The San Francisco 49ers are in the playoffs. We know that much. And since the Minnesota Vikings play at 10:00 a.m. PT, San Francisco will know if they’ve clinched the #2 seed before kicking off against the Arizona Cardinals.
The Philadelphia Eagles play at the same time as the Niners. There’s plenty of incentive to play the starters and play to win, as the #1 seed is up for grabs. The question for today is who. Who do you want the 49ers to play if we’re assuming the Eagles win and San Francisco has to play in the Wild Card round?
You have three options. Two teams Kyle Shanahan and company are familiar with, and the other, a quarterback who the 49ers his number.
Another playoff game against the Packers?
The 49ers have met the Packers nine times in the playoffs since 1996. The Niners are up 5-4 and have won four in a row, including last year’s NFC Divisional matchup, despite not scoring an offensive touchdown.
The likeliest scenario in Week 18 is for each of the Eagles, Packers, and 49ers to win their home games. That means Green Bay would head to Santa Clara.
Since Week 10, Green Bay is sixth in total DVOA. They’re sixth offensively and 16th defensively. The Packers struggle where they’ve always struggled; against the run. That’s the last place where you want to have a weakness against Kyle Shanahan. See: The 2019 NFC Championship or the 2012 NFC Divisional Round, where Colin Kaepernick ran wild against Green Bay.
The Packers are 27th in run DVOA defensively since Week 10, 31st in rushing EPA allowed and success rate. They are fast but reckless, and it’s easy to see a path where Christian McCaffrey runs for more than 120 rushing yards.
Of course, you have to stop Aaron Rodgers. While the name may scare some off, Rodgers has thrown four interceptions in his last five games and only topped 230 yards just once. Green Bay isn’t nearly as explosive as we’re used to seeing. Christian Watson is a speedster, but Rodgers has left plenty of meat on the bone during the second half of the season.
Ironically enough, Brock Purdy has a higher EPA per play, success rate, and expected completion percentage than the future Hall of Famer. As is the case with most teams in the NFL, Green Bay does not match up well with San Francisco.
Third times a charm for Geno?
Seattle is rooting for a Detroit upset on Sunday night. But first, they have to beat Baker Mayfield and a Rams team that will look to play spoiler.
Familiarity benefits Seattle, having played the 49ers twice this season. More importantly, they’ve seen Brock Purdy.
The final score was 21-13 the last time these two teams played. I’m not sure how much stock we can put into that game, given it was a short week. Yes, the division was on the line, but Deebo Samuel didn’t play, Brandon Aiyuk had two receptions, and Arik Armstead was still getting himself back into playing shape. Plus, Janoris Jenkins played meaningful snaps at cornerback.
The score was 7-3 with two minutes to go in the second quarter before Seattle safety Quandre Diggs had an opportunity to flip the game but dropped an easy interception. Then, Seattle fumbles, San Francisco scores to make it 14-3, and the game was never the same.
Of the three teams we’ll discuss, Seattle matches up the best with the 49ers. They have two high-end wide receivers, athletic cornerbacks, and an elite special teams unit to play the field position. You could also make a compelling case for Geno Smith being the best quarterback of the three teams.
Neither of these teams can stop the run, which is a fatal flaw against the 49ers. Since Week 10, Seattle has been 29th against the run. They also cannot run the ball on offense, making them one-dimensional, and allowing the Niners' pass-rush to pin its ears back.
Detroit could have their playoff dreams crushed before they take the field Sunday night. If Seattle wins, the Lions are out. If Baker Mayfield pulls off the upset, and Jared Goff goes into Lambeau Field and shocks the world, we’re looking at another playing matchup against Goff — assuming Philadelphia and San Francisco win.
Detroit ranks fourth in total DVOA since Week 10. Only Buffalo, Kansas City, and San Francisco rank higher. They’re a dangerous offense that can throw the ball all over the place. Amon St. Brown has morphed into a #1 wide receiver. Jameson Williams and Deandre Swift are big plays waiting to happen. Detroit’s offensive line against the 49ers' defensive line would be the best matchup of the first round.
Then, you look at the Lions on the other side of the ball. It’s ugly. They’ve trended in the right direction during the second half. Detroit is all the way up to 22nd defensively in DVOA. They’re 26th in EPA per play, which tells us they give up a bunch of big plays. And are 24th in defensive success rate, which hints at them struggling down to down.
No matter the opponent, the 49ers look to have a significant advantage one way or the other in the first round. So who would you want San Francisco to face?