Fri, Jan 3, 8:31pm by Ed Scimia
Match: San Francisco 49ers (12-4) vs. Green Bay Packers (8-7-1)
When & where: 8.30am (AEST) Monday, January 6, Lambeau Field, Green Bay
Wager with: Sportingbet.com.au and receive a $200 free bet
Of the four Wild Card Round playoff games in the NFL this year, none has a greater disparity in the records of the two teams than in this game between the 12-4 San Francisco 49ers and the 8-7-1 Green Bay Packers. While the 49ers have been near the top of the league all season, Green Bay’s season has been full of plot twists, and they weren’t certain to make the playoffs until the final seconds of their win last week. But because they won their division, the Packers will have home field advantage this weekend – one final twist that makes this perhaps the most anticipated game of the weekend.
There’s a good reason that San Francisco has emerged as one of the NFL’s elite franchises over the last two years. The 49ers can pass, they can run, and more than anything, they can play defence. While third-year quarterback Colin Kaepernick has struggled at times this season, he’s certainly been good enough to win games, and has looked better over the last six games – all San Francisco wins. In addition, he has proven himself to be a nightmare for Green Bay in the past, running for 181 yards in their playoff match last year, and throwing for 412 yards in a 34-28 win to start this season.
But if San Francisco will win this game, it’s likely to be because of their defence. All year long, opposing teams have struggled to score against the 49ers, who have allowed only 17 points per game – third best in the entire NFL. The San Francisco linebackers have been especially fearsome, with NaVorro Bowman and Patrick Willis in particular raising the level of play over the past month.
The Packers spent the first half of their season expecting to make the playoffs as well. But an injury to star quarterback Aaron Rodgers in the 8th game of the season threw the entire year into doubt, as Green Bay then proceeded to lose four of their next five games, a streak only broken up by a tie with the Minnesota Vikings. They then managed to right the ship a bit behind Matt Flynn, who won two games in a row before losing to Pittsburgh in Week 16. Rodgers finally returned for the Week 17 game in Chicago – essentially a playoff game to determine the NFC North winner – leading the Packers to a 33-28 victory.
There’s no doubt about it: the Packers are simply a different team with Rodgers in the lineup, as the quarterback is arguably the most valuable player in the entire NFL. With him back and healthy, it’ll take some of the pressure off of running back Eddie Lacy while opening up more opportunities for Jordy Nelson and the other Packer receivers.
Unfortunately, as good as the Packers are on offense, they’ve struggled just as much on the defensive side of the ball. They’ve allowed nearly 27 points per game, and to make matters worse, they’re heading into this game without linebacker Clay Matthews, who broke his right thumb for the second time this season last week.
Were this game in San Francisco, the 49ers would be a clear favourite. But playing at Lambeau Field – and with the return of Aaron Rodgers – this has suddenly become a much more intriguing contest. San Francisco may have had Green Bay’s number as of late, but the 49ers have been more consistent than impressive this year, while Green Bay is certainly capable of putting together big games at home.
There’s one more factor in favour of the Packers: the weather. There shouldn’t be any snow in play for the game, but there will be bitter cold, with temperatures likely to be around 0 Fahrenheit (-18 Celsius) at game time. That’s not something the 49ers will be accustomed to, and something that should play to Green Bay’s advantage.
San Francisco is still a slight favourite, and it makes sense: after all, they’ve been the better team all year long. But between the return of Rodgers, the weather, and Green Bay’s historic play at home, we actually think we’ll give the slightest of edges to the Packers. Since you’re getting 2.5 points by picking them, that makes the Packers a clear bet in my book.
Prediction: Green Bay 21, San Francisco 20
Picks: Green Bay +2.5 at Sportingbet.com.au, Under 48
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