The Packers and 49ers met to open the season and now for one of them, they're about to close their season too. Does that game matter? How does Kaepernick change things? Let's take a closer look at this Divisional Round match-up.
Many people expected the Packers to defeat the Vikings in the Wild Card round, including Vegas. Therefore, there isn't much change in the look-ahead line. Last week Vegas put out theoretical point spreads and the Packers were +3 dogs vs the 49ers. It re-opened at +3.25 with the option to lay a bit extra juice on either side for a favorable number.
But there's been some movement early in the week. If you like the Packers (like I do), you'll have to lay a bit extra juice just for +3 (odds from SBRforum). Will it move off the 3? It could at some point, but it would take a lot considering what a key number it is and the amount of money expected to be bet on this game.
I'm not going to take any chances and go ahead and grab the +3 now.
Much Ado About Nothing
The side story about Rodgers returning to play the team that passed him over in the draft is a nice story for the media, but it's completely irrelevant to this match-up. He has a Super Bowl ring and MVP to his name, so let's end that discussion right now. And for good measure, Rodgers has a 3-1 road playoff record, one short of the all-time record.
Another dead storyline is their first match-up to start the year. The Packers have three different starters on both sides of the ball and the 49ers have a different QB, but that's just the tip of the iceberg. Nothing in Week 1 (with replacement refs I might add) is going to matter much in this game.
Who Are the 49ers Anyways?
What's far more interesting is the mystery surround Colin Kaepernick. The kid only has seven starts to his name so it's anyone's guess how he's going to come out and play this weekend. I thought it was a wise move to fade him on Monday Night Football in his big prime-time appearance before he warped into Randall Cunningham and put me in my place.
It's not the first time I've faded the 49ers either. I've consistently disrespected them over the last two seasons, but I have acknowledged that 2011 was no fluke, too. A primary reason they outperform their stats is thanks to Jim Harbaugh's direction. The sum is often times greater than it's parts.
Due to this, it's often difficult to handicap them. There are clear inconsistencies throughout their stat-lines and they haven't been nearly as dominant as they were last season.
Strangely, they have one of the worst pass protections in the NFL. Kaepernick's legs can help compensate for that, but he's also going to run himself into trouble at times too. They continue to rank below average on third down offense, and below average in red zone efficiency on both sides of the ball. Even their special teams is way down from last season.
On the flip side, their passing efficiency has improved a lot this season - and there hasn't been any dropoff with Kaepernick under center (despite playing a fairly challenging group of defenses this season).
The 49ers hope to get a boost with their pass rush with the return of Justin Smith. This guy is a flat out beast, but how efficient will he be with that injury? If anyone is wondering, Clay Matthews is healthy too and the Packers actually have a better statistical pass rush this season.
In a game where both teams have question marks on their O-line, I think Green Bay might be in a better position to exploit it - especially when you have Rodgers vs Kaepernick under center.
The Challenge for the Packers
Controlling the damage done on the ground.
It's no secret what Adrian Peterson did to Green Bay this year and the 49ers now present a double threat with Gore/Kaepernick. Capers might be pulling his hair out because if he plays man-coverage the 49ers will have them gassed by the 4th quarter. If they stack the box you can bet Harbaugh will find ways to locate the mismatches.
Look for Capers to mix things up, something he's very good at doing. This could give the rookie QB some problems.
That said, even if the Packers do maintain gap integrity and manage their zones well, they're far better off grabbing the lead. That's not rocket science, but sometimes it's just that simple. Get the 49ers out of their comfort zone and Kaepernick might try to play hero. He's already shown a bit of an erratic tendancy early in his career.
The Packers have a full slate of healthy receiving options, so Rodgers will be licking his chops. Even without ideal protection, he'll be a lot more comfortable going through his progressions knowing someone he trusts is on the other end.
With Rodgers, they also have one of the best red zone offenses in the NFL. His ball location, along with the pass catching/route running of his WR's make it nearly impossible to stop at times.
I not only think the Packers cover the +3 spread, but I think they win this game straight up. I would be a bit concerned about Crosby kicking in a tight game, but Akers is just as much of a choke artist, if not more.
On a neutral field I actually think the Packers are the better football team. I think this spread should be under a field goal and the Rodgers vs Kaepernick discrepancy is notable. I might be fading the 49ers at my peril, but I picked Green Bay to make it to the Super Bowl and I've seen nothing to change my mind at this point.
NFL Pick: GB +3.858670