Packers at 49ers: Predictions, 5 things to watch
TEAMS: Green Bay Packers (14-3, No. 2 seed) at San Francisco 49ers (14-3, No. 1 seed).
WHEN: 5:40 p.m. CT Sunday.
WHERE: Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, California.
TV: Fox with Joe Buck (play-by-play), Troy Aikman (analyst), Erin Andrews and Chris Myers (reporters).
RADIO: AM-620 in Milwaukee, FM-101.1 in Green Bay; Packers Radio Network.
SERIES: Packers lead, 36-31-1.
LINE: 49ers by 7½.
WEATHER: Cloudy, high of 62 degrees.
SURFACE: Tifway II Bermuda Grass.
COACHES: Green Bay’s Matt LaFleur (14-3) vs. San Francisco's Kyle Shanahan (24-26).
LIVE GAME BLOG: Join Tom Silverstein for analysis and lively conversation.
5 THINGS TO WATCH
1. RODGERS SEEKING TITLE-GAME TURNAROUND: Even when the Packers got the only victory in their three NFC championship games during the Aaron Rodgers era, the quarterback struggled. His three-game statistics (2010, '14, '16) are 63 of 109 for 709 yards and four touchdowns with five interceptions. He has been sacked four times. In the 2010 victory over the Chicago Bears en route to Super Bowl XLV, Rodgers completed 17 of 30 passes for 244 yards with two interceptions. Like in 2010, Rodgers does not have to carry the team, but if the Packers are going to beat the 49ers, it’s likely he’ll need to be a lot better than he has been in championship situations.
“My job is different year to year, and it’s about being efficient and taking care of the football and making the right checks,” Rodgers said. “The last six weeks, I’ve felt really locked in on the preparation, and I think that’s helped us on offense to really be on the same page.”
2. DIRTYING GAROPPOLO'S UNIFORM: Over the last six games, only one team has made 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo pick himself up off the ground more than a couple of times. The Los Angeles Rams sacked him six times and knocked him down twice in a three-point 49ers win in L.A. Nobody else has really made his life tough. Minnesota, which has one of the best pass rushes in the league, sacked him twice and knocked him down once. Seattle: two sacks. Atlanta: one sack, two knockdowns. New Orleans: three sacks, three knockdowns. Baltimore: two sacks, one knockdown. Somehow, the Packers must get to Garoppolo.
“We just have to go in here and not let him get comfortable back there, get in rhythm and get the ball to his guys,” outside linebacker Preston Smith said. “He has a lot of playmakers, a lot of talented guys on that offense, and we’ve got to make sure to apply pressure.”
3. READING THE COVERAGE ON ADAMS: The 49ers are usually not deceptive in how they play their scheme. They’re not unlike Seattle, which plays a heavy dose of Cover 3 with a single deep safety. But that’s not how they played the Packers in the first meeting, a 37-8 loss for Green Bay in Week 12. Blitzing a fair amount and playing man coverage behind it seemed to confound the Packers, especially on third downs when three of the first four times the 49ers brought more than four rushers, they sacked Rodgers. San Francisco is not going to allow Davante Adams the freedom he got against Seattle after he burned them for eight catches for 160 yards and two touchdowns. It’s unlikely they’ll match cornerback Richard Sherman against Adams, but you can bet they’ll give whoever is covering him a lot of help.
“I put the onus on me to go out there, get open, give (Rodgers) a nice place to go with the ball and I can only get as open as I can,” Adams said. “So, I’m not going to be a superhero, but I do as much as I can as far as making sure I beat a guy and give him a good look.”
4. KEEPING THE 49ERS FROM GOING ON A RUN: Last week, against one of the better run defenses in the NFL, the 49ers dominated the line of scrimmage. They ran 47 times for 186 yards, and ran all eight times on a 44-yard touchdown drive to take a 24-10 lead in the third quarter. The running trio of Tevin Coleman, Raheem Mostert and Matt Breida averaged 4.3 yards per carry against the Vikings, who wore down under the weight of so many runs. Many of the formations and motions the 49ers use in their run game are used to disguise pass plays, so a defense never knows what’s coming.
“When you're running for four yards a carry and you rush it 47 times, you don't really need to throw the ball,” 49ers tight end George Kittle said. “So, what coach Shanahan does, the balance is always there, but he's never afraid to run power on back-to-back plays to score a touchdown. We ran on third-and-2 for a 10-yard gain and then we scored on the exact same play.”
5. SLOWING DOWN THE RUSH: In the first meeting, Rodgers was sacked five times and hit three other times. Right tackle Alex Light, who came in for injured Bryan Bulaga in the first quarter, gave up two sacks and right guard Billy Turner gave up a half sack and a quarterback knockdown. Defensive tackles Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner dominated. Bulaga is back and left tackle David Bakhtiari is playing far better now that his left hip is finally at 100%. With both tackles healthy, coach Matt LaFleur should devote more help inside where the 49ers are strongest and be able to get the running backs out on pass routes. The 49ers like to send an extra rusher on third down, so some of those passes might have to come on early downs. Don’t be surprised if returner Tyler Ervin is a recipient of a few of those. Each week he seems to get more involved in the offense. “He just brings another weapon to this offense,” running back Aaron Jones said. “He can stretch the field as well with his speed. That guy is super fast.”
The general public doesn’t think the Packers have much of a chance and could be right. The 49ers have survived so many tests this season and even when they’ve lost (Seattle, Baltimore) it has been close. The Packers won’t get blown out, but the superior team will win. 49ers 27, Packers 20
The Packers are healthy and seem loose, which is the recipe for a good performance in a big game in January. They also figure to have learned a thing or two from their 37-8 loss to the 49ers in November. But the guess here is the 49ers’ persistent run game and talented defensive front seven will prevail in the end. 49ers 27, Packers 24
I don’t think the Packers' 29-point blowout loss in San Francisco seven weeks ago means another blowout is coming. That game was about lack of execution, not lack of talent. Still, I can’t un-see what I just saw. The 49ers, with four first-rounders in their defensive front and more time in Kyle Shanahan’s scheme, are the better team. And they’re playing at home. This game will be close, but the Packers’ renaissance season ends at a familiar place, on the doorstep of the Super Bowl. 49ers 20, Packers 17
The Packers’ defense once again bends and doesn’t break in limiting the 49ers to more field goals than touchdowns and comes up with a turnover to help Aaron Rodgers and the offense do just enough. The Packers will avoid the catastrophic errors that plagued them in the first game to reach the Super Bowl. Packers 27, 49ers 26
This game will be a much more competitive one for the Packers than the one in Week 12. However, the 49ers will be even better defensively than they were a month ago with Dee Ford and Kwon Alexander back in the mix. Additionally, I’m not sure if the Packers have an answer for George Kittle. 49ers 34, Packers 30
The Packers turn an interception of 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and a fumble recovery into an early lead that forces San Francisco out of its run-dominated offense, then hang on with Aaron Rodgers improvising for a decisive late touchdown that sends Green Bay to the Super Bowl. Packers 24, 49ers 20