The divisional round of the NFL playoffs kicks off with two epic matchups on Saturday night – Rams at Packers and Ravens at Bills – live on Sky Sports NFL from 9pm
Ten winning seasons. Ten playoff wins. Unforgettable drives and all-time great throws. A Hall of Fame career. Yet Aaron Rodgers has just one Vince Lombardi Trophy to his name, and a series of playoff heartbreaks.
Before we look back on the career of the Green Bay Packers quarterback, we have to appreciate how he is performing right now.
At 37 years of age, he is arguably playing his best ever football.
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Forty-eight passing touchdowns this season? A career-high. 70.7 per cent completion percentage? His best ever in any season as a starter.
There may well be time for more supreme seasons, and he could follow in the footsteps of Tom Brady and Drew Brees and play into his 40s at this absurd level… but Rodgers needs another ring.
It has been a decade since a 27-year-old Rodgers – in his third season as a starter – took the sixth-seeded Packers through a gauntlet of the No 3 Philadelphia Eagles, No 1 Atlanta Falcons and No 2 Chicago Bears before toppling the Pittsburgh Steelers in a 31-25 thriller at Cowboys Stadium.
Since then, the Packers have been the first, second (twice), third, fourth (twice) and fifth seeds in the NFC, but still haven’t found their way back.
Rodgers’ Packers in the postseason
|2009||11-5||Lost Wild Card (at Cardinals) 51–45 (OT)|
|2010||10-6||Won Wild Card (at Eagles) 21–16 Won Divisional (at Falcons) 48–21 Won NFC Championship (at Bears) 21–14 Won Super Bowl XLV (13) (vs. Steelers) 31–25|
|2011||15-1||Lost Divisional (Giants) 37–20|
|2012||11-5||Won Wild Card (Vikings) 24–10 Lost Divisional (at 49ers) 45–31|
|2013||8-7-1||Lost Wild Card (49ers) 23–20|
|2014||12-4||Won Divisional (Cowboys) 26–21 Lost NFC Championship (at Seahawks) 28–22 (OT)|
|2015||10-6||Won Wild Card (at Redskins) 35–18 Lost Divisional (at Cardinals) 26–20 (OT)|
|2016||10-6||Won Wild Card (Giants) 38–13 Won Divisional (at Cowboys) 34–31 Lost NFC Championship (at Falcons) 44–21|
|2019||13-3||Won Divisional (Seahawks) 28–23 Lost NFC Championship (at 49ers) 37–20|
They happened to run into a red-hot Eli Manning, who had arguably his best-ever playoff performance with 330 passing yards and three touchdowns in 2011. In 2012 and 2013, Green Bay simply couldn’t slow down Colin Kaepernick and the Niners.
The 2014 and 2015 exits were true heart-breakers. First, the Packers took a 16-0 lead in Seattle in the NFC Championship game only to throw it away in overtime and miss out for another year. Ask any Green Bay fan, and they will tell you this one hurt the most (and don’t mention Brandon Bostick).
The next season, Green Bay were down 13-20 with just 55 seconds remaining of their Divisional Round matchup with Arizona and facing a fourth and 20. Rodgers scrambled left, launched downfield and Jeff Janis hauled it in at midfield. They needed 20, but they got 60.
With just five seconds left at the same score, the Packers got their playoff miracle: Rodgers to Janis, Hail Mary, 41 yards, a touchdown, and overtime for the second postseason running. Surely this time?
Again it wasn’t to be. Larry Fitzgerald sent them packing with a devastating 75-yard catch-and-run before taking the ball in for a five-yard score.
In the last of the team’s postseason appearances under Mike McCarthy, in 2016, the Packers were red-hot. They won six straight games to end the regular season and tacked on two more against the fifth-seeded Giants and No 1 Cowboys. But in Atlanta, they were obliterated 44-21 by the Falcons.
