Game Preview

NFL Playoffs NFC Championship Preview: Packers vs 49ers

Green Bay Packers vs. San Francisco 49ers

Spread: 49ers -7.5 |  Over/Under 45.5

Much like Lombard Street in San Francisco, the 100th season of the NFL has certainly been a long and winding road. While the bright lights of Super Bowl 54 are visible, the NFC Championship will be played this coming Sunday. In what will be the deciding game on who represents the NFC in this year’s big game, the San Francisco 49ers will welcome in the Green Bay Packers. In Week 12 of this season, which we will reference in this article, the 49ers would beatdown the Packers by the score of 37.-8. While both of these teams are considered to be storied franchises, both teams have been on their own roads to redemption. After combining for just 10 wins last season, the 49ers and Packers represent the top two seeds in the conference and combined for 26 regular-season wins. As of this writing, SBR’s NFL Odds has the 49ers favored by seven and a half points as this game sits with a 45.5 over-under. On top of countless classic matchups between these two teams, this is just the second time that they will meet in an NFC Championship game. Their previous meeting on Championship Sunday was back in 1998 and the Packers wound up winning 23-10.

Keys To The Game: Green Bay Packers

Davante AdamsWhat the Packers need to do to win this NFC Championship is to flip the script on the 49ers. What that means is that the Packers need to do exactly what the 49ers and do and take Jimmy Garoppolo out of his comfort zone. While some will say that you cannot draw too many comparisons between this upcoming game and their previous matchup in Week 12, the Packers should treat it as a learning experience. One of the biggest keys for the Packers winning this Sunday is the necessity for the offensive line to control the formidable 49ers defensive front. This season, there have been three games in which Aaron Rodgers has been sacked a season-high five times. One of those games was back in Week 12 against this 49ers defense. It should be noted that Packers offensive tackle, Bryan Bulaga only played nine snaps in that matchup before leaving with a knee injury. As far as Bulaga’s current status, he missed last week’s game against the Seahawks due to an illness but is expected to be back for this upcoming matchup. On top of protecting Aaron Rodgers, the offensive line and the Packers offense as a whole will need to establish the run early and control the tempo of the game. The task of running the ball effectively will fall on the shoulders of Aaron Jones who had 62 yards rushing and two touchdowns against the Seahawks last week. The last piece to the puzzle offensively for the Packers is positioning Davante Adams in favorable matchups. Keeping Adams away from the right side of the field will keep him away from Richard Sherman who has allowed just one reception off of three targets in his last two conference championship games. Putting Adams in more favorable matchups will allow him and Rodgers the ability to build off of his 16o yards receiving and two touchdowns from last week. If the Packers offense can do those things, they will improve their chances exponentially.

The key for the Packers defensively is what I referenced earlier and that is to take Jimmy Garoppolo out of his comfort zone. During the 49ers divisional win over the Vikings last week, there were signs of Garoppolo looking uncomfortable after taking a few hits from defenders. Putting him in those uncomfortable spots will force Garoppolo to either hold onto the ball too long or to make a questionable throw. Tasked with disrupting the quarterback will be Za’darius Smith and Preston Smith who combined for eight quarterback hits last week. To put that into perspective, last week, the Vikings combined for just three quarterback hits on Garoppolo. Doing all of this and doing it early will also take the air out of the Levi Stadium and will put the Packers in the best possible position to win.

Keys To The Game: San Francisco 49ers

What the 49ers do better than any team in the NFL is that they will impose their will and physically beatdown their opponent for sixty-minutes. The 49ers will need to do that again this Sunday and they will need to do it from the start and their offense can do that by playing their style of offense and controlling the time of possession. In last week’s game against the Vikings, the 49ers would have five drives of four minutes or more. Last week, late season-hero, Raheem Mostert was limited as he dealt with calf tightness and in his place, it was Tevin Coleman who handled running back duties as he had 105 yards rushing and two touchdowns. While all three backs will be healthy entering this matchup, it will be up to them to keep the clock moving against a Packers defense that allowed the seventh-most rushing yards to opposing running backs this season. For Jimmy Garoppolo, he will need to do what he does best and that is work off of his running game with short and intermediate passes. While George Kittle was limited in the passing game last week, this week’s matchup is more favorable for redzone targets and we can expect Garoppolo to take full advantage of that.

In their previous matchup against the Green Bay Packers, the 49ers defensive front sacked Aaron Rodgers five times. The intriguing part of that for the 49ers is that they did that without Dee Ford. Last week, we would see the return of Ford to the 49ers defense and the Vikings felt the effects of that as the 49ers defense managed six sacks. The impact of Ford’s presence is undeniable as the defense has pressured quarterbacks on 32% of the plays that he has been involved in. While Ford dealt with his hamstring injury and was sidelined, the rate of quarterback pressures dropped to 24.8%. The Seahawks this past week only managed to sack Aaron Rodgers twice, so if the 49ers expect to win this game, they will need their pass rush playing like its usual dominant self. Lastly for the 49ers, while it hasn’t officially been announced yet, most people expect cornerback, Emmanuel Mosley to get the start over a struggling Ahkello Witherspoon. Against an opponent such as Devante Adams, Mosley will need to repeat his divisional round performance in which he had five tackles and two passes defended. Earlier, I reference the five instances in which the 49ers offense had a drive spanning four minutes or longer. In regards to the defense, if they manage to allow the Packers to have just one drive that lasted more than two and a half minutes, they should be hoisting the George Halas trophy.

Fantasy Take: Start’em Sit’em

First and foremost, I expect George Kittle to be more involved in the passing game this week and in particular, in the redzone. During the regular season, the Packers defense finished just outside the top-12 in passing yards to tight ends and also had five weeks in which they were in the top-10 in fantasy points allowed to the position. I think that while both quarterbacks will be serviceable to their respective teams, that won’t translate the dominant fantasy production. In the last five weeks of the regular season, both Aaron Rodgers and Jimmy Garoppolo combined for just three QB1 performances and I believe the pass on both sides will keep these signal-callers limited. While Rodgers’ passing numbers won’t be eye-popping, that doesn’t necessarily mean that Davante Adams won’t be able to deliver. In just two career games against the 49ers, Adams has had 175-yards receiving and three touchdowns. As Aaron Jones will be a vital part of the Packers’ potential success, I’m expecting him to be used early and often with over 60 yards rushing and a score. In regards to the 49ers ‘flavor of the week’ backfield, Kyle Shanahan has notoriously gone the route of riding the hot hand. With that in mind, while he won’t see the 22 carries that he did last week, I envision Tevin Coleman being the lead man in the 49ers backfield.

My Pick

Like you have been hearing in most NFC Championship discussions this week, this game will not be like the 37-8 beatdown that the 49ers gave the Packers back in Week 12. For the Packers, they cannot start this game as they did in Week 12 when they had a personal foul penalty and a lost fumble. I believe the Packers will limit their mistakes and their efforts will keep this game close and below the 45.5 over-under. Ultimately though, this 49ers defense front is on another level and it is not a matter of ‘if’ they can get to Aaron Rodgers, it is a matter of ‘when’. I’m predicting another five sacks or more from this defensive line and I also envision Kyle Shanahan building off of the success that he had against Packers defensive coordinator, Mike Pettine. This will be another game in which 49er fans will be holding their breath, but I believe the 49ers will be representing the NFC in the Super Bowl.

My Pick: 49ers 24-17


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