Who is the Ideal Opponent for the 49ers in the NFC Title Game?
After a dominating performance against the Vikings, the San Francisco 49ers are one win away from booking a trip to Miami. Offensively and defensively the team looked like a well-oiled machine and they sent a strong message to the other teams that are still alive. However, before the 49ers can start thinking about sticking their toes in the Atlantic Ocean on South Beach, they must take care of business next week.
The Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks are teams that San Francisco knows well. With victories against both, the Red and Gold shouldn’t be too worried about which squad they have to square off against, but there is a preferred opponent between the two.
Below is an explanation of why the 49ers would rather play the Packers than the Seahawks in the NFC Championship.
Green Bay Packers
Back in November, most people thought the contest between Green Bay and San Francisco was going to be one of the best matchups of the season. The game was even flexed to primetime but what ensued was a 29-point Red and Gold beatdown. A dominating performance like that should give the 49ers plenty of confidence if the Packers roll into town. Of course, adjustments will be made but having a large psychological advantage over an opponent is a huge factor at this point in the season.
Beyond the mental aspect of the game, the Red and Gold matchup well against the Cheeseheads on the field. All year Green Bay’s defense has struggled to stop the run as they allow 120.1 yards on the ground per game which is in the bottom third of the NFL, and the team’s Pro Football Focus run-defense grade ranks 25th. San Francisco’s offense is heavily predicated on their rushing attack and the team was able to exploit this mismatch with over five yards per carry in the first contest against the Packers.
On the other side of the ball, the 49ers have the upper hand as well. Davante Adams is an elite wide receiver but the rest of the Green Bay’s wideouts are rather lackluster. If cornerback Richard Sherman can take care of Adams, the rest of the secondary should have no problem limiting the Packers’ aerial attack.
Part of the reason the Cheeseheads have been able to get to this point with a rather uninspiring receiving core is the team utilizes running backs Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams very well in the passing game. Those two have combined for 88 catches, 727 yards, and eight receiving touchdowns on the year. However, this shouldn’t be too much of an issue for San Francisco as the team allowed the second-fewest receiving yards to running backs during the regular season, and their linebackers are back to full strength with Kwon Alexanders’ return.
With advantages offensively, defensively, and psychologically, it’s easy to see why the Red and Gold would rather play the Packers.
A few weeks ago when the 49ers and Seahawks played for the NFC West title, the latter was able to neutralize the former’s strength. In that bout, San Francisco only managed one sack and posted its third-lowest PFF pass-rush grade of the season. Getting after the quarterback is the most important aspect of the team’s defense and an elusive signal-caller like Russell Wilson is the perfect counter.
Seattle also has a couple of wide receivers that have given San Francisco trouble this year. D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett have combined for 21 catches, 228 yards, and two touchdowns in two games against the 49ers. Part of the reason for the duo’s success is speed is the Achilles heel of the aging Sherman and Metcalf and Lockett run like the first leg and anchor of an Olympic relay team. Especially if Seattle is able to keep the Red and Gold’s pass rush in check, those two will continue to be a problem for Sherman and company.
Offensively, the 49ers have an advantage as the Seahawks run defense isn’t very good, however, the Packers would still be a more favorable matchup. The Emerald City allowed 117.7 rushing yards per game during the regular season and ranked 18th in PFF’s grading system for run defense. While it’s a slim margin, both of those figures are more impressive than Green Bay’s. It’s also worth noting that the Red and Gold haven’t been successful on the ground against Seattle as they’ve only averaged about three yards per carry in both contests.
As fun as the rubber match between the division rivals would be, the Faithful should be rooting for the Cheeseheads today.