That made it six straight seasons of postseason exits. Rodgers was injured in 2017 (7-9) and even his return in 2018 couldn’t prevent the team from finishing with their worst record since 2008 (6-9-1). McCarthy out, Matt LaFleur in.
I don’t think any Packers fan expected the rookie head coach to have the team reach 13-3 in his first campaign, and they were widely regarded as overachievers, so although there was disappointment in last year’s 37-20 NFC Championship defeat, it was more in the nature of the performance than versus expectations.
6:07 Watch highlights of last year’s NFC Championship game
This time around, the same cannot be said.
Green Bay are the No 1 seeds in the conference. Rodgers should be voted as the league’s Most Valuable Player. The team scored the most points in the NFL and are coming into the playoffs are six straight wins.
If this isn’t the year, then when?
Rodgers’ 48 TD passes were tied for the fifth-most in a single season. His 121.5 passer rating was the second-highest mark ever. The highest? 122.5, set by Rodgers himself in 2011. He is the first QB with a passer rating of 100 or more in 14 games in one season.
The list of achievements goes on.
He didn’t do it alone. Wide receiver Davante Adams, the route-running artist with ‘registered weapons’ for feet, led the NFL with 18 touchdown receptions. It is the third-most by a receiver in one season in NFL history, behind only Randy Moss and Jerry Rice (both 23).
Running back Aaron Jones managed an excellent 5.5 yards per carry, and totalled 1,459 scrimmage yards and 11 total touchdowns. How about tight end Robert Tonyan, who came out of nowhere to tie Travis Kelce with a league-leading 11 TDs at the position?
On defense, OLB Za’Darius Smith and CB Jaire Alexander were the two players to receive Pro Bowl spots – and named second-team All-Pros – but the unit is well-rounded. Ranked seventh against the pass, 13th against the run, and ninth overall, it might be the best the team has had since their Super Bowl season. In fact, they are top 10 in yards against for the first time that year.
Anything less than a berth in Super Bowl LV on February 7 would be a major disappointment for this well-rounded Packers team.
The Los Angeles Rams stand in their way on Saturday, and it is quite the matchup of strength vs strength. While the Packers led the NFL in scoring offense (31.8 points per game), the Rams allowed the fewest points per game (18.5).
Rodgers’ league-leading passer rating is this week up against a D that allowed just 17 touchdowns compared to 14 picks, and just an 80.4 rating to opposing QBs. They allowed the fewest yards per game overall (281.9) as well as recording the second-most sacks (53).
Russell Wilson went into last week’s Wild Card matchup with Los Angeles with a 105.1 passer rating on the season. On the day, that dropped to 17.6 (!) as he was held to just 11 completions on 27 attempts, 174 yards, and saw an interception returned for a touchdown by Darious Williams.
Two-time Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald was wreaking havoc (two sacks, two tackles for losses) before he suffered a rib injury, but he has said he feels ‘no pain’ ahead of Saturday’s game. His 85.5 sacks in his first seven seasons are the most ever by a player in that span, and it will be no surprise if he gets to Rodgers to add to his tally.
LA have top defenders across the board but none more high-profile than cornerback Jalen Ramsey, who Adams called one of the ‘super elite’ players at the position. When in man coverage, he is up to the task.
Another aspect of the game to keep a close eye on is Green Bay’s play-action passing game. According to ESPN’s Mina Kimes, the Rams are one of the worst teams in the league against play action, while Rodgers is first in QBR, completion percentage and touchdowns. As long as they can force the Rams to respect the run, that success should continue.
In his 16th season, Rodgers is making his 19th playoff start, good for seventh of all-time by a quarterback. He needs two more after Saturday to reach John Elway in sixth. Three more wins (13) would bring him to tied-sixth overall with Ben Roethlisberger and Green Bay legend Brett Favre.
The time is now for Rodgers and the Packers to secure another ring.
Watch Los Angeles Rams at Green Bay Packers in their NFC Divisional Round matchup live on Sky Sports NFL from 9.35pm on Saturday.