It’s been a different path for both teams, who each saw their own adversity earlier in the season, but bounced back to make the playoffs, with the 49ers climbing to the No. 1 seed, while the Packers inched in as the No. 7 seed.
Green Bay comes into this one hot, as they’ve won seven of their last nine games, including last weekend’s wildcard matchup against the Dallas Cowboys in blowout fashion.
Now, they’ll head to San Francisco with momentum and nothing to lose against a 49ers team that has made the NFC Championship Game in three of the last four years.
In our latest podcast episode, we discussed the 49ers’ divisional-round matchup with the Packers, pointing out the biggest reasons for optimism and concern, both in this matchup and going forward.
The video for the show is embedded above, while the audio is available below.
Reasons for optimism
The 49ers enter the playoffs with arguably the strongest roster in the NFL, which is reflected in their record. This season, there seems to be a trend ongoing in the NFC, as the better teams have beaten the better quarterbacks, which was the case in all three of the NFC wildcard games.
In the playoffs, many rely on quarterbacks to carry the load, but the more balanced teams turned out to be successful, and that benefits the 49ers, who not only run the football at the second-highest rate in football, but also arguably have the best team in the NFC, setting themselves up well for a run.
Additionally, the path to the Super Bowl is likely the easiest it’s been in each of San Francisco’s prior playoff trips under Kyle Shanahan. Should they beat the seventh-seeded Packers, they would face off against either the Detroit Lions or the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFC Championship Game, which would also be at Levi’s Stadium. It feels like the 49ers would be near-touchdown favorites odds-wise in that game.
Many of the 49ers’ perceived top threats, such as the Los Angeles Rams and Dallas Cowboys, were eliminated in the first round, and San Francisco does match up well with most, if not all, of the remaining field.
Lastly, San Francisco is as healthy as they’ve been entering a playoff run, as all of their top players are set to play against Green Bay, with the only missing piece being defensive end Clelin Ferrell.
Injuries have hurt San Francisco in the past, but their roster is uber-talented this year, and it’s all together.
Reasons for concern
The top issue for a No. 1 seed in the playoffs is rust, especially since the 49ers haven’t played a meaningful game in nearly three weeks.
Now, I do expect the 49ers to be aggressive and come out firing against a favorable matchup for their offense, but I highlighted how the first half could be telling for how this game could go, as the Packers are one of the better second-half teams in the NFL.
The 49ers have practiced hard starting from last week to prepare for the playoff environment. The question is: how quickly will it take for them to get acclimated on Saturday?
The other main issue is more due to recency bias, but one that must be addressed: kicker Jake Moody’s Week 18 struggles.
Moody missed two chip shots in the final week of the season. While it was a meaningless game, it’s not a good sign that the rookie kicker ended his regular season on a sour note.
When looking at qualified kickers, Moody ranked 20th in field goal percentage at 84 percent, and every player but one above him had more attempts than the rookie’s 25.
San Francisco cannot afford to leave points on the board in the playoffs, but that’ll be dependent on Moody and how he responds on Saturday. If he can be consistent, the 49ers are in good hands, especially given how strong Moody’s leg is.
But, in potential rainy conditions against the Packers, it is somewhat of a concern heading into the divisional round.