NFL

Packers out to avoid another playoff nightmare against upstart 49ers

By Sports Desk January 19, 2022

The San Francisco 49ers prevailed in the Wild Card round as they renewed a storied rivalry with the Dallas Cowboys. Now, they will be underdogs again as they lock horns with a postseason foe more familiar to them in recent years.

While the Niners' 23-17 upset win over the Cowboys was the first postseason meeting between the two teams since the 1994 campaign, playoff clashes between San Francisco and the Green Bay Packers have been more habitual of late.

Green Bay and the 49ers have faced off in the postseason in every decade since their first playoff meeting in the 1995 campaign, last doing so on January 19, 2020 when San Francisco won a 37-20 rout in the NFC Championship Game.

That scoreline carried on a trend in this matchup. The 49ers and Packers have split their eight all-time meetings in the postseason, but the Niners have won each of the last three. In those three games, they have outscored Green Bay by an average of 11.3 points (35.0-23.7). 

Saturday's game at Lambeau Field is expected to be much closer, with most backing the top-seeded Packers to turn the tide.

Green Bay won the Week 3 matchup at Levi's Stadium, though the Packers needed a last-gasp field goal from Mason Crosby, following some vintage Aaron Rodgers heroics, to avoid defeat.

Rodgers is the favourite to retain the NFL's MVP award and enters this game in blistering form. 

He has thrown for multiple touchdowns and no interceptions in each of his last seven games, the second-longest such streak in NFL history (Tom Brady, nine straight in 2010).

The three-time MVP threw 37 touchdowns and just four picks this season, the most passing touchdowns with four interceptions or fewer in a single season all-time. 

Yet Rodgers is going against a Niners defense playing its best football of the season. San Francisco held the Cowboys' number one-ranked offense (407 yards per game) to 307 total yards, with Dak Prescott completing only 53.5 per cent of his passes as he was pressured more than any other quarterback in the Wild Card round, coming under duress 25 times.

San Francisco's deep defensive front would appear to have the edge this weekend, too. The 49ers' finished the regular season ranked first in Stats Perform's pass rush win rate metric - boasting a win rate of 32.6 per cent - while the Packers were 23rd with a pass protection win rate of 72.6 per cent.

The Packers will hope the potential return of left tackle David Bakhtiari can redress the balance but if it does not then the contest could tilt in the favour of San Francisco. When under pressure this season, Rodgers completed 49.6 per cent of his passes. Among quarterbacks with at least 100 attempts under duress, the only two to fare worse were rookies Zach Wilson (41.7 per cent) and Trevor Lawrence (45.7 per cent).

If the Niners pressure Rodgers and get the Packers behind the chains and playing catchup on the scoreboard, then they will look to control the clock by keeping the ball on the ground with All-Pro wide receiver Deebo Samuel and rookie running back Elijah Mitchell.

Samuel scored the first rushing touchdown by a 49ers receiver in postseason history to put San Francisco 23-7 ahead against the Cowboys, while his 72 yards on the ground were the most in the playoffs by any wideout in the Super Bowl era.

Mitchell rushed for 96 yards last weekend, a 49ers rookie playoff record. The Niners are 7-1 when Mitchell rushes for at least 75 yards this season and 1-3 when he plays and does not.

A long night may be in store for the 49ers and their secondary should Rodgers stay on schedule, and that could mean history for his favourite target, Davante Adams.

Adams has had exactly nine receptions in each of his last three playoff games. That is tied for the longest streak of postseason games with nine-plus catches in NFL history (Julian Edelman, 2015-2016).

With at least nine catches in four of his five games against San Francisco (regular and postseason), he is a strong bet to break that record. Adams failing to do so would be a major indicator of Green Bay suffering another nightmare against a team that has continually haunted them in the playoffs.

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