NFL Divisional Round: What to watch for in Saturday's games

Arash Madani goes into the film room with QB guru Jordan Palmer to break down Lamar Jackson's game, and that incredible running ability, as the Ravens prepare to take on Josh Allen and the Bills.

Now things get real.

With wild-card weekend in the rear-view mirror, the top seeds in the AFC and NFC have entered the playoff chat.

Divisional weekend kicks off with a Saturday double-header that features the 2020 MVP favourite against arguably the league's top defence and a pair of electrifying young quarterbacks squaring off in Western New York.

To help get set for the action, here's what to watch for in the NFL playoffs on Saturday.

LOS ANGELES RAMS AT GREEN BAY PACKERS

Saturday, 4:35 p.m. ET

What Vegas is saying: Packers -6.5 | O/U 45.5

Notable Injuries

Packers: Kingsley Keke, DE (Out, concussion)

Rams: Cooper Kupp, WR (Out, knee); Terrell Lewis, LB (Out, ankle); John Wolford, QB (Out, neck); David Edwards, G (Out, ankle)

How they got here

Packers: With Aaron Rodgers back in MVP form, the Packers thrived in head coach Matt LaFleur’s second year in charge on the way to an NFC-best 13-3 record behind the league’s highest-scoring offence.

Rams: Sean McVay’s team was able to survive a worst-case scenario at quarterback on wild-card weekend thanks to an absolutely dominant defensive performance against division rival Seattle.

What To Watch For

MVP favourite Rodgers faces toughest test yet

It’s been a renaissance season for the 37-year-old Aaron Rodgers, who led the league with 48 touchdown passes in the regular season and quarterbacked his team to the second-best record in football. Along with a top offensive line (even without All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari), arguably the best receiver in the game in Davante Adams and a dangerous run game, Rodgers and the Packers are an offence to be reckoned with.

But in their first game of the playoffs, Green Bay faces what might be its toughest test of the season in the Rams defence, which allowed both the fewest points and yards in the regular season and is fresh off smothering Russell Wilson and the Seahawks offence last Saturday.

With juicy matchups all over the field – Adams vs. Jalen Ramsey and the Packers offensive line vs. Aaron Donald being our favourites – how the Packers fare against Brandon Staley’s defensive unit is must-watch TV.

Can elite Rams defence steal another one?

It’s been laid out above so we don’t need to belabour the point: the Rams defence is dominant.

But the offence, which is usually a strength of L.A.’s under Sean McVay, is in a bit of a funk these days because of a very sticky situation at quarterback. Not only is Jared Goff dealing with the effects of recent thumb surgery but he hasn't been at his best in the second half of this season even when healthy.

John Wolford, the backup QB who led the Rams to the playoffs with a Week 17 win when Goff was sidelined, is out for Saturday’s game after suffering a neck injury against Seattle. So the options at quarterback are slim for an offence that has been struggling to find the end zone.

That means an upset win will almost definitely fall on the shoulders of the defence… again. Can they repeat last week's performance and shock the Packers at Lambeau? It’s going to be a tall task, but the good news is defensive superstar Aaron Donald is a go despite leaving the wild-card game with a rib injury last week.

BALTIMORE RAVENS AT BUFFALO BILLS

Saturday, 8:15 p.m. ET

What Vegas is saying: Bills -2.5 | O/U 49.5

Notable Injuries

Bills: Darryl Johnson, DE (Questionable, knee)

Ravens: D.J. Fluker, G (Questionable, knee); Marcus Peters, CB (Questionable, back)

How they got here

Bills: Buffalo survived a scare from Philip Rivers and the Colts on wild-card weekend in the best game of the first round, mostly thanks to another MVP-type performance from Josh Allen.

Ravens: Lamar Jackson got the monkey off his back last weekend, earning his first playoff victory with a win over the Titans in which the reigning MVP torched Tennessee with his legs and the Ravens defence stuffed rushing champ Derrick Henry.

What To Watch For

Can Bills slow down Lamar and the Ravens?

Josh Allen put on a show in last week’s tight win over the Colts, and we expect the third-year Bills quarterback will be able to keep up his stellar season against the Ravens. But the biggest question heading into the divisional round for Buffalo is how the defence will slow down the quarterback on the opposite sideline.

Sean McDermott and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier had success against the Ravens in their matchup last season, holding that prolific Ravens offence to its lowest total yards in a game in all of the 2019 regular season.

But that Bills defence was a top-three unit; the 2020 edition of the Buffalo defence is still above average but has had its ups and downs, which includes giving up 472 total yards to Indy last weekend.

Jackson and the Ravens offence has been explosive throughout their six-game win streak, averaging 425.5 total yards of offence – including 262.2 yards per game on the ground – and more than 34 points per contest over that span.

Can the Bills defence rebound from wild-card weekend to slow Lamar Jackson and get big stops? That will be the key to Buffalo advancing to its first AFC title game since 1993.

Will blitz-heavy Ravens get after Josh Allen?

During the regular season, no defence blitzed more than the Ravens: Baltimore rushed five or more players on 44.1 per cent of dropbacks, according to Pro Football Reference.

It’s a strategy that's worked well for a defence that has been among the league’s best under defensive co-ordinator Don “Wink” Martindale the last three seasons, including in 2019 against Buffalo when Josh Allen struggled in a big way against the Ravens’ blitz.

But, unfortunately for the Ravens, success against the blitz is among the many incredible transformations Allen has undergone as a passer this season, and in 2020 the Bills QB has emerged as among the league’s best in that category.

Despite that marked improvement, Martindale says his defence won’t shy away from bringing the house against Allen in Saturday night’s prime-time showdown – and with good reason seeing how well it work last time. But Baltimore did show an openness last week to change tactics when blitzing wasn’t getting the desired results, and cut the percentage of dropbacks on which they blitzed Ryan Tannehill in half in the third and fourth quarter last Sunday – and it worked.

So will the Ravens blitz Allen Saturday at their normal rate, and if so, how will Allen fare? If Allen continues his success against the blitz, will Baltimore adjust on the fly?

Whatever happens, Saturday’s clash between two of the AFC’s most prolific teams will be fascinating.

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