There have been plenty of upsets in the AFC playoffs this year with two of the top three seeds summarily dismissed by the upstart Tennessee Titans. That hasn’t been the case in the NFC where for the most part the playoffs have held to form. The #6 seed Minnesota Vikings did upset the #3 seeded New Orleans Saints in the wild card round but the important thing is that the conference has their two top seeded teams on the field battling for a spot in Super Bowl LIV on February 2.
On paper, this looks to be an even matchup. The San Francisco 49ers and Green Bay Packers both sport 13-3 SU records during the regular season and both advanced past the divisional round with relative ease. Minnesota had nothing for the 49ers as San Francisco rolled to a 27-10 victory covering the number as -10 point home favorites. Green Bay did receive more of a test but were able to hold off the inevitable Russell Wilson comeback attempt to eliminate the Seattle Seahawks 28-23, though the underdog was able to barely get the money at +5.5.
Even though these teams have identical W/L records we’re not the only one not sold on the Green Bay Packers. They were far from a dominant team even in losing only three games. Their +63 differential is the lowest of any 13 win team in the Super Bowl era. For those of you scoring at home, that’s 54 years we’re talking about. That number would be less of a concern if the Packers did one thing particularly well but that isn’t the case. The offense got the job done but Aaron Rodgers had a mediocre season by his standards. Relative to this game, there’s concern about the disparity between his passing rating at Lambeau Field (101.6) and on the road (89.6). It’s hard *not* to give the edge to Rodgers in evaluating the quarterback matchup–at least at this point in the career of Jimmy Garoppolo. Garoppolo is making just his second playoff start while Rodgers will be making his 18th which includes a Super Bowl title.
The lack of postseason experience is evident throughout the San Francisco 49ers roster. That raises concern in a matchup with the Packers who went 8-1 ATS against opponents with winning records this season. Green Bay’s running game was very strong this year with Aaron Jones leading the way and the defense was up across the board. In particular, the pass rush was very strong courtesy of Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith who combined for 25.5 sacks.
If you’re talking about nasty defenses, however, San Francisco can definitely claim that sobriquet. Rookie Nick Bosa is an absolute monster and has plenty of help from linebacker Kwon Alexander along with pass rushing threats DeForest Buckner, Dee Ford and Arik Armstead. San Francisco’s rushing defense isn’t great (#17 in the league) but their passing defense is the best in the league. Green Bay’s rushing game isn’t any better (#23) and they’ll be facing the #1 rushing team in the NFC. The Niners’ play running back by committee with Raheem Mostert, Matt Bredia and Tevin Coleman meaning that it’s not a case of shutting down just one player. Throw in George Kittle aka the best tight end in the NFL and Garoppolo has plenty of weapons around him.
It’s important not to overreact to the late season rout of Green Bay by San Francisco (37-8 on 11/24). Green Bay has a quality team with plenty of talent on both sides of the ball and superior playoff experience to the Niners. Some concern about Green Bay’s health, specifically the time missed due to illness by Josh Jackson and Dexter Williams. Typically, when one or two players show up on a team injury report with an illness you can be sure there are a number of others also ‘under the weather’. Ultimately, however, the price looks too high. San Francisco wins to advance to the Super Bowl but Green Bay stays inside the number.