Green Bay (+3) at San Francisco
To me, this is the divisional rounds' toughest game to predict.
We’ve got a well-rested 'Niners squad, no doubt properly prepared for battle by one of the league’s finest coaches. They’ll be playing in their building, the legendary Candlestick Park, where several Super Bowl runs went through.
The last three games of San Francisco’s season made it tough to get a good read on them, leading into the playoffs. They scored 41 points on the Patriots in New England in a game they led 31-3 before allowing the Pats to come storming back, threatening to complete a sensational comeback. The 'Niners held on for the win, but were absolutely dismantled the next week in a 42-13 loss at Seattle.
For a defense considered by many to be the league’s best, they allowed a combined 76 points to two of the teams still playing for the Lombardi trophy. Still, despite the return of the Pack’s two most important defensive pieces, Clay Matthews and Charles Woodson, the better defense belongs to the team by the bay.
The 49ers finished the year ranked second in points allowed per game (17.1).
Patrick Willis, Navorro Bowman, Dashon Goldson and of course Aldon Smith will be going after Aaron Rodgers all night long, and the GB offensive line will have their hands full. The Packers do not have a great O-line, which will be a key factor in this game.
I expect the running game to be severely limited and Rodgers to be rushed early and often. Rodgers is undoubtedly one of the best in the biz and getting pressure on him will mean the world to the red and gold squad.
Turnovers will play a crucial role in the outcome of this game, which I expect to be lower scoring than you might imagine. I think both defenses come to play, making the offensive units earn every yard.
The unknown X-factor, the guy that will be playing the biggest game of his young life, is QB Colin Kaepernick. I’m tired of the “Alex Smith gives the 'Niners a better chance to win” argument. No, he doesn’t. This kid can ball, and his threat as a runner will keep the Pack off balance.
I think Kap runs for over 50 yards in the game, possibly for a score. Frank Gore will find the end zone, and the key will be Kaepernick through the air. Will he able to find a surging Michael Crabtree, who will probably be seeing plenty of Charles Woodson, with regularity? Can he get Vernon Davis, who had a huge playoff game last year, involved? Will there be a Randy Moss sighting? I could see a big play from Randy. Straight cash, homie.
With all due respect to the San Francisco defense, Aaron Rodgers is one of the very few QBs that you can only hope to contain. With weapons like Jennings, Jones, Cobb and Nelson, dude’s gonna get his.
The game will hinge on whether or not Kaepernick can keep up. He doesn’t need to outplay Rodgers, but he does need to hold his own. He needs to be smart and careful with the football.
Again, look for the winner of the turnover battle to come away with the victory here.
As I previously stated, this was the toughest game of the weekend for me to pick. In the end, I’m going with the better defense, the better running game and home-field advantage.
Packers will have a chance to send it into overtime, but foolishly carrying the bum that is Mason Crosby will doom them as the 'Niners advance to the NFC Championship for the second consecutive season.
215 PICK—San Francisco 27, Green Bay 24