The Packers play the most pressure-packed game of the playoffs, the NFC championship, in San Francisco — that is, Santa Clara — Sunday.
The question is whether this game will be like the Packers’ NFC championship wins at San Francisco in the 1997 season or Chicago in the 2010 season, or more like the Packers’ previous NFC title game losses at Atlanta and before that Seattle. Most experts pick the 49eers to win. One who doesn’t is CBSSports.com’s Pete Prisco:
The 49ers battered and bruised the Packers in the regular season, winning 38-7 in Week 12. San Francisco’s defensive line tossed Aaron Rodgers around like a rag doll, sacking him five times. San Francisco held the Packers to 198 yards that day and Green Bay was 1 for 15 on third down.
That won’t happen here.
Yes, the 49ers are coming off an impressive victory over the Vikings last week, a game where their defense dominated, but the Green Bay offense is much better now than it was in Week 12. Rodgers, who is 0-2 against the 49ers in the playoffs, looked good against Seattle last week.
It will come down to the Packers offensive line against that dominant pass rush? Can it hold up? I think it can.
The Green Bay defense is an aggressive group that loves to play with the lead. But they’ve had issues against the run all year and San Francisco is outstanding running the ball. If the 49ers win it, quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo could have an easy time of it against the Packers. The offense is keyed off that run game.
I think both offenses will have success here, but in the end I think it will come down to the better quarterback. I am going with Rodgers and the Packers.
Lombardi Avenue is split. (Which takes some guts.)
I suspect this game is going to come down to the Packers’ run defense. A cardinal rule of football is that making a team one-dimensional makes beating them easier, particularly a team that likes play-action passing. That applies to both teams Sunday. This is a different team from Rodgers’ previous teams. Rodgers is probably not going to beat teams by himself anymore, as seemed to be the case in previous seasons. But unlike previous seasons, this team has a running game and defense, and you know what defense wins.
(What does defense win? According to former Vikings coach Bud Grant, defense wins … games, while offense sells tickets.)
Fans have denigrated the Packers as the worst 13–3 team in the league (a label 27 other teams would love to have) because of all their close wins — nine by eight or fewer points including Sunday’s playoff win over Seattle — and the so-called “winning ugly” styles of those games. However, former coach Bill Parcells was fond of saying that you are what your record says you are.
They have beaten teams that were missing key players, such as the Chiefs without quarterback Patrick Mahomes. (We hope to worry about that in two weeks.) They are also 0-for-California this season. And in those nine wins they have basically done what they needed to do, and almost little more, to win. That’s either luck, which will show up with a loss Sunday, or the kind of toughness the 2010 Packers had. And you know how that season ended.