The top seeds in the NFC held serve at home last week, setting up this week’s NFC Championship Game between the San Francisco 49ers and Green Bay Packers. Kickoff is set for 6:40 EST on Sunday, January 19 at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California. The game will be televised nationally on Fox.
Current betting odds list the 49ers as 7.5-point favorites at home with an over/under of 45 points. Be sure to check out the latest Super Bowl 54 betting odds.
After starting the season 8-0 and looking like the best team in the NFL for large stretches of the regular season, it’s fitting to see the 49ers in the NFC Championship Game. Despite some setbacks late in the season, San Francisco beat the Rams and Seahawks in Weeks 16 and 17 to secure the top seed in the NFC and home-field advantage in the playoffs. The 49ers then made quick work of the Vikings in last week’s Divisional Round game, doubling Minnesota in total yards and tripling them in 1st downs. The 49ers are now one win away from their seventh Super Bowl appearance and first since losing Super Bowl XLVII to the Ravens following the 2012 season.
As for the Packers, they equaled San Francisco’s 13-3 record during the regular season. Green Bay won five in a row to finish the regular season, ultimately winning the NFC North by a comfortable margin and earning a first-round bye. Last week, the Packers looked like they would cruise to an easy win after leading the Seahawks 21-3 at halftime. However, Seattle charged back in the second half and the Packers ended up barely hanging on late in the game to secure a 28-23 win. Nevertheless, Green Bay is back in the NFC Championship Game for the third time in the last six years. However, both of those games were losses with the Packers not winning the NFC since the 2010 season when they beat the Steelers in Super Bowl XLV.
In addition to a trip to the Super Bowl, the Packers are looking for a little bit of redemption after an embarrassing 37-8 loss to the 49ers in Week 11. San Francisco scored early and often in that game, leading 23-0 at halftime and winning in lopsided fashion while holding the Green Bay offense under 200 total yards. The good news for the Packers is that they haven’t lost a game since and will get another chance to knock off the 49ers.
Last week’s win over the Seahawks was a microcosm of Green Bay’s season. The Packers did enough to win, but they failed to maintain a high level of play for 60 minutes. That’s not going to be enough against the 49ers, who proved in Week 11 that they’re more than capable of dominating good teams from start to finish. I think the 49ers will be able to carry over the momentum of last week’s win and beat the Packers by a comfortable margin for a second time, covering the 7.5-point spread with room to spare.
Despite having Aaron Rodgers leading the way and a fair amount of talent around him, the Green Bay offense has been average for most of the season. Within each game, they are far too inconsistent, which figures to be a problem against San Francisco’s top-flight defense. The key will be running back Aaron Jones, who finished the regular season strong but had his ups and downs. Despite finding the end zone twice against the Seahawks, he averaged just three yards per carry. It’s not going to get any easier for him against a San Francisco defense that was dominant against Minnesota’s potent rushing attack last week and held Jones to 38 yards on 13 carries earlier this season.
Without a steady rushing attack, Rodgers could be in trouble against the San Francisco pass rush. The 49ers are capable of creating pressure from every position on the defensive line, even if they don’t blitz a lot. They sacked Rodgers five times in Week 11 and got to Kirk Cousins six times in last week’s game. While Rodgers is as good as it gets when it comes to ball security, San Francisco’s pass rush can force him to throw the ball away more times than he’d like, causing drives to stall.
On the other side of the ball, the Packers also have an impressive pass rush that racked up five sacks last week in their win over the Seahawks. However, the Green Bay defense had the benefit of playing with the lead the entire game. The Packers can’t count on that happening again, especially after the way they got pushed around by the 49ers in Week 11. If the Packers want to unleash their pass rush, they’ll need to either build a lead or shut down the San Francisco run game.
By no means will it be easy to slow down the 49ers on the ground. After barely playing late in the season, Tevin Coleman re-emerged last week, totaling 105 rushing yards with two touchdowns. Raheem Mostert also chipped in 58 yards on 12 carries while Matt Breida remains an option as well. Any of the three could be the workhorse this week, although a timeshare can also be effective. Even if the 49ers need to lean a little on Jimmy Garoppolo, the likes of George Kittle, Deebo Samuel, and Emmanuel Sanders give them a formidable set of receivers.
All things considered, I think the 49ers are noticeably better than the Packers on both sides of the ball. San Francisco’s defensive line is more than capable of containing the run and pressuring Rodgers. Meanwhile, the 49ers are a great rushing team, helping to take some pressure off Garoppolo. I don’t think this will be a repeat of the 37-8 game earlier this season, but I expect the 49ers to win by double figures and cover the spread.