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Lorenzo’s Locks: Best bets for Sunday’s NFL divisional games
SportsPulse: Two GOATs battle in the Bayou while the Browns head to Kansas City. Lorenzo gives his two best bets for Sunday’s divisional round games.
GREEN BAY, Wis. — Only after a season is over and the confetti has been swept up can you speak of teams of destiny. There are simply too many vagaries to an NFL season, too many twists and turns that have as much to do with brute strength as fate.
There are choices made along the way, however, that shape those twists and turns. That can transform what has the makings of a special team into something spectacular, or just as easily reduce it to a pile of dust.
For the Green Bay Packers, that choice rested with Aaron Rodgers.
Few would have been surprised – or blamed him – had Rodgers shown up for the season bitter and resentful. He has given the Packers more than they could have hoped when they drafted him almost 20 years ago, and they responded by drafting his replacement in April.
But Rodgers, a man who can turn the most microscopic of slights into a blood feud, realized he could either brood about his future or revel in the now. He decided to choose the latter.
“I really feel like we have the ability to manifest things in our own life through our spoken word and our intentions. That’s kind of the direction I’ve really tried to stay on this year,” Rodgers said after the Packers reached the NFC Championship with a 32-18 win over the Los Angeles Rams on Saturday.
“Being wary about my moods, what I was thinking about, my perspective, trying to be as positive as possible. To try and live with attitude of gratitude.”
In doing so, Rodgers has the Packers in position to be one of those special teams. Maybe even one of those teams of destiny.
For the fifth time in Rodgers’ career, he and the Packers will play for the NFC title, a trip to the Super Bowl on the line next weekend against either the Tampa Bay Buccaneers or New Orleans Saints. For the first time, however, the NFC Championship will be at Lambeau Field.
“Hopefully it’s a little colder than it was tonight,” Rodgers said, smiling. “It’ll be exciting … to watch the game tomorrow and know whoever wins is coming to our place.”
Make no mistake, the Packers are in this position because of Rodgers. He is playing perhaps the best he ever has, and is a favorite to win his third MVP award. There is a purpose to every play, something that hadn’t always been the case in recent years, but enough childlike enthusiasm to produce at least a few, “How did he do THAT?” plays each game.
The Los Angeles Rams had the No. 1 defense in the league, yet Rodgers and the Packers made them look one-dimensional. There was his 33-yard heave to Robert Tonyan while on the run that set up a field goal just before the half. There was, on the drive before that, his 1-yard touchdown run after Leonard Floyd took away all of his other options on third down.
There was the fumble recovery in the fourth quarter, and the must-have pickup on third down on the next play that set up what would be the decisive touchdown.
Football is a team game, however, and sublime as Rodgers is, he cannot do it alone. But that has been the true beauty of this year. Rodgers’ lightness and joy is reflected in his teammates.
A team that supposedly didn’t have enough weapons has the No. 1 offense, and so many options it has to make a defensive coordinator dizzy. Green Bay scored on its first five possessions against the Rams, made Aaron Donald a non-factor and finished with a total of 484 yards.
It’s the most yards gained on a No. 1 defense in a playoff game since the merger, according to Elias Sports. And that was with the Packers missing on a couple of big plays in the third quarter.
Davante Adams, who has established himself as the NFL’s best receiver, made Jalen Ramsey look silly on a touchdown in the first quarter. Ramsey followed Adams as he ran left before the ball was snapped, but then cut sharply back, leaving Ramsey flat-footed.
Ramsey had no chance to catch up, and Adams was wide open for the 1-yard scoring pass.
Aaron Jones erupted for a 60-yard run to start the second half, and capped the drive with a 1-yard scoring run five plays later. He finished with 99 yards – three more than all the Rams combined.
“I really strongly believe in speaking things to life,” Rodgers said. “We’ve been talking a lot about how a positive wave can be so powerful. I feel like we have that wave building. It’s been building and building and building.”
Rodgers has always said he wanted to play an NFC Championship game at home, and now he’ll have the chance. The Packers will host either a dome team (Saints) or warm-weather team (Buccaneers), with the early forecast calling for highs in the low 30s and a chance of snow.
It is not lost on him how special this opportunity is. Perhaps he even appreciates it more, knowing full well that nothing is promised to anyone, anywhere.
“To be the starting quarterback here, to be relied upon for my play, my leadership, my presence, my daily preparation — there’s no greater feeling,” he said. “This is such a special honor, it’s one of the greatest honors of my life, definitely up to this point, to be able to lead this team and be counted on by my teammates to bring not just my physical play but my presence, my emotions, my words.
“I’m thankful for the opportunity to still be here and still be the guy, and I’m excited about what we can accomplish together.”
If that isn’t destiny, it’s close enough for now.
Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @Nancy Armour