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LA’s defense to test ‘lights out’ Rodgers

Green Bay’s Aaron Jones runs during the first half against the Chicago Bears on Jan. 3 in Chicago. The Packers won 35-16. (AP photos)

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 below 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.

Los Angeles Rams defensive end Aaron Donald smiles as he stands on the sideline late in the second half of an NFL wild-card playoff football game against the Seattle Seahawks, Saturday, Jan. 9, 2021, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Scott Eklund)

“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.

“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.”

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 year.

Seattle Seahawks defensive end Carlos Dunlap (43) leaps to try and deflect a pass from Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff during the second half of an NFL wild-card playoff football game, Saturday, Jan. 9, 2021, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Scott Eklund)

This also will be the Rams’ first playoff game at Lambeau Field. These two 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.

RAMS’ UNCERTAINTY AT QB

John Wolford started at quarterback for the Rams against Seattle, but left early in the game with a neck stinger that will prevent him from playing Saturday. That means the Rams will turn to Jared Goff, who is less than three weeks removed from thumb surgery.

The Rams’ most important offensive players right now might be rookie running back Cam Akers and left tackle Andrew Whitworth. Although both are recovering from recent injuries, they’re the keys to a revitalized ground game that racked up 164 yards rushing last week.

PAY ATTENTION EARLY

The start of this game could go a long way toward dictating the result.

Green Bay has outscored opponents 299-163 in the first half this season, including a 219-92 edge in the second quarter. The Packers actually have been outscored 124-107 in the fourth quarter and overtime, but they’ve made up for that by building such big early leads.

The Rams are 37-0 in games they’ve led at halftime during McVay’s four-year tenure.

MISSING BAKHTIARI

The Packers won’t have All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in practice on Dec. 31.

Green Bay’s offensive line fared well without Bakhtiari in a 35-16 victory at Chicago to close the regular season, but his absence is more of a concern against a Rams team that led the NFL with 53 regular-season sacks.

On Wednesday, the Packers placed offensive tackle Jared Veldheer on the reserve/COVID-19 list just one day after announcing they had signed him off the Indianapolis Colts’ practice squad.

DONALD’S HEALTH

Donald left the Seahawks game last week with injured ribs, but the Rams have expressed confidence the six-time All-Pro will play Saturday. McVay said that “unless something unforeseen happens, the Terminator will be ready.”

“I feel good,” Donald said. “I feel strong. I’ll be ready come Saturday.”

FANS AT LAMBEAU

The Packers will be playing a home game in front of paying spectators for the first time this season. The Lambeau Field crowd will include about 6,500 season-ticket holders as well as invited frontline health-care workers and first responders plus a league-mandated allotment for the visiting team.

“That’s going to help us, give us an extra added home-field advantage that we need, just bringing that extra juice,” Packers running back Aaron Jones said.

Green Bay hadn’t allowed any spectators for its first four regular-season home games due to the pandemic. In late November, the Packers made seating available to team employees and their immediate family members. The last two home games also featured hundreds of frontline workers who were invited to attend.

AP Sports Writer Greg Beacham contributed to this report.

SERIES RECORD: Rams lead 47-46-2

LAST MEETING: Rams beat Packers 29-27 in Los Angeles on Oct. 28, 2018

LAST WEEK: Rams beat Seahawks 30-20; Packers were off, beat Bears 35-16 on Jan. 3

AP PRO32 RANKING:  Rams No. 11, Packers No. 2

RAMS OFFENSE: OVERALL (11), RUSH (10), PASS (13).

RAMS DEFENSE: OVERALL (1), RUSH (3), PASS (1).

PACKERS OFFENSE:  OVERALL (5), RUSH (8), PASS (9).

PACKERS DEFENSE:  OVERALL (9), RUSH (13-T), PASS (7).

STREAKS, STATS AND NOTES: This marks only the third playoff meeting between these franchises and the Rams first playoff game at Lambeau Field. The Rams faced Green Bay in a postseason game at Milwaukee’s County Stadium on Dec. 23, 1967, when the Packers won 28-7. Eight days later, they won the Ice Bowl against Dallas and the ’67 NFC title.

The Rams won an NFC divisional playoff game 45-17 in St. Louis on Jan. 20, 2002.

This game features six All-Pro selections: QB Aaron Rodgers, WR Davante Adams, Packers OT David Bakhtiari (injured), C Corey Linsley for Green Bay; DT Aaron Donald and CB Jalen Ramsey for LA.

Packers coach Matt LaFleur was an offensive coordinator on Rams coach Sean McVay’s staff in 2017. LaFleur and McVay worked together as NFL assistant coaches for Washington from 2010-13.

Donald and OLB Leonard Floyd had two sacks each against Seattle. The Rams made 53 sacks during the regular season to rank second in the NFL behind only Pittsburgh’s 56.

Los Angeles beat Seattle behind 176 total yards from rookie RB Cam Akers. That’s the third-most combined rushing/receiving yards in Rams playoff history. Akers is the first rookie to rush for 100 yards in a playoff game for the Rams. His combined yards were the most by an NFL rookie in his playoff debut since 1970.

Los Angeles defense led the NFL in fewest points allowed, yards passing allowed, total yards allowed, first downs allowed and touchdown passes allowed.

Green Bay is seeking to reach the NFC championship game for the fourth time in the last seven seasons. The Packers haven’t reached the Super Bowl since the 2010 season.

Adams closed the regular season with an NFL-leading 18 touchdown catches despite missing two games with a hamstring injury. Those 18 touchdown receptions tied the single-season franchise record Sterling Sharpe set in 1994. Adams also broke a franchise single-season record with 115 overall receptions.

Robert Tonyan’s 11 touchdown catches tied the franchise single-season record for a tight end. Paul Coffman had 11 touchdown receptions in 1983.

Packers OLB Za Darius Smith has 12 1/2 sacks this season and 26 over the last two years.

Green Bay committed a league-low 11 turnovers during the regular season.

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