“The Games We Play”

NFC Championship

(2) Green Bay Packers at (1) San Francisco 49ers

Packers: Last week after the Wild Card round concluded, I was asked who the most vulnerable team with a bye was. I didn’t hesitate with my answer. I immediately said the Green Bay Packers for certain reasons. One, I wasn’t sold on their offense. Aaron Rodgers has been one of the best quarterbacks in the league for many years. As of late, he just looked average at best. If you investigate things, he hasn’t even been the best Aaron on his team. That title has been held by running back, Aaron Jones. I was also wondering who that third option would be to step up behind Jones and Davante Adams. Speaking of Adams, what a game he had on Sunday in the win against the Seattle Seahawks. He’s a top-four wide receiver in our game right now. Aaron knew when he needed his top target to make a play, he did it. You play him in single man coverage, he’s going to win. I was impressed with how Matt LaFleur called the game. It was an even mix of running the football, throwing the ball and using the play-action to push things up the field. For the most part, the quarterback was in control of things. I also liked what I saw from the Packers on defense. There were moments where they struggled to tackle in the open field, but they made a necessary stop at the most important times. California hasn’t been kind to the Packers this year. To get to the Super Bowl, they’ll have to take down the top seed in the NFC.

49ers: What I enjoy about this team is how loosely they play. They have fun but most importantly, they play for one another. Entering the game against the Minnesota Vikings last Saturday, I felt there was more pressure on Jimmy Garoppolo than there was on Kirk Cousins because Kirk handled his business the week before in New Orleans. This was Jimmy G’s first playoff start. It’s different when you start compared to sitting on the bench to watch the greatest quarterback ever do it as he had for years. In his first playoff game as a starting quarterback, he didn’t do too much nor did he do too little. He controlled things for the offense. Early on, you saw Kyle Shanahan’s aggressive play-calling with short, quick passes to the receivers. I also noticed the play-action working heavily in their favor. Here’s Jimmy’s stat line: He completed 11 of his 19 pass attempts, threw for 131 yards passing and one touchdown pass along with an interception. Other than the turnover, he took good care of the football. What’s set the tone for the San Francisco 49ers all year has been their defense. I continue to say it because it’s the truth. This is the best defensive line in the NFL because they have a variety of ways to be disruptive. They can get the pressure off the edges with their pass rush, they stunt upfront to move around or they can get a hard push from the guys in the middle. To keep their magical season going, they’ll welcome the Packers in for a huge game on Sunday evening.

Packers Player to Watch: Aaron Jones– He’s been big time all season for this team. In this game coming up, they’ll need him more and then some. He impacts the game beyond his ability to run the football. Number 33 has also been a consistent threat in the check down passing game as well. Get him in space on the wheel route or in man against the linebacker, he’s going to get the football. I look for LaFleur to establish him early to keep the 49ers defense off balance.

49ers Player to Watch: Richard Sherman– This is a familiar name. He’s played in a few of these games. This will be his third-career conference championship game. He maybe a little older, but Sherm continues to get the job done for this secondary. He’s still one of the best playing the position. Richard is one of the smartest cornerbacks I’ve seen play this game. He’s a former receiver which helps him greatly. 25 always lines up against the top receiver of the opposition. Watch him on Davante Adams.

Final Analysis: Their first meeting wasn’t even close. The 49ers imposed their will on the Packers early on. I saw a team get punched in the mouth and didn’t recover until the third quarter of the game. I often refer to that game as the Niners “you like us now moment”. Ever since that loss, the Packers have won all their games. It’s key for the Packers to establish Aaron Jones early on. He’ll be needed to take the pressure off Rodgers. The 49ers struggle to stop the run giving up 124 yards per contest, eighth-most in the NFL. I see the Packers using the quick passing game as well. Quick screens to Adams, using a fast-paced offensive attack to run at a San Francisco defense who will be disruptive. The 49ers need to play to their strength if they want to advance. When they are physically dominating the trenches up front on either side of the football, there’s not a team that can withstand them. The defensive line will need to be ready again. They sacked Cousins six times last weekend. If they consistently collapse the pocket, the Packers offense will have a hard time doing much of anything. It’s also key for the Packers to put themselves in favorable down situations. If they get into any long yardage scenarios, the San Francisco defensive line will use that to their advantage.

Prediction: 49ers 26 Packers 17

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