San Francisco 49ers at Green Bay Packers (+2.5)
For the second season in a row, the San Francisco 49ers (12-4) and the Green Bay Packers (8-7-1) will meet in the playoffs, and the Wild Card matchup this weekend will mark the third time that the teams have squared off in less than a year. In last season’s Divisional round, the 49ers accumulated 579 yards of total offense on their way to a 45-31 victory in San Francisco. The Packers’ return trip to Candlestick Park for the start of the 2013 season didn’t go much better for Green Bay, as San Francisco tallied 494 yards in a 34-28 win. But the latest installment in this budding rivalry shifts to the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field, where the temperature at kickoff on Sunday is expected to be in the single digits.
San Francisco enters the Wild Card round on a six-game winning streak, while the Packers needed a come-from-behind victory over Chicago in the last game of the regular season to secure a spot in the playoffs. However, the Packers’ record is somewhat deceiving, since five of the team’s seven losses came while Aaron Rodgers was out with a broken collarbone. With Rodgers and Randall Cobb back in the lineup, Green Bay will be a far more difficult out in the playoffs, although the 49ers offense has also been rounding into form since the return of Michael Crabtree at the beginning of December. On the defensive side of the ball, San Francisco has the clear advantage, ranking fifth in the NFL in total defense this season, while the Packers had just the 25th best defense and have been gauged in recent weeks.
San Francisco 49ers Game Plan
Only two teams ran the ball more in 2013 than the 49ers, while no team attempted fewer passes than San Francisco. So, it should come as no surprise that the 49ers want to control this game by running the ball and playing solid defense, two things that should play well in the cold weather. Colin Kaepernick had the best passing game of his career (412 yards and three touchdowns) in Week 1 against the Packers, but San Francisco would prefer he not throw the ball 39 times this weekend, as he did in the September meeting with Green Bay.
Keys of the Game
- Pressure Aaron Rodgers – the 49ers have a great defense, but they don’t typically blitz very often. However, in having success against Rodgers and the Packers, San Francisco has been more aggressive with the blitz than normal. Chicago had some success with blitzing Rodgers last week, as well, and in his first game back from injury, Rodgers didn’t look as comfortable outside of the pocket as he usually does. The 49ers will look to pressure Rodgers into early mistakes similar to those that he made a week ago.
- Don’t Settle for Field Goals – San Francisco tied for the league lead in field goal attempts less than 30 yards this season, meaning that they had a lot of scoring drives that stalled out in the red zone. Kicker Phil Dawson was particularly busy in the second half of the season, attempting 24 field goals in the 49ers last eight games, after attempting 12 in their first eight. With the Packers averaging better than 30 points per game with Rodgers at the helm this season, San Francisco will likely need to finish drives with touchdowns rather than field goals.
Prop Bet I Like
Total Rushing Yards – Frank Gore (O/U 77.5): Give me the over. Gore has been over 85 yards rushing in three of his last four games, and I expect San Francisco to give him 20-25 carries this week against a really bad Packers run defense.
Green Bay Packers Game Plan
As important as Aaron Rodgers’ return to the field has been for the Packers playoff chances, the team needs to establish the run with Eddie Lacy and control the clock. After years of being very one-dimensional on offense, Green Bay’s running game took a huge step forward in 2013, averaging 133.5 yards per game. The Packers need to sustain long, productive drives in order to protect a defense that ranked in the bottom-10 of the league in total yards and points allowed this season. In their last matchup with San Francisco, Green Bay managed just 63 yards rushing and they will need to improve significantly on that performance in order to end their losing streak against the 49ers.
Keys of the Game
- Win the Time-of-Possession Battle – In their last two losses to the 49ers, Green Bay allowed San Francisco to dominate the clock, controlling the ball for more than 38 minutes in each of those games. The Packers need to switch time of possession to their advantage, or at least keep it closer than it has been in the last two meetings with the 49ers, so they won’t have to rely on their leaky defense to come up with as many stops. Expect a healthy dose of Eddie Lacy and James Starks on Sunday.
- Make Colin Kaepernick Throw the Ball – Despite getting destroyed by Kaepernick through the air in their last meeting, the Packers defense needs to force the 49ers into passing situations again this week. San Francisco has demonstrated a definite preference for running the ball this season, and Kaepernick doesn’t have professional experience in the type of weather that he will face in Green Bay this weekend. It will be difficult for the Packers to win if Frank Gore and Kaepernick are accumulating significant yards on the ground, but if they can force the 49ers out of their comfort zone, Green Bay’s odds improve dramatically.
Prop Bet I Like
Total Passing Yards – Aaron Rodgers (O/U 270.5): I’ll take the over. Excluding the game in which he was injured, Rodgers failed to exceed 270 yards passing just twice this season, and he threw for 333 yards against the 49ers back in Week 1.
Playoff Prediction: 49ers 34, Packers 27
I expect the Packers to be able to put up points on the vaunted 49ers defense, and a cold game at Lambeau Field will certainly be an advantage. But San Francisco is too good at running the ball and putting Kaepernick in a position to succeed, and I think the 49ers offense will be giving Green Bay’s defense fits once again.
Checkout out our other NFL Playoff Previews
Self-described fantasy degenerate that has been participating in fantasy sports leagues since the spiral notebook scoring era. If you can make a fantasy league out of it, I’m in.