The San Francisco 49ers are still alive and will face the Green Bay Packers in Green Bay for their second playoff game so far. The Packers had a bye in the first round as they had the best regular-season record in the NFC. Their opponent, the 49ers, were barely able to sneak into the playoffs after a big week 18 victory, and then they managed to pull off another upset over the Dallas Cowboys last week to advance. The playoff rivalry between these two teams has gone on for quite some time now. In their last postseason matchup the 49ers beat the Packers handily to advance to the Super Bowl in 2020. The 49ers hadn't made the playoffs before that season since 2013, but in that year, they also knocked out the Packers, this time in the wild card game. Also, in 2012, the 49ers were the team to stop the Packers' run yet again, this time in the divisional round. It is safe to say that the 49ers have had the Packers' postseason number in the last decade, but Green Bay will look to change that come this Saturday.
The 49ers season has been up and down with plenty of losing and winning streaks. Numerous injuries were also accumulated throughout the season that has left this secondary currently decimated. Midseason injuries to their running back group may have been a blessing in disguise though, as sixth-round rookie Elijah Mitchell has been one of the best running backs in the NFL the second half of the year. Deebo Samuel has additionally become one of the best weapons in the NFL, playing a hybrid running back and wide receiver position. The 49ers game plan has been simple all year. It starts with strong defence, running the ball well, and then hitting teams with a play-action pass. The difference in the last two weeks for them has been the resurgence of Jimmy G. Him leading this team on crucial last minute touchdown drives and making big third down conversions is what has turned this team from good to great late in the season.
The Packers had the best record in the NFL with 13 wins, but they might have also had the easiest schedule in the league. The second best team in their conference had a record of 8-9, and their non-conference schedule was pretty easy as well. One big non-conference win the Packers did pick up; however, was against the San Francisco 49ers early in the season. That seems so long ago now, but the Packers were able to squeeze out a victory due to a full-field drive with 37 seconds remaining to win on a 51-yard field goal. It wasn't an overwhelmingly decisive or pretty win for them, yet surely the Packers would take a win in any way they can get it this weekend.
The keys to the game for the Packers will be to slow down this running attack of San Francsico. It is no secret that the 49ers want to run the ball, but they have so many variations of their rushing attack that it is hard to predict for the defence. Aaron Rodgers will also have to be at his best in this game. Green Bay likely won't be able to rely on the run as the 49ers have been dominant in stopping their opponents on the ground the last two weeks. The weakness of this 49ers team is in their secondary. If there is a quarterback in the NFL who can expose that, it is Rodgers. The Packers will likely choose to rely on that passing attack, and they will need to focus on field position and clock management. The Packers don't want the 49ers to hold the ball with long and sustained drives that keeps their offence off the field.
Time of possession and keeping Aaron Rodgers off of the field will be crucial for the 49ers. They have won the time of possession battle in their last two games, and that proved to be a winning formula. Having those long-sustained drives should not allow Rodgers to perform like he normally can and could cause him to force passes leading to turnovers. The second thing that the 49ers will need to improve on is their pass defence. This defence is definitely not at full strength and looked shaky in the last couple of minutes against the Cowboys last week. A big factor will be how the 49ers can get pressure on Rodgers and keep this passing offence of Green Bay in check.
This game has the potential to be the game of the weekend. These teams are two bitter playoff rivals, and Rodgers has lost to the 49ers enough times in the playoffs to not give it all he has in this one. This game could come down to the last possession with all eyes on these quarterbacks.