Packers vs. 49ers: NFC Championship Preview and Prediction
Jose Luis Sanchez III
The history between 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan and Packers head coach Matt LaFluer dates as far back as 2008 with the Houston Texans. Now these two friends will go head-to-head in the biggest games of their lives as a head coach. There will be no love lost when these two teams square off for the second time this season.
A trip to Miami will be on the line when the San Francisco 49ers host the Green Bay Packers in a rematch of week 12. The Packers would love nothing more than to exact revenge on the 49ers after they were handed their worst loss of the season. However, it is because it was such a horrific loss for the Packers that could cause the 49ers to be overconfident in the matchup.
It would be natural if at least some players felt that way going into Sunday's NFC championship game. Just like how it was natural for the 49ers to be complacent when they faced the Atlanta Falcons in week 15. And that is why Shanahan is telling his team "Don't be that stupid" going into Sunday. A message that is being embedded into the heads of all the 49ers' players and coaches.
This team realizes the grand stage they are on and what is at risk. Overconfidence should be of no concern with the 49ers. They acknowledge what a great team that the Packers are and cannot be overlooked. There is just too much at stake to take this game for granted.
So if overconfidence will not plague the 49ers, how will this game shape out?
Well it certainly won't play out like it did in week 12. That was about as a dominant of a victory that you could imagine. Within three minutes of that contest, the 49ers were already up 7-0. A strip sack of Aaron Rodgers set up the easy touchdown and would set the tone for the rest of the game. Rodgers was battered for most of that matchup and put up statistical career lows. It truly was a one-sided victory for the 49ers, so the odds of it happening with so much at stake likely will not happen.
Because the defense did so well in that game, it surely has to be the same idea to win this one right?
Not quite. If the defense doesn't come close to how they performed in week 12, then all is not lost. The offense is more than capable of tipping the scale in favor of the 49ers. If anything, the 49ers' offense against the Packers' defense is the true mismatch. It's not just based off of a talent viewpoint, but more-so a coaching one. The chess match on the field will be battled out between Kyle Shanahan and Packers defensive coordinator Mike Pettine.
In the first go-around, Shanahan's offense was running circles around Pettine's defense. San Francisco on the ground averaged 5.1 yards per carry. Not to mention that the 49ers made a switch at left tackle with Daniel Brunskill, a predominant right tackle, sliding in the rest of the way. That move made a significant difference in the offensive performance. Just look at how the exponentially better the 49ers were from a yards per play standpoint.
Just looking at the body of work this season from both coaches - it is as clear as day that Shanahan is the superior coach. With all of the talk about the 49ers' defense being able to contain Rodgers, it truly is the performance of the offense that will seal the deal in this one. The Packers defense is solid - not great. There will be some wrinkles to expect that they will have changed up from the last time to keep the 49ers on their heels.
I asked quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo about preparing for those changes and he is fully expecting that against them. He says that "It's always something you take into consideration, but you don't want to overthink it too much." See the video below for his full response.
While the defense still needs to show up, the real key to this game lies with the offense. Controlling the time of possession is huge to not only keep Rodgers on the sidelines, but give their own defense rest and time to adjust. That is why the pass rush was so effective against Rodgers in week 12. A long sustained drive capped off with a touchdown over and over again will bury the Packers. It will force them to throw a ton, which will essentially have them falling into the hands of the 49ers.
There is just too many things that needs to go wrong with San Francisco in order for the Packers to win. The 49ers have no excuse to not win this game. It won't be a similar 37-8 blowout like in week 12, but the 49ers will still have an impressive game to earn them a trip to their first Super Bowl in seven years.
Final score: Packers 23 49ers 34