3 Most Important Matchups for Packers in Divisional Playoffs vs. 49ers

Alex Ballentine@Ballentine_AlexFeatured ColumnistJanuary 19, 2022

3 Most Important Matchups for Packers in Divisional Playoffs vs. 49ers

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    After getting to sit out Super Wildcard Weekend as the NFC's No. 1 seed, the Green Bay Packers' quest to win Super Bowl LVI starts at home with a matchup against the San Francisco 49ers.

    It isn't the easiest matchup the Packers could have drawn. The Niners finished the season strong and continued to show they have what it takes to succeed in the postseason. Their 23-16 win over the Dallas Cowboys wasn't perfect, but it highlighted their strengths.

    The Packers are still expected to advance. They enter the playoff matchup as a six-point favorite, per NFL DraftKings Sportsbook.

    Much like styles make fights, matchups make a football game. If the Packers are going to get their postseason off to a good start, here are the three they need to win.

Packers Defensive Front vs. 49ers Offensive Line

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    If there's one aspect of the Packers team that could prevent them from making a Super Bowl run, it's their run defense. The defensive front has not been great at stopping opposing rushing attacks, surrendering the second-worst yards per carry (4.7).

    The 49ers ran the ball 38 times for 169 yards against the Dallas Cowboys. On the season, they are one of the most run-heavy teams in the league, running the ball on 48 percent of their plays. Anchored by Trent Williams, the Niners offensive line was ranked as the third-best in football by PFF at the end of the regular season.

    The only question is which version of the Packers run defense will we see: the one that held Dalvin Cook to 13 yards on nine carries in Week 17 or the one that gave up 184 yards on 21 carries to Nick Chubb and D'Ernest Johnson in Week 16?

    The answer is going to go a long way toward deciding who wins the game.

Preston Smith and Rashan Gary vs. Deebo Samuel

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    The 49ers have found a way to create a potent offense despite quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo's limitations.

    Part of that comes from one of the league's best offensive lines. Another reason is the emergence of Elijah Mitchell as a workhorse running back. Having George Kittle at tight end certainly doesn't hurt.

    But the biggest development for the offense this season has been third-year receiver Deebo Samuel. The 26-year-old has established himself as one of the most dynamic offensive weapons in the league.

    As a receiver, no one is better at getting yards after the catch. But it's his ability to help in the run game that is scary. He only had three catches for 38 yards against Dallas, but his 72 rushing yards on 10 carries were key in beating the Cowboys.

    The Niners love to give Samuel the ball on sweeps and will look to get the edge. That's why it is going to be crucial for both Preston Smith and Rashan Gary to not just be pass-rushers but also true edge-setters in the run game in order to help contain Samuel.

Aaron Rodgers vs. 49ers Secondary

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    Despite the success of the 49ers and all the things they bring to the table, the Packers are still the favorites to prevail. Aaron Rodgers is a big reason for that.

    The likely NFL MVP has proved throughout the season that he's still capable of carving up the best defenses. The 49ers are not among the best defenses.

    The pass rush is good. The Niners were tied for fifth in sacks during the regular season and brought down Prescott five times in the wildcard game. But the secondary is a little less reliable. The unit held Dak Prescott relatively in check in the Wild Card Round, but on the season it has allowed a passer rating of 97.0, the eighth-worst record.

    Given Rodgers' ability to get rid of the ball on time, even in the face of pressure, this is going to be the defining matchup of the game. Regardless of what the Niners can do on offense, the Packers are going to have the advantage if this game becomes a shootout or comes down to late-game execution.