(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.
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.”
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