Each day this week, we’ll provide the “two-minute” handicap for the Niners’ potential Divisional Round opponent. Let’s start with the biggest longshot, the Green Bay, who are over a touchdown underdog against the Dallas Cowboys.
Questions answered at quarterback
Heading into the season, Brock Purdy and Jordan Love faced plenty of questions. Green Bay’s general manager Brian Gutekunst wasn’t sold on Love midway through the season.
All Purdy did was have the highest yards per attempt in an NFL season since 2000 this past year. Purdy finished first or second among all quarterbacks in completion percentage, passing yards, touchdowns, and quarterback rating.
But where Purdy helped take the 49ers offense to another level was his knack for making plays out of structure and attacking the intermediate and deep portions of the field. The Niners weren’t known for throwing the ball 40 times a game, but when they did throw the ball, Purdy was ruthlessly efficient.
Love had a seven-game stretch where he went 2-5 and threw ten touchdowns with ten interceptions. It’s not uncommon for a first-year starter to struggle out of the gate. But Love’s performance during the previous eight games has been spectacular.
He’s led the Packers to a 6-2 record, where Love threw 20 touchdowns and only turned the ball over four times. His quarterback rating spiked from 72.5 during those seven games to 112.7.
Numbers don’t do either quarterback justice for their performance in the second half. Both quarterbacks have excelled on third downs and against the blitz in ways that numbers won’t tell the whole story. Judging by how they played this season, both quarterbacks should be around for a long, long time.
Why the 49ers will face the Packers in the Divisional round
Mike McCarthy. There are endless examples of McCarthy either taking his foot off the gas, mismanaging the clock, or doing something inexcusable to cost his team the game. Even when Dallas did the right thing, like go for it on 4th down, they never seemed like they had a plan.
The Cowboys need more imagination on both sides of the ball. You know a Dan Quinn defense will play a specific type of coverage. The same can be said for McCarthy’s offense. If Green Bay pulls off the upset, it’ll be because Love rose to the occasion in his playoff debut, and the Packers’ defense forces the Cowboys to settle for field goals in a game that looks closer to what we saw in Week 17 between Dallas and Detroit.
Why the 49ers won’t face the Packers in the Divisional round
Dallas is a different animal at home. They’ve annihilated their opponents during a 16-game winning streak. Before the Lions game in Week 17, the Cowboys have scored at least 30 points in every home game.
Love is a great story and is bound to have a successful career, but he’s a first-year starting quarterback making his playoff debut on the road.
The Cowboys had a 28-14 lead against the Packers in November 2022 before losing in Lambeau Field 31-28. CeeDee Lamb had 11 receptions for 150 yards and two touchdowns in that game. I’m more inclined to believe the team up two touchdowns in the second half on the road won’t blow the lead at home.
This Green Bay defense also finished 27th in DVOA (schedule-adjusted efficiency) despite going up against the sixth-easiest schedule of offenses. They allowed the Carolina Panthers to score 30 points three weeks ago. Carolina combined to score zero points in the previous two games.
The Packers are a great story that snuck into the playoffs behind a young quarterback making plays, but we’re only a few weeks removed from back-to-back losses and had a 25 percent chance to make the playoffs.
If the Cowboys are a contender, they’ll easily dispose of the Packers.