49ers-Packers betting preview: Dare to compare in the NFC divisional round
The 49ers were the lone underdogs to survive the wild-card round. Can they do it again?
There's no suspense here since last week I recommended the start of a rollover moneyline parlay instead of a 49ers future. I did so knowing full well that the next opponent would be the Packers, barring an unexpected Eagles upset.
The question we need to answer for this game isn't, how can the 49ers win? Instead, we need to ask, how can Aaron Rodgers - the NFL's scariest quarterback - and the Packers lose?
It starts by remembering no team is perfect. Despite sitting atop the standings, the Packers lost a couple of times this season, though their 13 wins were enough to earn them a precious bye. Still, it doesn't make a playoff win automatic. So how do they lose? Or, at the very least, how do they not cover the spread?
It starts with finding comparable games with comparable opponents to see if there's a way in which the Packers are vulnerable. Just who are the 49ers? They're a run-centric team that uses misdirection and play-action to create long passing plays. Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo works best with defined assignments on a play-to-play basis, but he's not someone you want in charge when the play design breaks down.
It might come as a surprise that San Francisco's pass offense actually averages a full yard more per pass attempt than Green Bay (8.6 to 7.6). However, it isn't a secret the 49ers can take advantage of the Packers' vulnerable run defense, which has allowed a whopping 4.7 yards per attempt this season.
A run-first offense designed to limit quarterback decision-making sounds like the Colts, Broncos, Titans, Eagles, Browns, and Vikings. Defensively, the Colts, Titans, Eagles, and Browns are comparable to the 49ers as units with low blitz rates. Of those four teams, only the Browns were on the Packers' schedule.
Here's a sample of a few of the many comparable metrics between the 49ers' and Browns' defensive schemes:
|TEAM||BLITZ %||KNOCK DOWN %||PRESSURE %|
Both teams feature star defensive ends and are versatile in coverage, with their linebackers able to drop back into the secondary. Despite owning the fourth-lowest blitz rate, the 49ers are third in the league in sack percentage.
Maybe you think it's an insult to San Francisco to compare it to Cleveland, but that's the point. The Browns visited the Packers for a high-profile Christmas night game in Week 16 and lost by just two points despite four interceptions from Baker Mayfield. If the 49ers are better than the Browns - who won the yardage battle that night 408-311 - why can't they win this game?
Of course, San Francisco was on Green Bay's schedule, as this game will be a rematch of the Packers' 30-28 win at Levi's Stadium in Week 3. The 49ers came back from 17 points down to take a late lead in that contest, only to see Rodgers lead a game-winning field goal drive with less than a minute left.
San Francisco profiles as a tough matchup for Green Bay and have proven it once already this season, but the 49ers' injury report has helped keep this spread at +6 - roughly a point and a half higher than previous market-based projections. Garoppolo, Nick Bosa, and Fred Warner are all banged up, though all are expected to play. They're going to need to suit up for San Francisco to have a chance here. Outside of Deebo Samuel, those three are the most important pieces on this roster.
Meanwhile, the Packers appear to be getting healthier with regulars David Bakhtiari, Za'Darius Smith, and, most critically, Jaire Alexander on track to return. However, with hardly any game action under their belts this season, will they be up to playoff speed?
To beat Rodgers, the 49ers need to turn threes into sevens. Things got dicey for them in Dallas last week when they opted to kick on fourth downs. With the No. 1 red zone touchdown conversion rate in the NFL this season (67.3%), San Francisco can certainly keep pace with the Packers, who rank a pedestrian 18th in converting red-zone trips.
The 49ers' strong run defense will take the starch out of the Packers' play-action game, but the secondary needs to limit the penalties which killed them in the first matchup.
But the key here will be Elijah Mitchell and Samuel, who combined for just two carries in the Week 3 loss to Green Bay. The pair will help control Saturday's game, which comes down to another last-minute drive.
Bet: 49ers +6, rollover moneyline parlay (+215)
Matt Russell is a betting writer for theScore. If there's a bad beat to be had, Matt will find it. Find him on Twitter @mrussauthentic.
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