The 49ers may have a first-round bye, but their first playoff game won't be easy, no matter who they are up against.
San Francisco will likely face Green Bay but, if the Packers lose, they will face the Seahawks or Redskins. All three are 10-win teams, two won their division and the one that didn't (Seattle) had 11 wins and thrashed the 49ers 42-13 in Week 16.
Colin Kaepernick and company have the talent to go all the way and will have homefield advantage on their side next week. However, they will still have trouble, as they were outscored 70-56 in three games: two against the Seahawks and one against Green Bay.
The 49ers beat the Packers at Lambeau Field but, if they clash with the Packers, it will be at Candlestick Park. Still, it won't be easy to beat Aaron Rodgers and the Pack, who have an explosive offense and a capable defense. Their defense isn't known for being the most gifted, but they have an incredible defensive coordinator in Dom Capers and the 11-ranked defense in the league.
Green Bay doesn't have much of a running game or an offensive line, though, so Aldon Smith should be able to have a field day. If San Francisco is going to succeed against Green Bay, they need to take chances on defense and feature a defensive gameplan focused on making Rodgers beat them. The 49ers have a good defense and, if they can get to Rodgers like Seattle did in Week 3, they can find success.
Against the Redskins, the 49ers could definitely find success, but they will need Kaepernick to step up.
If the 49ers do play the Redskins, which is unlikely, Kaepernick will be key, since Washington has a high-octane offense with an explosive dual-threat quarterback themself. Taking away the run by getting up early and putting the game in the hands of RG3 would help, though, and keeping the play-calling balanced would be huge. Greg Roman tends to get pass-happy and even a weak defense like Washington's can stop the 49ers if the play calls are uneven.
Washington's run defense is far from bad but, if Roman can establish the run and get Kaepernick going at home, SF should be able to outduel the Redskins in a shootout. It won't be easy, considering the Redskins would be riding an eight-game winning streak. But the 49ers are simply better overall than the young Redskins.
Seattle wouldn't be as easy either. There were some things that would go differently at Candlestick Park in a rematch, but there's no denying that the Seahawks roughed up the 49ers. Seattle has a great pass rush and secondary and Seattle allows an impressive 15.3 points per game, tops in the NFL.
Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch anchor a great offense, but San Francisco shut them down at Candlestick in Week 7, holding them to just 251 net yards and no touchdowns.
Seattle is containable and can be beat the 49ers.But they must execute the same gameplan they would have against Washington: get an early lead, take the running back's impact limited, and force the rookie quarterback to beat them.
However, losing to a team by 29 points doesn't exactly make you want to face them again, and San Francisco probably doesn't want to play Seattle, even at the friendly confines of Candlestick Park. While Green Bay has lots of flaws and a poor run defense that could be shredded by Gore, they have experience and a quarterback with a league-leading 108 passer rating.
If you couldn't tell already, I'm suggesting that Washington is the most favorable matchup. While it will take wins by the Vikings and Redskins to create a 49ers vs. Redskins game in the Divisional round, the 49ers would benefit from it.
Against the Redskins, feeding off of the crowd early and taking a big lead would pretty much ice the game. RG3 is explosive, but he is ailing from his knee injury.
I think the 49ers defense could hold up a big lead. While the Packers and Seahawks are definitely beatable, I think the most favorable matchup for the 49ers would definitely involve them and the Redskins.
If they can jump out ahead early and contain RG3, a berth in the NFC Championship Game will be theirs.
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