Friday, January 11, 2013

Playoff Preview: Packers at 49ers

The 49ers are known for their running game, running quarterback, and a dominant front seven defense. The Packers are known for their big play offense, MVP quarterback, and a solid defense led by LB Clay Matthews. Neither is an extreme passing or running team, but they are as different as any two teams in the NFL.

However, their results have been almost identical this season. Football Outsiders has the 49ers ranked as the 4th best team this season, and the Packers are just a couple percentage points behind at No. 5. Both teams enter the game in relative good health. The ongoing leg injuries of WR Jordy Nelson will probably keep him less than 100% and DE Justin Smith should be limited by a torn tendon that will require surgery in the offseason. Smith's injury has the potential to make a bigger impact, and the 49ers have played worse since he suffered the injury mid-game against the Patriots, but I don't want to take anything away from the rest of their team. The odds makers have the 49ers as favorites by 2.5, which essentially rates the game as a push while giving the 49ers a slight home field advantage.

Looking back over the last eight games, also known as the QB Colin Kaepernick era, here's how the 49ers have fared:
Opponent Scored Allowed Result Opp. Win Per. FO Rank
Rams 24 24 T 0.469 15
Bears 32 7 W 0.625 6
Saints 31 21 W 0.438 19
Rams 13 16 L 0.469 15
Dolphins 27 13 W 0.438 21
Patriots 41 34 W 0.750 3
Seahawks 13 42 L 0.688 1
Cardinals 27 13 W 0.313 26
Total 208 170 5-2-1 0.524 13
They played a pretty strong schedule of opponents and came away with a winning record. Their results were better in the first half of the season, but it also included a couple of blow outs against the Jets and Bills, so their points scored and against were much better than they were against actual playoff teams.

Here's how the Packers did over the same time period:
Opponent Scored Allowed Result Opp. Win Per. FO Rank
Cardinals 31 17 W 0.313 26
Lions 24 20 W 0.250 16
Giants 10 38 L 0.563 7
Vikings 23 14 W 0.625 14
Lions 27 20 W 0.250 16
Bears 21 13 W 0.625 6
Titans 55 7 W 0.375 30
Vikings 37 37 L 0.625 14
Total 228 166 6-2 0.453 16
The overall results are more impressive but padded by a blow out against the lowly Titans. Swap out an average NFL team for the Titans, and the Packers played a similar quality of teams as the 49ers over their last eight games.

The comparisons run even deeper. While the Packers looked awful against the Giants, so did the 49ers against the Seahawks, and each team has a bad road loss in their ledger. The Packers didn't shine against lesser teams like the Cardinals and Lions, but the 49ers had two unimpressive games against the Rams. You can pick a favorite, but it would be hard to find two remaining playoff opponents with similar second half results.

Any prediction is a coin toss at this point. This looks like a game where one team will set the tone. Maybe as LB Wayne Simmons did with a huge forced fumble as the Packers beat the 49ers in 1995 playoffs. Look for the team who strikes first to have a huge advantage in this game. Otherwise, I expect it will be close.

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