Green Bay Packers (14-3) at San Francisco 49ers (14-3)
Sunday, January 19th, 6:40 pm EST
So, San Francisco might have the greatest single season turnaround in NFL history. Just a reminder that the Niners picked second overall in last year’s draft. That wasn’t a trade, either. The 2018 49ers earned it fair and square at 4-12. Now they’re one home win away from having one of the final two picks in this year’s draft, but something tells me that they aren’t complaining.
San Francisco looked exceptionally efficient in dismantling the Vikings to advance. After a big play touchdown in the first quarter, the Niners defense stepped up, allowing only one field goal the rest of the way. The Niners second-ranked defense sacked Kirk Cousins six times and allowed exactly zero scoring chances for the entire second half, as they held the Vikings to three punts, two failed fourth down conversions and an interception. On offense, Jimmy G and the 49ers did the smart thing, relying on their run game, to the tune of a franchise record forty-seven rush attempts.
The Packers got here by building a 21-3 halftime lead and holding on for dear life as Russell Wilson did what Russell Wilson does. He brought the Seahawks almost all the way back, but an overly conservative punt on fourth and eleven with a bit over two minutes left gave Aaron Rodgers the ball back. He then did what any Hall of Fame bound quarterback does. He got two first downs and iced the game. I’m not saying that if Pete Carroll goes for it on fourth that they make it. I’m not saying that converting means that the Seahawks score and take the lead. We can’t know that, but what we do know is that for the better part of the second half, the Packers looked like they knew what was coming. They looked scared and Wilson’s comeback felt…inevitable.
San Francisco, I get the feeling, won’t need an eleventh hour push to get out of Levi’s with a win if they do what they’ve done all year. Control the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. The Niners have been one of the league’s stingiest defenses all year, and the single toughest to throw against, allowing a scant 170 yards per game in the air. A huge part of that has been Richard Sherman, the savvy veteran corner who’s been putting receivers on lock down all season long.
One interesting question is whether Sherman will be asked to shadow Green Bay’s top threat, Davante Adams. Signs point to no. Sherman plays the left side of the field, almost exclusively, covering whoever the opposing offense aligns across from him. Adams has been most successful this season mostly on the right side. The Packers aren’t likely to move him to create the conflict, and Niners defensive coordinator Robert Salah has only asked Sherman to follow a receiver twice in recent memory…to cover A.J. Green and Julio Jones. Davante Adams is good, but he isn’t on that level.
Unless the Packers can elevate their middle of the pack rush defense, the Niners merry band of tailbacks are likely to control the clock and keep Aaron Rodgers on the sidelines, where he can’t take over the game. It’s going to come down to a few big plays or missed opportunities.
Prediction: As much as I love Aaron Rodgers, and instinct tells you to go with the better quarterback in a high pressure playoff game, I just don’t like Green Bay’s chances here against a Niners team that’s been the best in the NFC all year. We may struggle to believe it, given their recent history, but that’s just what they’ve been. I expect the San Francisco running attack to control the game, and play keep away from A-Rod. He’ll have some Aaron Rodgers moments, but it won’t be enough.
49ers – 31
Packers – 24
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Image Source: AP Images