Found January 11, 2013 on Metta Chronicles:
The season began with both of these teams playing, and on Saturday the season will end for either Green Bay or San Francisco. Though the 49ers stomped the Packers on the season’s opening weekend 30-22 in Lambeau, these teams have been drastically altered since their week 1 meeting. The 49ers have switched quarterbacks and have suffered multiple debilitating injuries to their wide receiving core and defensive units, while the Packers have warmed up since beginning the season 2-3 without maintaining consistent run support. Expect a close game with turnovers ultimately deciding the outcome; one of these defensive units will have a game changing play in the second half. While this game could go to either squad, I’m taking the away team in a playoff upset. Despite being the 2nd seed in the NFC and having a 1st round bye, the 49ers enter Saturday’s game as the underdogs according to the AccuScore simulations. The Packers hold a slight advantage; they won 51.7% of the simulations with the average score of 24.7 to 24.2. The Packers have a 54.7% chance of beating their spread (+3), while the 49ers covered the spread just 38.1% of these simulations. The game has a strong chance of beating the over/under of 44.5 points; the teams crossed the threshold nearly 60% of the time. Green Bay won big just 28% of the games, compared to the 49ers winning a quarter of the games big. If the game gets close, the 49ers have an small advantage; the home team won close 14% of the simulations; the Packers by a small margin of just 12.1% of the simulations. Turnovers will be important; Green Bay committed fewer turnovers in 33% of the simulations and went on to win 82% of those games. The 49ers won 64% of the sims where they committed fewer turnovers. Ball security will be important for San Francisco’s young quarterback Colin Kaepernick as he’ll be playing against a veteran defense that’s able to force mistakes and create chaos due to their constant blitzes from the slot corners. This game will ultimately be decided by the full extent of the 49ers current injuries as the health of San Francisco defensive end Justin Smith will be the x-factor on Saturday. When healthy, Smith is the league’s best run defender at his position and is able to provide protection for San Francisco’s young pass rusher, outside linebacker Aldon Smith. Aldon Smith led the conference with 19.5 sacks, but his production fell in the last few weeks with having Justin Smith creating holes in their opponents offensive line. Although Justin Smith has been practicing the past two weeks, I’m not expecting him to be his usual dominant self due to the significance of the injury. His tricep injury should limit his ability to push off offensive tackles as a portion of his strength will be limited. Running will have to be the key to the San Francisco offense; running back Frank Gore figures to have a decent game against a below average run defense. Defensive Coordinator Dom Capers’ unit gave up over 118 yards on the ground per game. Gore averaged 76 yards a game, but he can improve his team’s chances of winning if he scores at least one touchdown. The ‘Frisco odds rise up to 71% in the event he gets 6. Injuries in the receiving core have hindered the development of Kaepernick as he’s zoned in on wide receiver Michael Crabtree since his promotion to the starting unit. During the team’s bye week, Kaepernick supposedly worked with tight end Vernon Davis to work on their chemistry and timing. Under former QB Alex Smith, Davis was a valuable weapon and the team’s best option on third down. Through simulations, Kaepernick averaged 217 yards while featuring a 1.6 touchdown to 0.7 interception ratio. If Kaepernick is able to find a rhythm with Crabtree & Davis, expect the 49ers to have an easy time moving the ball against the Packers defense. Through simulations, Crabtree averaged 76 yards off 6 receptions, while Davis added almost 59 yards. The passing unit will be attacking one of the Packers’ strengths: the secondary. With the return of cornerback/safety Charles Woodson, the Packers unit that includes the young trio of CBs Tramon Williams, Casey Hayward and free safety Morgan Burnett. The defensive unit as a hole intercepted 18 passes while missing arguably their best player (Woodson). The Packers defense averaged three sacks and 1.5 turnovers. I expect Capers to use multiple different looks at the opposing rookie quarterback, expect many confusing blitzes and ways to create chaos. I wouldn’t be surprised if Woodson moves down to the slot position and Hayward rotates back to SS, the Packers will throw everything but the kitchen sink at Kaepernick. Offensively, the entire Packers’ gameplan will revolve around stopping both of the 49ers’ Smiths. Undrafted rookie right tackle Don Barclay has played well in place of Bryan Bulaga, but he has yet to protect against a pass rush like the 49ers have. The Packers offensive line has played better in recent weeks and showed improvement in the wildcard victory over the Vikings. One of the keys for the Packers will be to force the 49ers to respect the run. In their first matchup, the Packers were held to just 45 yards rushing (quarterback Aaron Rodgers led the team with 27 yards). Over the past few weeks, RB Dujuan Harris has stepped up and become an additional weapon for the Packers arsenal. Harris ended last Saturday’s game with 100 total and a touchdown; he projects to post similar rushing yards against a normally stout run defense. The clear advantage the Packers hold over the home team is their receiving core. Wide receivers Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, and James Jones comprise the league’s most tantalizing group. Though they frustrated fantasy owners this past season due to injuries and their constant rotations, I would expect them to create the largest impact on this game. Cobb, Jennings, Jones and tight end Jermichael Finley all averaged over 40 yards receiving through simulations with Cobb leading the group at 63 yards. Rodgers projects to have a standard “Rodgers” day, he’s good for 280+ yards and a two touchdown to interception ratio. The 49ers can’t afford to double any of these threats so expect many zone reads and pulling their linebackers into coverage. Inside linebackers Patrick Willis and Navarro Bowman won’t have as large as their usual impact. San Francisco’s defensive unit posted similar numbers to their counterparts in simulations; they finished with 3.4 sacks and 1.5 turnovers. One special teams note, veteran David Akers kept his 1st team position by beating out recent 49er signee Billy Cundiff, but due to his postseason history I expect Akers to miss an important field goal. Clutch has never been his middle name. This game will come down to San Francisco’s ability to get after Rodgers, although I’m not convinced Aldon Smith will be able to repeat his week 1 performance due to defensive end Justin Smith not being 100%. If Smith has a quiet game, expect the Packers to surprise and advance quite easily. Never pick against the data, the final score will be Packers 31-23.
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