The most intriguing matchup of the weekend has to be the Green Bay Packers vs. the San Francisco 49ers. Both teams have been mentioned in Super Bowl talks from many people, so the winner of this game may very well go on to represent the NFC in New Orleans. The Packers and 49ers already met earlier in the year, a very exciting game at that, with the 49ers coming up victorious 30-22 in week 1. That was when Alex Smith was at the helm, however. Since then the 49ers have undertaken a change in quarterback, now behind center is the dynamic young player Colin Kaepernick. Kaepernick provides another dimension to the offense that Smith couldn’t. Most notably his ability to make plays on his feet, but he also has a strong arm that often gets overlooked. The Packers on the other hand have slowly gotten healthier and healthier as the year progressed and now appear at full strength. Their often banged up receiving core is finally together, so Aaron Rodgers has many options he can sling the ball around to in this one. The Packers running game actually got a small bit of production last week, a welcoming sign to an otherwise putrid ground attack.
For running back DuJuan Harris to run for 47 yards is a big deal for the Packers. Harris provided a decent effort to offset the aerial attack by Aaron Rodgers. Unfortunately for the Packers, things will not get any easier on the ground. While there are opportunities to find holes in the 49ers defense through the air, they are virtually impossible to run on. With a bevy of talented linebackers, such as Patrick Willis, and an excellent line up front, the 49ers are as stout as they get in the NFL. The defense only surrenders 94.3 yards per game on the ground, 4th in the league. This will undoubtedly force the Packers to play one dimensional football. Is that really going to be a problem, though? The Packers have been a one dimensional team for years now, even when they went on their Super Bowl run. Fortunately for the Packers, the 49ers can be exploited in the passing game. While statistically they only allow 200 yards per game, there have been occasions this season where they have given up some big yardage through the air. Rodgers passed for 303 yards and 2 touchdowns. He will look to duplicate that performance in his own backyard in California. Remember that the 49ers were his favorite team as a child.
The offense has taken a huge step back from the last couple years, there is no denying that. However, the entire problem boiled down to injuries. Greg Jennings was lost for the most of the year, Jordy Nelson was in and out, and their leading receiver Randall Cobb, was even battling some injuries. Not to mention the hobbling offensive line. Going into Saturday night the Packers feel much more confident in the group they are sending out offensively, which is more of a reflection of how they looked in week 1. The offense didn’t blow the doors off of the Vikings last week, but they moved the ball effectively. By the second half, all they needed to do was kill clock and play small ball. If they were playing full throttle for 4 quarters, they would have beaten the Vikings by much more than 24-10. I expect Aaron Rodgers to be on point against the 49ers here.
The defense is also getting healthier for the Packers. The biggest return last week was Charles Woodson. Woodson provides much more than just excellent pass coverage, but he has the ability to step up in the running game and wrap up defenders effectively. Last week they did a marvelous job containing Adrian Peterson, holding him to only 99 yards. I believe the magic number was 150, if they held him under 150 the Packers were going to win. Well, they exceeded many people’s expectations in that regard. During the regular season the Packers were 11th defensively, a much needed improvement from a season ago.
Colin Kaepernick is going to give the Packers a different look from what they saw in week 1. What frightens me with the Packers is that it was evident early on against the Vikings that they may have problems defending the option. Sure, they buckled down and shut it down as the game progressed last week, but that was Joe Webb. Essentially a speedy receiver playing quarterback that can`t throw the ball. Kaepernick has thrown for 1814 yards, 10 touchdowns, and rushed for 415 yards, and 5 touchdowns. The most impressive part of the young quarterback is the fact that he has only tossed 3 interceptions, an excellent feat for a quarterback at this stage. The Packers are susceptible against the run, as Frank Gore torched them for 112 yards on only 16 carries in week 1. Consequently, they could have some issues in this respect.
Packers vs. 49ers Spread and Betting Odds:
Green Bay Packers +3 (-120)
@ San Francisco 49ers -3 (+100)
Betting odds provided by Bovada.lv
Packers vs. 49ers Pick:
If you took a look at this game and looked at the matchup and immediately thought what a coin toss off a game this is, you`re not alone. The line is just where it needs to be, and I think this is the most difficult side to pick among the games this weekend. With that said, I believe there is money to be found on the total. I hammered the over in the week 1 matchup, and I am going to hit it once again here. As I alluded to earlier, while the Packers only scored 24 last week, it could have been much more if the Vikings did anything offensively. The offense was as crisp as they have looked all year long. Thanks to a healthy roster, the Packers have the potential to do what they did in the previous two seasons, and that is score a lot of points.
Meanwhile, the 49ers know they can run the ball on the Packers, and now, they have a quarterback that provides another dimension to their running game. I am one of the people that said Alex Smith should have been given another shot once healthy, but I think Kaepernick getting the nod against the Packers bodes well for them. Joe Webb did find success on the ground early last week, until the Packers discovered he has about the same arm as a punter. Kaepernick has the legs and arm to do damage. I am taking the over with a small lean to the 49ers.
PICK = OVER 45