49ers Analysis

How 49ers, Packers match up in upcoming divisional-round playoff game

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The 49ers didn’t have to wait long Sunday to learn the identity of their first playoff opponent.

Things seemed to work out about as well as San Francisco could have hoped with the Green Bay Packers’ 48-32 win over the thoroughly inept Dallas Cowboys, who entered the playoffs as the NFC's No. 2 seed.

That meant, because it was the first NFC playoff result, the 49ers could start working on their upcoming matchup at the earliest possible opportunity. And with the scheduled 5:15 p.m. Saturday kickoff against the Packers, they’re even set up to have a rest advantage if they advance to the NFC Championship Game, which would be played on Sunday, Jan. 28.

The Detroit Lions are scheduled to play the Tampa Bay Buccaneers-Philadelphia Eagles winner next Sunday in the other NFC divisional-round game.

Also, the top-seeded 49ers face the seventh and final team to qualify for the NFC playoffs. But while the Packers, on paper, were the weakest team to qualify for the postseason, they looked like a powerhouse against the Cowboys.

So, here’s a closer look at the 49ers-Packers matchup:

When the 49ers are on offense

The 49ers can cause a lot of problems due to their abundance of top-flight players. And the Packers have been a mixed bag throughout the season.

Defensive coordinator Joe Barry came under fire after Tommy DeVito, Baker Mayfield and Bryce Young had career games against Green Bay in three consecutive weeks.

But the Packers’ defense looked good against Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott on Sunday. Prescott gave the Packers’ defense an abundance of opportunities to make plays.

Cornerback Jaire Alexander and safety Darnell Savage came up with first-half interceptions to spearhead the Green Bay defense. However, Alexander appeared to aggravate an ankle injury in the third quarter of Sunday’s game. His status this week is something to monitor.

Coach Kyle Shanahan, the team’s offensive designer and play-caller, can expect quarterback Brock Purdy to play with a lot more composure and precision than Prescott.

Green Bay’s defense did its part to make the Cowboys’ usually explosive offense look discombobulated.

Purdy and running back Christian McCaffrey are top-five MVP candidates that the Packers will be challenged to contain. And it does not stop there. The 49ers also feature All-Pros at tight end, fullback and left tackle with George Kittle, Kyle Juszczyk and Trent Williams, as well as wide receivers Brandon Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel.

Aiyuk was chosen as a second-team All-Pro after he caught 75 passes for a career-best 1,342 receiving yards. Samuel joined Hall of Famer Charley Taylor to become the second player in NFL history with at least 4,000 receiving yards and 1,000 rushing yards in his first five seasons.

Purdy had one of the best seasons for a quarterback in franchise history. He set 49ers single-season records with 4,280 passing yards, a 113.0 passer rating and 9.6 yards per pass attempt. 

Then, there’s McCaffrey, who led the NFL with 1,459 rushing yards and scored 21 touchdowns (14 rushing and seven receiving).

One of the keys for the 49ers will be to protect Purdy against a Packers pass rush that is led by Rashan Gary (nine sacks), Preston Smith (eight) and Kenny Clark (7.5).

When the 49ers are on defense

Green Bay quarterback Jordan Love looks like an emerging star.

This is Love’s fourth NFL season but his first as a starter. Love got better and better as the season went on. He finished the regular season with 32 touchdown passes, 11 interceptions and a passer rating of 96.0.

Love is very good at spreading the ball around to such targets as Jayden Reed, Romeo Doubs and Dontayvion Wicks. He toyed with the Cowboys’ defense on Sunday, completing 16 of 21 passes for 272 yards and three touchdowns against Dallas.

The Packers also feature a balanced offense, and running back Aaron Jones is a load. He’s finally healthy and it shows. He regularly tore off big chunks of yardage against the Cowboys, carrying the ball 21 times for 118 rushing yards and three touchdowns on the ground against the Cowboys.

The 49ers should be in better shape to handle Jones and the Green Bay running game with the return of one of their key defensive players.

Defensive tackle Arik Armstead appears to be on track to return to action after missing the final five games due to foot and knee issues. He teams up with Javon Hargrave to provide the 49ers with a stout interior of the offensive line. Chase Young will step in and handle most of the playing time at defensive end with Clelin Ferrell out due to a knee injury.

Defensive end Nick Bosa was rewarded as the top-paid defensive player in the league in the week leading up to the regular-season opener. He saw a dip in his sack numbers but is still every bit the dominant defensive performer. He registered 10.5 sacks along with 16 tackles for loss and a career-best of 53 tackles.

Cornerback Charvarius Ward took his game to a higher level with a career-best five interceptions en route to his first Pro Bowl and second-team All-Pro status. The 49ers led the league with 22 interceptions on the season.

Middle linebacker Fred Warner was chosen as the 49ers’ only first-team All-Pro on defense. He led the team with 132 tackles and added four interceptions, four forced fumbles and six tackles for loss.

There was a drop-off from a year ago when the 49ers ranked No. 1 in the NFL in scoring defense and second-best in yards allowed. But the defense was solid under first-year defensive coordinator Steve Wilks.

This should be a good chess match between Wilks and Packers coach Matt LaFleur from the Shanahan tree.

Special teams

These teams do not exactly excel on special teams.

Longtime NFL reporter Rick Gosselin compiles an annual special teams ranking that measures all the different areas during the regular season, and the 49ers and Packers ranked 25th and 29th, respectively.

Green Bay’s rookie kicker Anders Carlson has been an adventure this season. He missed five extra points during the season and one more on Sunday against the Cowboys.

Kicker Jake Moody was mostly consistent during his first season for the 49ers, but his losses came at inopportune times. And, now, he heads into his first postseason after a rough Week 18 performance, in which he missed a 38-yard field goal and an extra point. He was 60 for 60 on extra points before missing in a one-point loss to the Rams.

Punter Mitch Wishnowsky had his best season with a strong 42.7 net average on 52 punts. Fifty percent of his punts forced the opposition to begin their drives inside their own 20-yard line.

Packers return man Keisean Nixon was chosen to the All-Pro team for his work on kickoffs.

Meanwhile, Ray-Ray McCloud is back as the 49ers’ return man on kickoffs and punts after he missed more than a month with fractured ribs. Samuel is also an option to provide a spark on kick returns.

The 49ers also figure to get a boost with core special-teams player George Odum back after undergoing surgery to repair a torn biceps in late November.

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