January 19, 2022

Will the San Francisco 49ers Pull Off Another Playoff Upset Over the Green Bay Packers?

The NFL Divisional Round is set to feature the finest stars of the league. The NFC is especially intriguing, as marquee franchises are set to face-off.

Coming off the biggest upset in the NFL Wild Card round, the San Francisco 49ers are looking to cover and perhaps upset the top-seeded Green Bay Packers.

We're going to break this matchup down and see why the 49ers can cover as the road underdog in this rematch of the Packers' 30-28 Week 3 win which featured Rodgers' game-winning drive with just seconds left on the clock.  

Packers' Problems

One of the most surprising statistics of Aaron Rodgers' career isn't the insane touchdown-to-interception ratio or any of the other contributions to how we've started looking at the position differently. It's that such an amazing, dynamic passer is just 1-3 in the NFC Conference Championship games. The Packers, always a solid team and often favored, simply struggle to come through on the grand stage.

The franchise has lost back-to-back conference championships to the Buccaneers and the 49ers, respectively. In both games, the Packers' run game was abysmal, but the defense was dominated either by the passing game (against Tampa Bay) or the running game (San Francisco) almost exclusively.

Only a few things have changed between these teams since their last playoff matchup. The Packers' defense ranks better as a playmaking bunch under Joe Barry's tutelage. And the offense is one of the most efficient in the league thanks to the system utilized by head coach Matt LaFleur and offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett.

But the Packers' offense isn't incredibly talented beyond Rodgers and All-Pro receiver Davante Adams. Their scheme relies on a strong running game. San Francisco is the same way but the Niners have the ability to overachieve as we saw last week.

San Francisco's passing defense has improved considerably since their September matchup. Rodgers was able to complete 23-of-33 attempts for 261 yards for two scores, with Adams hauling in over half his yards. Stopping Adams is impossible but the development of cornerbacks Emmanuel Moseley and Ambry Thomas is the key to slowing down the league's best receiver. Moseley has become a legitimate top corner since their first matchup, showing more technical refinement and confidence in his ability.

The Niners must be disruptive with their defensive stars. It appears as though linebacker Fred Warner will be able to play. It'll be hugely important for star pass-rusher Nick Bosa to play as well after suffering a concussion against the Cowboys.

The two leaders combined for 13 tackles and one quarterback hit in the last matchup. Both need to be even better this go-around.

49ers Offensive Advantage

The bigger reason why the 49ers will cover is on the other side of the ball. The Packers played one top-five rushing team in the league this season, the Cleveland Browns. The Browns pulverized the Packers' 28th-DVOA-ranked run defense to the tune of 219 yards on 25 attempts.

San Francisco can do similar damage on the ground and take over the game. San Francisco has totaled less than 100 yards only four times all year. It's safe to assume that Kyle Shanahan knows limiting Jimmy Garoppolo's role will mitigate turnover opportunities in the freezing cold as well.

In their last game, San Francisco was clearly disjointed. The Packers deserve considerable credit for their own playmaking and tight coverage in the secondary. They also did well, as they sacked Garoppolo four times and forced two turnovers.

The 49ers inflicted some of their own pain on themselves. Their identity was significantly different from the one we've seen in recent weeks. At the time, San Francisco was forcing rookies Trey Sermon and Trey Lance into a role they weren't ready for.

Garoppolo, as always, will determine how much of a chance the 49ers have if the Packers explode offensively. If the Packers are as effective in stuffing the run as they were in Week 3, when the 49ers had 67 yards, Garoppolo will have to do significantly better than 25-of-40 for 257 yards, two touchdowns and two turnovers while dealing with injuries to his thumb and shoulder. 

There's not much in Garoppolo's background to suggest he can. San Francisco is at their finest when the running game opens easy throws off misdirection and play fakes. Green Bay and the whole world know this, but out-executing the 49ers is difficult when they're at full strength.

What does work in the passing game is the continued involvement of stars Deebo Samuel and George Kittle. Again, San Francisco has a massive advantage here. The Packers ranked 25th in success rate against tight ends and 32nd in the red zone. Both bode extremely well as the 49ers are as good as anyone in the league at exploiting tight end mismatches and red zone opportunities.

Like last week against Dallas, an outright San Francisco win isn't out of the question. The 49ers are a tough matchup because they're so good at what they do.

Picks: 49ers +5.5 (-110) and Under 47.5 (-110)

Photo: Getty Images