The San Francisco 49ers are the lowest remaining seed left in the NFL playoffs, the only team on Super Wild Card Weekend to win on the road. San Francisco's reward is heading to Lambeau Field to face the top-seeded Green Bay Packers, the first team in NFL history to win 13 games in the regular season in three consecutive years, not to mention they have MVP frontrunner Aaron Rodgers as their quarterback.
A daunting test awaits the 49ers, especially with the Packers coming off a bye week as the top seed and having the pieces in place to reach their third consecutive NFC Championship Game. But Green Bay has struggled against San Francisco in the playoffs under Aaron Rodgers, who is 0-3 against the 49ers in the playoffs (Rodgers is one of four quarterbacks in the Super Bowl era to have three losses against a single opponent in the playoffs). The Packers-49ers rivalry has been one of the better ones in recent memory, as the teams will face off in the playoffs for the eighth time -- all since 1995.
Can the 49ers upset the Packers this time around? The rematch of the 2019 NFC Championship Game will be closer than you think. Here's why the 49ers can upset the Packers:
Packers' poor run defense a mismatch for Deebo Samuel
The 49ers weren't afraid to use Samuel in all phases of the game in their win over the Cowboys. Samuel had a career-high 10 carries in the victory over Dallas, with 72 rushing yards and a touchdown (a 26-yard run played a major role in building the 23-7 lead). Samuel only had six carries in the first eight games of the year, yet averaged seven carries per game over the last nine games -- a stretch where the 49ers went 8-1.
Samuel was lined up in the backfield on several occasions in the wild-card victory, which could present a major problem for a Packers run defense that allows 4.7 yards per carry (third-worst in the NFL). Samuel averaged 6.2 yards per carry with eight rushing touchdowns in the regular season -- an added dynamic for a playmaking wideout who finished with 1,405 yards and a league-leading 18.2 yards per catch.
The 49ers are going to use Samuel in a variety of ways Saturday and it's up to the Packers to stop him on the ground.
49ers pass rush is on another level
The 49ers have been able to generate pressure on the quarterback over the last seven weeks. San Francisco leads the NFL with 29 sacks and the pressure percentage of 43.2% also is tops in the league. The 49ers also have three-plus sacks for seven consecutive games.
Nick Bosa only has five of those sacks during the stretch, but has generated 10 quarterback hits and 33 pressures. Arik Armstead also has five sacks over the last seven games with 28 pressures and 11 quarterback hits. Both Bosa and Armstead have been forces on the edge, becoming nightmares for opposing quarterbacks over the last seven games.
Green Bay has allowed just 33 sacks on the year and 175 pressures (sixth-fewest in the NFL). Aaron Rodgers and Jordan Love had 2.55 seconds to throw (ninth in the NFL), indicating the 49ers pass rush will have to get to Rodgers quickly for San Francisco to slow down the Packers offense. The 49ers finished with the third-best sack percentage in the NFL (8.1%), another indicator they'll be challenging the Packers offensive line throughout the night.
If Bosa and Armstead continue their hot streak, it could be a long game for the Packers.
Run defense can slow hot Packers rushing attack
On a night where the temperatures are going to be frigid (it's expected to dip to 5 degrees), the Packers running game will be relied upon to open up the passing game for Aaron Rodgers. The Packers have rushed for 100-plus yards in four of their last five games and Green Bay is averaging 4.7 yards per carry and have scored five rushing touchdowns over that span.
Green Bay has a lethal backfield combination and Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon that will challenge a 49ers run defense that has allowed just 4.0 yards per carry and 103.5 yards per game (both seventh in the NFL). Over the last six games, the 49ers run defense has allowed 77.5 rush yards per game and San Francisco has allowed less than 100 yards on the ground in eight of its last nine games. The 49ers have allowed just 3.99 yards per carry since Week 10, one of just six teams to allow under 4 yards per carry.
The Packers' biggest X-factors in this game are Jones and Dillon, but the 49ers can neutralize them.