San Francisco and Green Bay is not an unfamiliar matchup in terms of NFL History. The classic franchises have accounted for 9 Super Bowl titles and numerous Hall of Fame-caliber players have donned their colors. Even in recent playoff editions, the two juggernauts have battled, with San Francisco gaining the edge in 2012 and 2013 with Colin Kaepernick at the helm. Although for this sequence in the 49er-Packer rivalry, the themes trend all too familiar to a playoff matchup in 1997, where Green Bay entered as heavy underdogs, but walked away victorious 23-10. The Packers will be hoping to replicate this type of magic this Sunday Night.
The Green Bay Packers will travel to San Francisco to take on the 49ers where the home team is heavy betting favorites and has looked especially difficult to beat throughout the season. San Francisco is 7.5 point favorites and is riding high one season after picking in the #2 overall slot. San Francisco has every reason to be confident that they will be in Miami in a few weekends based on how dominating they were against Green Bay in Week 12 at home. Green Bay, another team that was well into their offseason at this point last year, is guided by rookie Head Coach Matt LaFleur and will need him to be every bit as cunning as he was in the team's divisional win over Seattle last weekend.
San Francisco can hit you both ways: through the air and on the ground. San Francisco averages 144.1 yards on the ground (2nd in the NFL) and carries the ball roughly 30 times a game. Jimmy Garopollo has been clutch when the team has needed him to be, owning a completion rate of 68.8% and 7.9 yards per pass. Head Coach Kyle Shanahan has proven to be a wizard with scheming top route runners open and giving the 49ers the edge analytically.
To counteract their top-flight offense might be the league's top defensive set. Defensive Coordinator Robert Saleh has pumped out a defense that pressures the passer at an insane rate, as proven by getting pressure on Kirk Cousins on nearly half of his dropbacks last week. What stifles teams is that they rarely blitz, but opt-in favor of dropping more players back in coverage. When you have impact stars like Nick Bosa and DeForest Buckner, you don't need as many blitzers. They ranked 5th in sacks (48) and have the number one pass defense, allowing only 5.1 yards per pass and 166.6 yards per game. The 49ers have won eight games this season holding teams to under 20 points.
All of these signs might spell doom for a team that has sputtered offensively this year, but Green Bay has found a way to "win ugly" all season, and are 8-1 in one-score games this season. When the Packers are able to get into the red zone, they tend to convert, scoring touchdowns 66% of the time. Green Bay also has the benefit of coming into the game hot. Davante Adams lit up the stat sheet last week, grabbing two touchdowns and 160 yards on offense, while his major offensive counterpart Aaron Jones added his own two scores on the evening. The NFL's rushing touchdown leader has unlocked the rushing game that has been missing from so many Packers rosters in the past. A real threat out of the backfield will force the 49ers to think twice before sending an extra man in coverage.
Defensively for the Pack, the talk has surrounded their rushers on the edge all season, as Preston Smith and Za'Darius Smith have been in the backfield of opposing teams that they could apply to buy property there. Green Bay sports a turnover margin of +12 and has adopted the "bend but don't break" mentality. Green Bay has a habit of allowing long passing plays, but they come alive in the red zone, swarming teams and making life difficult to score 7 compared to 3. Green Bay allowed 4.6 rushing yards per carry this season, which could be a problem facing one of the best rushing attacks this season. Apart from worrying about the run game, Green Bay will need to focused on not allowing George Kittle, Emmanuel Sanders or Deebo Samuel to get plenty of touches downfield like they did in Week 12.
The key to the game with be what version of Aaron Rodgers comes to play in his California backyard. If we see the vintage Aaron Rodgers, slicing and dissecting defenses like we saw glimpses of against Seattle, then Green Bay will be able to hold its own against the 49ers. If the Rodgers who looked sluggish and unwilling to take shots to his receivers comes to play, then we can all but assume that San Francisco will be headed to Miami.
The game can be caught on FOX at 6:40 ET on Sunday Night.