The Green Bay Packers and San Francisco 49ers met all the way back in week 1, a 30-22 49ers win at Lambeau Field. The Packers will look to avenge that loss on an even bigger stage — the divisional playoffs — at Candlestick Park (or whatever the hell they call that atrocity of a stadium these days).
Here’s the lowdown on the rematch.
Who’s not playing?
The Packers are healthy for the second week in a row. Only receiver Jarrett Boykin and defensive end Jerel Worthy are out. Everyone else is going to play. Unfortunately, the 49ers are healthier. All of their players will be available, including defensive tackle Justin Smith, who tore a triceps tendon on Dec. 16.
Who should I bet on?
The 49ers are three-point favorites. Since teams get three points just for playing at home that means oddsmakers view this as an even matchup. The Packers are 4-4 on the road against the spread and the 49ers are 6-1-1 at home. That tells you to take the 49ers, which is a sound strategy. Frankly, if the Packers lose, then at least you’re likely making some money. If they win, then who gives a shit if you lost your bet!
What To Watch For
The goddam read-option
The read-option is all the rage in the NFL and the 49ers run it as well as anyone. So what is this gimmicky shit? Essentially, the quarterback has the option to run the ball himself, hand it off to a back or throw based on what the defense is doing. It’s quick-hitting and utilizes the talents of mobile quarterbacks like San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick to the maximum. The Packers haven’t seen it this season, except for briefly last week against Joe Webb and Minnesota. If we learned anything from that small sampling, it’s that the Packers look like they plan to use safety Charles Woodson to shadow the quarterback. The real question is, are the Packers equipped to stop this type of attack? If they can, it could be a long day for the home team.
Mike McCarthy vs. Vic Fangio
It’s always worrisome when you’re putting Mike McCarthy in a battle of wits with an opposing coach. More often than not, that duel goes in favor of the opposition. Nonetheless, that’s what we’re looking at with McCarthy’s offense against Fangio’s defense, this week. There are match-ups the Packers can take advantage of. Patrick Willis, arguably the best linebacker in the NFL, sat most of the week 1 game while the 49ers employed an extra defensive back to combat the Packers deep passing game. Not surprisingly, McCarthy was at a loss on how to combat that strategy. Fangio will throw different looks at McCarthy this week. The difference between this time and last is McCarthy had 16 weeks worth of 49ers game tape to pour over. He should be prepared, but we’re talking about the king of the non-adjustment here. Some in-game wrinkle by Fangio could completely throw McCarthy off track, resulting in a series of buffoonish decisions.
Justin Smith’s impact on the 49ers pass rush
Huge key to the game. It turns out, the 49ers defensive backs aren’t that good. The 49ers pass rush and Aldon Smith — he of the 19.5 sacks — were more or less non-existent without Justin Smith in the lineup. Aldon Smith didn’t have a sack in those two games and the team had just three total. That, in turn, exposed San Francisco’s DBs. We know Justin Smith is playing, but who knows how effective he’ll be. If he isn’t effective, big advantage Packers. If he is, this game could look a lot like week 1.
The Packers ran the no-huddle offense here and there this season. You could see a lot of it in this game. It keeps opposing defenses from substituting, which is especially useful when you’re trying to take advantage of match-ups like Patrick Willis trying to cover Randall Cobb. And hey, if the 49ers are going to run that read-option shit, the Packers may as well go no huddle. Besides, there’s nothing wrong with putting the game in No. 12’s hands.