The 49ers needed a win in overtime in the final game of the regular season just to qualify for the playoffs as the No. 6 seed, then needed to survive a frantic final-minute foray, and a lucky time-wasting spot of the football deep in their territory as the clock ran out, to survive against the Dallas Cowboys in the Super Wild Card round.
So, it should be easy-peasy lemon squeezy for the Packers in Saturday’s divisional game, right? Especially with 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo playing with an injured shoulder. No chance for the 49ers, right?
Well, maybe San Francisco isn’t in quite the Jeopardy that Aaron Rodgers and company would like to believe. Here are three reasons why the 49ers can emerge from this game victorious:
For the past four seasons, the 49ers have always played the Packers tough
Since the 2018 season, the 49ers and Packers have played each other five times, with the Packers going 3-2. But in two of the losses, including a 30-28 loss to the Packers this season in Week 3, the 49ers have lost by three points or less.
In the Week 3 loss, the Packers needed a 51-yard field goal from Mason Crosby with no time left in order to sneak away with the victory. Elijah Mitchell did not play in that game, and Deebo Samuel had was still several weeks away from becoming a dual-threat runner and receiver.
The two most notable statistics from that game were two turnovers by the 49ers to the Packers’ none and a nearly 30-30 split in time of possession. If the 49ers can take care of the ball and chew up clock with its running game, they have a chance to keep it close to the end. Maybe Crosby misses from 51 yards this time.
The rusty Packers haven’t taken a meaningful snap in weeks
It is an age-old debate in the NFL, and adding the 18th week to the regular season might have affected the Packers more negatively than any of the remaining playoff teams. Since clinching the No. 1 overall seed in the NFC in Week 17, the Packers will have gone three weeks without playing a meaningful snap.
The starters did play the first half of Week 18 against the Lions, but the game was basically treated like a preseason contest.
Now, after the bye week earned from clinching the top seed, the Packers will have to gear their intensity back up against a team that is locked in, having played and won consecutive do-or-die games. While the Packers kicked back and put their feet up on the table against Detroit, the 49ers needed overtime against the Los Angeles Rams to secure a playoff berth in Week 18.
And while the 49ers are as banged up as one might expect a team in their situation to be, Jimmy Garoppolo (shoulder) and Fred Warner (ankle) are expected to play.
Samuel is the X-factor the Packers will struggle to contain
It’s entirely possible that two of the top three vote-getters for NFL MVP will be playing in this game. Certainly, we know that Aaron Rodgers is one of the top two candidates, along with Tom Brady. But Samuel has inserted himself directly into the conversation for “best of the rest” with his play the past 10 weeks.
It was on Monday night in Week 10 against the Los Angeles Rams that the 49ers began using Samuel as a running back as well as wide receiver. They were 3-5 before the change and are now 8-2 since.
Last week in the Wild Card round against the Dallas Cowboys, Samuel rushed a season-high 10 times, gaining 72 yards, his second-highest total of the season, and a touchdown. Along with Elijah Mitchell, the 49ers will try to run the ball right down the Packers’ throat, hoping to keep Jones and Adams off the field as much as possible.
Stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference