game as plays happen. So I’m going to make it a favorite that he’s going to retire after this season, everything that I’m hearing.”

But the Saints have at least one more game to play this season. Alvin Kamara, Latavius Murray and Michael Thomas all returned last week, giving Brees his full complement of weapons. One advantage they won’t have is a sold-out Super Dome crowd. Only about 3,000 fans were allowed inside for the Wild Card game against the Bears. How much of a home-field advantage does that really mean?

“This is only the one out of the four games that is going to be played indoors,” White points out. “And indoor playoff games are 29-13 to the over. That’s 69 percent of the time indoor playoff games go over. And then let’s look at Drew Brees playing at the Mercedes Benz Superdome. His games are 71-52, 58 percent over. And the two coaches going head to head, Sean Payton and Bruce Arians, they’ve coached seven times against each other. Five of those seven games have gone over. I think it’s going to be a fun game to watch. I’m going to bet it over.”

Which picks can you make with confidence during the Divisional Round? And which underdog wins outright? Visit SportsLine to see which NFL teams are covering in more than 50 percent of simulations, all from the model that is up nearly $7,900 on its top-rated picks.

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Often, diversity on the football field is the most dangerous weapon of all.

It was logical to assume this game was going to come down to Aaron Rodgers and his magical right arm.

The Packers quarterback, after all, had thrown 48 touchdown passes to just five interceptions this season. Rodgers and the Packers prolific passing attack had been the linchpin to Green Bay leading the league with 509 points scored this season.

So, why wouldn’t the Packers continue to attack through the air in the playoffs?

But, what did the Packers do in their 32-18 win over the Rams in the NFC divisional playoff game Saturday at Lambeau Field?

They ran the ball. Then they kept running it. They used three different running backs and ran the Rams right back to Los Angeles. No need for the team plane.

“There’s a beauty in the diversity of the team and the guys that we have,’’ Rodgers said after the game. “[I’m] excited for what we can accomplish together. The running game opened everything up tonight. It’s all about the offensive line. They were the stars of the game. I was barely touched all night.

“This feels really good right now. One more here.’’

Indeed, the win advanced the Packers to the NFC Championship game back at Lambeau Field against the winner of Sunday’s Saints-Buccaneers showdown. For Rodgers, it will be the first time in his decorated career that he’ll play a conference title game at home.

Aaron Jones and the other Packers’ running backs dominated the Rams in their 32-18 victory.AP

The Packers (14-3) rushed for 188 yards on 36 carries. They averaged 132.4 rushing yards per game in the regular season.

On the Green Bay drive that somewhat defined the game, the opening possession of the second half, Rodgers never threw the ball until a failed 2-point conversion try after the Packers had taken a 25-10 lead on a 1-yard Aaron Jones scoring run.

Jones began that drive with a 60-yard run from the Green Bay 25 to the Rams 15 on the first play from scrimmage of the third quarter.

That possession, all six plays runs, was symbolic of the Packers’ strategy all night.

Packers head coach Matt LaFleur and his Rams counterpart Sean McVay are close friends. LaFleur schooled McVay on this night with an offensive strategy that duped everyone except for the Packers players and coaches who practiced it all week.

“The plan was building and building and building all week,’’ Rodgers said.

In fairness to the Rams, who led the NFL in scoring defense this season (yielding just 18.5 points per game), their top defensive player, Aaron Donald, who also happens to be the best defensive player in the league, was hampered by a rib injury that limited his snaps. Donald was reduced to tears on the sideline as the final seconds bled off the clock to end the Rams’ season.

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Jones ran 14 times for 99 yards. Jamaal Williams ran 12 times for 65 yards. A.J. Dillon added 27 yards on six carries.

“We feel like we have three No. 1s, which is a great luxury to have,’’ LaFleur said.

The Packers, even with the best quarterback in the game behind center for them, went ground-and-pound on the Rams and pounded their defense into submission.

Green Bay’s offensive success this season came largely on the mastery of Rodgers’ right arm. The Packers won this game essentially giving Rodgers’ arm a rest despite the fact they were coming off a bye week as the No. 1 seed in the NFC.

Though Rodgers finished 23-of-36 for 296 yards and two passing touchdowns (one rushing), it felt like a night off the way the running game was driving the bus.

The Rams cut the deficit to 25-18 on a scoring run by their terrific rookie running back Cam Akers and a 2-point conversion, and suddenly a game that the Packers kept threatening to put away was separated by one possession.

Then, the kill shot: a 58-yard Rodgers scoring strike to receiver Allen Lazard (4-98) with 6:52 remaining in the game for a 32-18 lead.

Yes, this TD came on a pass, not on the ground. But it was the play-action fake to Jones that froze a Rams defense that had been getting stung by the Green Bay rushing attack all game that allowed Lazard to run free in the middle of the field.

“The defense had to honor [the run] and that touchdown pass to Lazard was made possible because we’d lined up in that formation and were running the ball,’’ LaFleur said.

“The play of the game to put it away was all about the run,’’ Rodgers said, referring to the Rams buying the run the Packers were selling on the play action. “Matty [LaFleur] was dialing up some great stuff. We had a great plan, and it started with the running game.’’

Said the quarterback who threw 48 touchdown passes and for 4,299 yards this season.

Filed under aaron donald ,  aaron rodgers ,  green bay packers ,  los angeles rams ,  nfl playoffs ,  1/16/21

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