Note: If you're looking for the 2014 NFC Wildcard game preview between these teams, please go here: San Francisco 49ers vs. Green Bay Packers Pick.
Green Bay Packers (12-5 SU, 10-7 ATS) vs. San Francisco 49ers (11-4 SU, 9-7 ATS)
NFL Divisional Playoffs
Date/Time: Saturday, January 12, 8:00 p.m. EST
Where: Candlestick Park, San Francisco, CA
by Vesper Abadon, Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: GB +3/SF -3
Over/Under Total: 45
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In a football game between two synonymous teams, it's customary that whichever team is playing at home will automatically be labeled a -3 favorite. As it happens, that's what the San Francisco 49ers are against the Green Bay Packers in this weekend's NFC Divisional Playoff match. In other words, the game is so close that the only reason the 49ers are the favorites is because they're playing at home.
The last time these two teams met was way back in Week 1 when the 49ers walked away with a 30-22 win over the Pack, but of course that was with quarterback Alex Smith manning the helm. Now, thanks to a controversial mid-season change by head coach Jim Harbaugh, Colin Kaepernick is the 49ers' man. "He's got a good grasp of the game plan so far," Harbaugh said of Kaepernick earlier this week. "I'm excited that he's ... it's a bit savant-like, you know, the way he's handling it so far this week. So that's really encouraging."
Harbaugh is obviously high on his QB, whom he believes has big-play potential. In the regular season, Kaepernick went 136 of 218 for 1,814 yards and 10 touchdowns; not only that, he bolstered the run game by rushing 63 times for 415 yards (6.6) average and five scores. That's an even better average than the 49ers' leading rusher, Frank Gore, who has carried 258 times for 1,214 (4.7) and eight touchdowns. It's no wonder the 49ers had the fourth-best rushing offense in the league this year with an average of 155.7 yards per game (YPG).
Despite thriving on the ground, the 49ers have struggled at times through the air. Kaepernick has put up respectable numbers, but the team still only averages 206.1 passing YPG-good for 23rd in the NFL. Their leading receiver is Michael Crabtree, who has 85 receptions for 1,105 yards (13 Avg) and 9 touchdowns, while tight end Vernon Davis has 41 catches for 548 yards (13.4) and five touchdowns. Not bad but not great either.
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Despite the wishy-washy pass game, the 49ers actually have a vigorous offense that never gives up. What's more, they have a fantastic defense, which is ranked 2nd in the league allowing an average of just 294.4 total YPG. That's quite a bit better than the Packers, who allow 336.8 YPG (good for 11th in the NFL).
Speaking of the Pack, they don't have the benefit of a first-round bye like the 49ers. Instead, they're fresh off a 24-10 win at home against the division rival Minnesota Vikings, who were without QB Christian Ponder. On a side note: Anyone else think the Packers might have eased up in their Week 17 match against the Vikings to keep the Chicago Bears out of the Playoffs?
In that game, reigning NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers went 23 of 33 for 274 yards and a touchdown. Not superb, but in line with his fantastic season where he finished with an NFL-best 108 rating after going 371 of 552 for 4,295 yards, 39 touchdowns and just 8 interceptions. While the Packers have a non-existent run game-their leading rusher is Alex Green who has carried 135 times for 464 yards (3.4 Avg)-he's got plenty of aerial options to choose from.
That includes Randall Cobb, James Jones, Jordy Nelson, Greg Jennings and Jermichael Finley. Jennings had the biggest game last week against the Vikings by catching four passes for 61 yards, but Rodgers managed to spread the ball out to ten different receivers. Surprisingly, only one pass went to Cobb, who is the team's leading regular-season receiver with 80 catches for 954 yards (11.9 Avg) and eight touchdowns.
Vesper Abadon's Pick to Cover the Point Spread: The Packers are on a roll. In the last 11 games of the regular season, they went 9-2 as Rodgers completed 66.5% of his passes for 29 touchdowns and only four interceptions. Even more impressive is the fact he did it without a run game to open things up. Teams know Rodgers is going to throw and they still can't stop him.
With that said, you can't underestimate the 49ers. They already beat the Packers this season (albeit before their current heater) and played well enough to secure a first-round bye. That means they've had an extra week to rest and prepare for their opponents. Apparently Kaepernick's ready to go, and I think he'll be the difference maker in this game.
Rodgers and company will have a dogfight on their hands against the 49ers' staunch defense, but they'll still put up points. It'll be up to Kaepernick to harness some of that big-play potential if the 49ers are going to do the same. If he does and brings his "A" game, the 49ers could very well find themselves in the NFC Championship game for the second year in a row.
I'm betting the 49ers minus the points in what should be one of the more entertaining games of this NFL Postseason.
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