It’s No. 1 vs. No. 1.
The divisional round kicks off with the Green Bay Packers and the NFL’s No. 1 scoring offense facing the Los Angeles Rams and the No. 1 scoring defense.
Aaron Rodgers and the Packers averaged a league-best 31.8 points during the regular season and entered the postseason with the second-best offensive adjusted team rating (ATR). Meanwhile, Los Angeles surrendered just 18.5 points per game, and sat atop the league leaderboard in defensive ATR.
Saturday night features a showdown of the league’s bright young stars, and could represent a glimpse of what the future of the NFL might look like. Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson are examples of the latest trend in quarterback evaluation – eye-popping athleticism.
But dig deeper, and you’ll find there is more to these games than just big names. With conference championship appearances on the line, here are the matchups that could decide Saturday’s games.
Packers WR Davante Adams vs. Rams CB Jalen Ramsey
You’d be hard-pressed to find a more scintillating matchup than this one. Arguably the league’s best at their respective positions, Adams and Ramsey should become well-acquainted on Saturday.
Adams enjoyed a career year in 2020, recording 1,374 receiving yards and 18 touchdowns, the latter of which led the entire league. He won 52.6% of his matchups, the sixth-highest rate in the NFL among receivers (minimum 10 matchups), and was doubled on nearly 32% of his routes. The Fresno State product gets open on more than 81% of his targets, and he leads all receivers in burn yards per route.
On the other side, the Los Angeles Rams’ shutdown cornerback has been a mixed bag, from a data perspective. Ramsey held a burn allowed percentage (Burn-A%) of 56.9%, more than three percentage points below average, but his matchup win% was still among the best. Even while shadowing the best receivers, he won 77.2% of his matchups.
Darious Williams, Ramsey’s teammate, ranks second in Burn-A% and third in open allowed percentage (Open-A%) among all cornerbacks. He could see some time against Adams too. Rams defensive coordinator Brandon Staley likes to move his defensive backs all over the field, but Williams comes in and plays outside corner in nickel packages, and in such scenarios it’s likely Ramsey will match Adams. That will leave Williams to cover the likes of Allen Lazard and Marquez Valdes-Scantling.
The skillsets of Adams and Ramsey are almost unmatched, making this a highly anticipated duel.
Bills QB Josh Allen vs. Ravens Secondary
Let me be the latest to tell you that Allen is good – like, really good.
His ascension this season has been nothing short of remarkable, improving his completion percentage by more than 10 points and throwing for career highs of 4,544 yards and 37 touchdowns. The California native ranked fourth in passer rating during the regular season, behind only Rodgers, Deshaun Watson and Patrick Mahomes.
Allen ranks seventh in well thrown%, which measures how often quarterbacks make an on-target pass, ahead of notable signal-callers such as Mahomes, Tom Brady and Russell Wilson. The MVP candidate was named second team All-Pro by the Associated Press, and has benefitted from a plethora of weapons, with receivers Stefon Diggs (first team) and Cole Beasley (second team) also receiving All-Pro nods.
Waiting ahead is a tough Baltimore secondary, led by Marlon Humphrey, Jimmy Smith and Marcus Peters, that held opposing passing attacks to the seventh-lowest passer rating and the second-fewest yards per attempt and yards per completion.
Smith has been Baltimore’s best cover corner, leading the team in Burn-A% and Open-A%, and ranks fifth among NFL corners in burn yards per target. Humphrey plays mostly inside, so he will likely spend most of the game following Beasley in the slot. Peters will have his hands full with Diggs, but the former All-Pro paced Baltimore defensive backs with a nearly 88% coverage win percentage, the second-best rate in the league among corners with at least 20 matchups.
Allen has passed nearly every test this season with flying colors, but Saturday’s showdown could be his toughest yet.
Data modeling provided by Greg Gifford and Kyle Cunningham-Rhoads.
Enjoy this? Subscribe to The Analyst to receive five stories each Friday from Stats Perform. It’s free.