When reading/watching anything about the NFC Championship game this Sunday between the Packers and 49ers, you’re probably hearing things like: “Well, San Francisco crushed the Packers by 30 points two months ago, there’s no way Green Bay stands a chance” or “This won’t even be close, San Francisco’s going to the Super Bowl”. Anytime you get a postseason matchup between two teams that played each other in the regular season, there’s always going to be narrative floating around. The way that the Niners beat up on the Packers earlier in the season does suggest an easy answer of another blowout, but what if it doesn’t go that way? Here are three reasons why the Packers are more prepared for the Niners this time around.
– The First Cut is the Deepest –
Beating any NFL team is tough, but beating the same NFL team twice, especially handily, is something that we rarely see. While San Francisco won the first matchup in every facet of the game (38-7 victory), it’s hard to imagine that they’d be able to do it again in a playoff scenario. The Packers have won six-straight games since getting the life sucked out of them in California, including last week’s Divisional Round game against Seattle. They are constantly put down by the way they “win ugly”, but a win is a win, right? Two months of football is a long time for a team to build momentum, create chemistry, and establish a championship mindset. Both teams have done this, and both are equipped to represent the NFC in a Super Bowl. I believe the Packers come out with a chip on their shoulder and try to beat the Niners at their own game. Even if they fail to do so, I do believe that this game stays within one score for the majority of the evening.
– The Smith Bros. –
Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith have been a revelation for a Packers team who for the first time in decades, spent significant money during free agency in 2019. Za’Darius finished 1st in the NFL in several categories during the regular season, leading the league in pressures (71 on the year), pressure rate, and sacks created. While his sack numbers did not crack the top 3, he was easily the most effective pass rusher in football (reminder that sack totals don’t always tell the full story). The Smith Bros. combined for 4 sacks, 10 QB pressures, and 12 hurries last weekend against Russ Wilson and the Seahawks. If Za’Darius (27% disruption rate) and Preston (24% disruption rate) can both be as effective against a QB in Jimmy G that is less mobile than Russ, the Packers defense has a chance to limit Niner possession time/ball control (pressure numbers via Next Gen Stats).
Za'Darius & Preston Smith combined for 4 sacks, 10 QB pressures, and 12 hurries tonight.
— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) January 13, 2020
– Mr. Rodgers Can Turn Back Time –
If you look at the positional breakdown between the two teams, the Niners have the edge against Green Bay in almost every category (Packers have an edge on special teams). The one X Factor that can change this game? The ‘Bad Man’ Aaron Rodgers. Talk of the town all season has stated the Rodgers doesn’t have it anymore, that his stats are down, that he just can’t make the plays he used to be able to. While some of that may be true due to age and declining skill, we saw last week that Rodgers may have a little throwback juice left in the tank. Completing impressive 3rd down conversions when it mattered last week, it appears that Rodgers can still be a game changer when it counts. Green Bay is 100% the weaker team in this matchup by several statistics, but don’t be surprised if #12 is able to make some magic happen once again when all odds are against him. If the Packers pull off the upset, it will most likely be due to a transcendent performance from one of greatest throwers of the football we’ve ever seen.
The matchup to determine who will represent the NFC in Super Bowl LIV kicks off at 6:40 pm EST on Sunday, January 18th. Will it be the Niners or Packers who come out victorious?