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Taking a closer look at Saturday’s NFL playoff games

MVP favorite Aaron Rodgers and the Packers have been held to fewer than 22 points just once this season.
MVP favorite Aaron Rodgers and the Packers have been held to fewer than 22 points just once this season.Michael Conroy/Associated Press

No NFL team scored more points during the regular season than the Green Bay Packers. Nobody has played better defense than the Los Angeles Rams.

That sets up an intriguing showdown of strength vs. strength when MVP favorite Aaron Rodgers and the Packers (13-3) host All-Pro defensive tackle Aaron Donald and the Rams (11-6) in an NFC divisional playoff game Saturday.

“This is what you love,” Rams coach Sean McVay said. “These are the type of matchups and opportunities that as a competitor, you can’t wait for.”

Both of these units are at the top of their game.

The Packers have won six straight games and have been held to fewer than 22 points just once all season. Los Angeles got to this point by sacking Russell Wilson five times in a 30-20 victory at Seattle last week.

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“They went to Seattle, played a familiar opponent, and played really, really well, and they’re coming in with the confidence that they should have,” Rodgers said. “And we’re coming in with confidence as well, the season that we’ve had and what we believe we’re capable of.”

Rodgers has set franchise single-season records for touchdown passes (48) and completion percentage (.707) this year while throwing just five interceptions for an offense scoring 31.8 points per game. Donald calls Rodgers a “great quarterback that’s playing lights out this year.”

Donald leads a defense that allowed the fewest points and yards of any team during the regular season.

Aaron Donald leads the Rams' defense.
Aaron Donald leads the Rams' defense.Stephen Brashear/Associated Press

“At any time, at any quarter of the game, a different guy could make a big-time play for us,” Donald said. “It’s not just one or two guys. When you’ve got a group of guys — all 11 out there — who are pretty much playmakers who can make that game-changing play at any time, you’ve got a great group.”

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This will be the first time the NFL’s top-ranked scoring offense and scoring defense have faced off in the postseason since the New England-Atlanta Super Bowl on Feb. 5, 2017. The Patriots had the top-ranked defense and the Falcons had the No. 1 offense that season.

This also will be the Rams’ first playoff game at Lambeau Field. These franchises have met in the postseason just twice before, with the Packers winning, 28-7, in Milwaukee on Dec. 23, 1967, and the Rams winning, 45-17, in St. Louis on Jan. 20, 2002.

In Saturday’s divisional-round nightcap, Baltimore (12-5) travels to face AFC East champion Buffalo (14-3).

Both quarterbacks — the Ravens’ Lamar Jackson and the Bills’ Josh Allen — are coming off their first career playoff victories and have their teams one win short of appearing in the AFC Championship game.

Jackson made his splash last season when he earned NFL MVP honors after leading the league with 36 touchdown passes, 43 combined TDs, and became the NFL’s first player to top 3,000 yards passing and 1,000 rushing.

And yet, Jackson failed to silence his critics because he was 0-2 in the playoffs before a 20-13 win at Tennessee last weekend. It was a game in which the Ravens overcame a 10-0 deficit — their largest in a playoff victory — with Jackson sparking the comeback with an electrifying 48-yard touchdown run.

Josh Allen talks with Lamar Jackson following a 24-17 Ravens win in a 2019 clash in Buffalo.
Josh Allen talks with Lamar Jackson following a 24-17 Ravens win in a 2019 clash in Buffalo.John Munson/Associated Press

One win isn’t enough.

“We know how it feels to be hyped up and we know how it feels to be at your lowest point,” Jackson said. “We’re focused on Buffalo and we’re not trying to let the outside noise or anything like that distract us.”

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Allen blossomed into a star this season by setting numerous franchise passing and scoring records, while finishing fourth in the NFL in completing 69.2 percent of his passes — a 10.45 percent jump over last season.

An MVP candidate, Allen is the key reason the Bills matched a franchise record in winning 13 regular-season games and clinched their first division title in 25 years.

Allen benefitted from spending three years being groomed by offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, and the influx of talent brought in by GM Brandon Beane. The most notable addition this offseason was acquiring Stefon Diggs in a trade with Minnesota.

The Ravens, meanwhile, are only the third team in NFL history to have three players top 700 yards rushing in a single season with Jackson (1,005 yards), rookie J.K. Dobbins (805), and Gus Edwards (723).

The Bills limited the Ravens to 118 rushing yards in last season’s meeting, a 24-17 Ravens win. Buffalo, however, has allowed 150 yards rushing five times this season.