The Green Bay Packers are set to play their first playoff game next weekend against the San Francisco 49ers at Lambeau Field. The Packers earned a bye and home field advantage throughout the playoffs with their 13-4 record on the season, the third straight year they won 13 games under head coach Matt LaFleur.
During the regular season, the Packers played six games against teams that made the playoffs this year. Here is what we learned from those six games:
The Packers finished 5-1 in those six games, outscoring opponents 149-129. That is an average score of 25-22. Their largest margin of victory was a 10-point win over the Steelers back in Week 4. Each of the other games was decided by one score or less. These games were all close, but the Packers consistently found a way to win them.
Three of the victories came down to the final seconds. The first meeting with a playoff-bound opponent came in Week 3 in San Francisco. The 49ers took a 28-27 lead with just 37 seconds left in the fourth quarter on a 12-yard pass from Jimmy Garoppolo to Kyle Juszczyk. But that was enough time for Aaron Rodgers to lead the Packers into field goal range as he completed passes of 25 and 17 yards to Davante Adams to get to the San Francisco 33. Mason Crosby booted a 51-yard field goal on the game’s final play to give the Packers the win.
Two weeks later, the Packers defeated the Bengals in overtime 25-22. Crosby had a rough day, missing an extra point and three field goals but he earned some redemption when he booted the game-winning field goal from 49 yards out with 1:55 left in overtime. The Packers struggled to stop Ja’Marr Chase who caught six passes for 159 yards and a 70-yard touchdown. Still, had Crosby connected on his kicks, the game would have been over in regulation.
The Packers also beat the Cardinals in the closing seconds. The Pack led 24-14 early in the fourth quarter on a pass from Rodgers to Randall Cobb. Green Bay was playing without its top three receivers in this game with Adams, Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Allen Lazard were out with injuries or in Covid protocols. Aaron Jones ended up being the team’s top receiver that night with seven catches.
Green Bay ran the ball well, gaining 151 yards on 34 carries using the duo of Jones and A.J. Dillon to keep the chains moving and keep Kyler Murray off the field. The Pack controlled the clock for 37:35.
The Packers were clinging to a 24-21 lead when the Cardinals got the ball back at their own one-yar line with 3:23 left in regulation. The Cards drove to the Packers five when Rasul Douglas intercepted Murray in the end zone with 12 seconds left in the game to preserve a dramatic win for the Packers and to hand the Cardinals their first loss of the season.
Green Bay’s only loss against a playoff team this year was to the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 9. That was also the only game Rodgers didn’t start this season. Jordan Love started and was inconsistent. The Green Bay defense played very well and limited Patrick Mahomes and the usually explosive Chiefs offense to 13 points. The Packers had a chance to win the game in the closing minutes but Love threw an interception that sealed the Packers only defeat against a playoff opponent this year.
The Packers games against playoff opponents showed both the positive and negative traits we saw from the team over the course of the season. On the negative side, the Pack had lots of problems on special teams particularly games where their kicking hurt the team’s chances of winning.
They also allowed opponents who were down to stick around and get back into the game. The Pack had a 19-point lead over the Rams after three quarters before giving up 11 unanswered points in the fourth before holding on to win by eight points. The team also lost a lead in the 49ers game and the Bengals game before winning.
But the Packers also showed resiliency. They beat the Cardinals without their top three receivers and without many other injured starters. LaFleur had to adjust his game plan for this game and his team executed that plan to beat a healthier team on the road. Against Kansas City, the Packers didn’t win, but they were in the game until the final minute despite not having their MVP quarterback.
The Pack also showed their ability to come through in the clutch. They had last-minute game-winning drives against Cincinnati and San Francisco and the defense came up big with the game on the line against Arizona.
Clearly, the Packers can beat any team they face in this year’s postseason. They won consistently against quality opponents during the regular season but their margin of victory was never big and they can just as easily lose to any playoff team as well.
The Packers six games against playoff opponents are like the season in microcosm. It shows how capable this team is but also how little margin there is for error.
The Packers are a battle-tested team that has responded well to adversity all season and will be playing all their playoff games at home. The chance to go to the Super Bowl is there for them. Now they need to get the job done.
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