The first of three NFL Divisional Round rematches will take place Saturday night at Lambeau Field when the No. 1 seed Green Bay Packers take on the No. 6 seed San Francisco 49ers, the only underdog to win straight up during Super Wild Card Weekend.
Despite their best efforts to give the game away, the 49ers held on for dear life to knock off the Dallas Cowboys. But the win came at a cost, as San Francisco could come into Green Bay with a slew of injuries to key players.
Can these dangerous 49ers put a scare into the top-seeded Pack? Or will Aaron Rodgers and company make it a season sweep of the Niners? Let’s break it down.
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- Opening Line: Packers -4.5
- Current Line: Packers -5.5
- Total: 47
49ers can be dangerous, if healthy
The 49ers are somewhat lucky to be here, as they benefitted from an incredibly undisciplined performance from the Cowboys. And while the fourth quarter was a complete mess, the 49ers played about as good of a first half against Dallas as you could ask for.
The 49ers dominated the first 30 minutes, scoring four times and taking a 16-7 lead into halftime. It was an example of how good the 49ers can be when they’re playing at their ceiling.
The Niners are also a tricky matchup for Green Bay. San Francisco ranks 5th in rushing offense DVOA, while the Packers rank 28th in rush defense DVOA.
Part of Green Bay’s struggles against the run is by design, as their scheme puts an emphasis on protecting against explosive plays through the air. However, the Packers have struggled up front against the run. Green Bay ranks 26th in defensive adjusted line yards, 31st in stuff rate, and 21st in second-level yards. In other words, the Packers haven’t shown much of an ability to disrupt runs in the backfield, and San Francisco’s run game could break into Green Bay’s linebacking corps quite often Saturday night.
In the first meeting in Week 3, the Packers held San Francisco to 67 yards rushing on 21 carries. However, San Francisco’s run game has since evolved drastically. Deebo Samuel had two carries for no yards. Elijah Mitchell didn’t even play. And San Francisco’s leading rusher was Trey Sermon, who has since been banished to Kyle Shanahan’s doghouse.
But as I mentioned above, injuries took a toll on the 49ers during their win over Dallas. Jimmy Garoppolo suffered a right shoulder injury that could have him at less than 100%. Star defensive end Nick Bosa suffered a nasty concussion. And linebacker Fred Warner suffered an ankle injury late. Fortunately for San Francisco, all three practiced Wednesday in some capacity, with only Bosa logging a limited practice.
The 49ers will desperately need Bosa and Warner on the field and as close to 100% as possible against Rodgers and this loaded Packers offense. If all three of San Francisco’s key players are good to go, then they could give Green Bay a run for its money.
Packers offense must win at the line of scrimmage
The most critical matchup perhaps in the entire game will be Green Bay’s elite offensive line against San Francisco’s elite front seven. The Packers rank sixth in adjusted sack rate, third in adjusted line yards, and third in stuff rate. On the flip side, San Francisco’s defensive line ranks second in adjusted line yards, sixth in stuff rate, second in second-level yards, and fourth in adjusted sack rate.
Talk about a battle of strength vs. strength. The Packers must keep Rodgers upright and enable him to take advantage of a 49ers secondary that’s the biggest weakness on the team. The 49ers rank just 16th in pass defense DVOA despite giving up the sixth-fewest passing yards in the league. And I’d expect Matt LaFleur to pick on aging cornerback Josh Norman by trying to get Davante Adams matched up with him as much as possible.
And while plenty has been made about how the Packers struggle to stop the run, the Packers have surely heard this narrative all week too. It wouldn’t stun me if Green Bay dares an injured Garoppolo to beat them by loading up the box, especially if star cornerback Jaire Alexander returns to action. Star pass rusher Za’Darius Smith also could make his return after being out since Week 1. While Smith might serve more of a limited role, having both active would serve as a huge boost.
There’s a lot of uncertainty about this game, which is why this spread is sitting in the dead zone of -5.5. If Garoppolo, Bosa, and Warner are all active, this line could come crashing down. But it could go in the opposite direction if any of these guys, especially Garoppolo, are to miss the game.
Making a bet right now is a speculation on health, and I’d prefer to wait until we get more clarity about Garoppolo’s status. But if we’re willing to throw caution into the wind, then I’d lean taking the points.
San Francisco has the potential to dominate the trenches on both sides of the ball. And while Rodgers and the Packers will certainly get theirs, I suspect San Francisco’s pass rush with a healthy Bosa will generate enough of a rush to take the pressure off the back four. While I expect the Packers to protect home-field and win outright, this feels like another tight-knit game, similar to what we saw back in September.
I don’t have a strong opinion on the total but would lean toward the under. Temperatures are expected to be in the single digits in the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field. And while the winds are expected to be manageable, Garoppolo may have a harder time managing his shoulder pain in such cold temps.
The pick: 49ers +5.5
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Matt Barbato is a featured writer at BettingPros. For more from Matt, check out his archive and follow him @RealMattBarbato.