NFC Divisional Round Matchup:
Green Bay Packers (13-3) at San Francisco 49ers (13-3)
Sunday, January 19, 03:40 PM PST (Fox)
Line: San Francisco -7.5, 45.5 O/U
Congratulations, if you went chalk with your NFC Championship Game predictions, you’re correct! The #1 seed San Francisco 49ers take on the #2 seed Green Bay Packers on Sunday in a rematch of a Sunday Night Football drubbing. The 49ers took the last matchup down in convincing fashion, smashing the Packers 37-8 in a game that NBC flexed into SNF to make sure it happened in front of the whole country. What, then, of the NFCCG? How do the 49ers repeat their efforts? How do the Packers stem the tide? Let’s take a look at the key player, position group, and statistic that could lead each squad to victory on Sunday. If you want to know how our team of experts and comedians think this might go, check out our predictions here.
How the San Francisco 49ers Win
Important Player: Dee Ford
You can’t stop the 49ers defense with Dee Ford on the field. Without him, the Niners can fall apart in a hurry on defense. In the eleven games this season where Ford played over four snaps (so, excluding his New Orleans cameo), the San Francisco defense averaged 4.09 sacks per game, 2.18 turnovers, and allowed just 15 points per contest. They dominated in all aspects of the defense. Without Ford, those numbers look drastically different. The 49ers averaged just 1.5 sacks per game, 1 turnover, and they allowed 25.8 points per contest. Dee Ford has a strong and decisive impact on the defense. He did not play in the 37-8 thrashing the Niners put on Green Bay earlier this season.
Important Position Group: Defensive Backs
Last week, a first-quarter Ahkello Witherspoon brain fart on an underthrown Kirk Cousins pass accounted for 41 yards and a touchdown. The Vikings ended the game with 147 total yards, meaning that Witherspoon’s error accounted for 27.9% of their yardage allowed, and all of the touchdowns. The 49ers immediately shifted to Emmanuel Moseley, and the defense allowed just 107 passing yards in the final 49 minutes of game action. Richard Sherman had a key interception that he let anyone who listened to him know about. This defensive backfield swarms and works when the pass rushers work. The 49ers pass rush is back at full strength, meaning the defensive backs should have a big day in the secondary.
Important Statistic: Jimmy Garoppolo Interceptions
At the beginning of the season, Jimmy Garoppolo, due to his playstyle, had one absolutely boneheaded interception in him every single game. Just truly awful decisions that had no chance of ever making it to the intended receiver. Last week, his interception followed that pattern. He tried to zip a pass to Emmanuel Sanders, but completely missed Eric Kendricks standing between him and Sanders. It was a good interception, but Garoppolo made that a far too easy play for Kendricks. Garoppolo’s cleaned this up lately, throwing just four interceptions in the seven games since Sanders arrived. Prior to the Halloween game against the Cardinals, he had ten in twelve games. Garoppolo has to limit these interceptions for the 49ers to win.
How the Green Bay Packers Win
Important Player: Aaron Rodgers
Freaking duh. One of the best quarterbacks to ever lace them up, Rodgers obviously drives the Packers as far as they’ll go in the playoffs. Here’s the thing, though. This matchup had such a lopsided result that Rodgers needs to improve his play drastically from his 104 yards, one touchdown, five sack performance when these teams met in week twelve. That’s pretty much how the 2019 Packers went. They lost three games, and in those three games, Rodgers averaged just 229 passing yards and had four passing touchdowns in those three contests. He threw just one pick but averaged three sacks per game in the loss. The Packers, outside of Aaron Jones and Davante Adams, don’t have much offensive weaponry to overcome this type of cratering from Rodgers. Adams can’t throw himself the ball, so he truly cannot overcome this kind of cratering.
Important Position Group: Linebackers
Kyle Shanahan absolutely adores the middle of the field. He loves to get guys flowing in and out because the confusion creates separation. He also loves running the ball down your throat. This is all Blake Martinez’s domain. The Packers’ leading tackler needs to have a big contest this week. Why? Because Kyle Shanahan learns. The last time the 49ers and Packers played, the Packers’ defense left massive holes wide open in the middle of the field, a lot of this is due to Martinez biting on every drag and crossing route that went across his face. No matter where Jimmy G looked, Martinez thought he might have that drag route in mind. Shanahan will task Martinez with handling the drag route as well as Kittle behind him in the zone. If Martinez can learn some discipline, then the Packers have a shot at this thing.
Important Statistic: Sacks
The 49ers have one major weakness on the offense, and it’s Jimmy Garoppolo’s propensity to hold onto the ball while trying to find the perfect throw. This leads to some boneheaded interceptions and a lot of sacks. It also leads to his two-straight third-and-sixteen conversions in the Rams game to take that one down. There’s a good and a bad to Jimmy Garoppolo’s play style. The Packers, whose pass rush mostly relies on the Smith Brothers, ranked middle-of-the-pack (pun intended) this season. Their 41.0 sacks tied with the Colts for fifteenth. So, right square in the middle. The Packers put Garoppolo on his butt three times the last time they played, so they’ll need to up that. If they can get five or more sacks on Garoppolo, then they have a chance at winning this one.