For the third year in a row, the Green Bay Packers are facing an NFC West team in the Divisional Round of the playoffs. After beating the Seahawks in 2019 and the Rams in 2020, the Packers play the 49ers in their first playoff game of the 2021 season. This isn’t Green Bay’s first time facing Kyle Shanahan’s squad this season. They emerged victorious in a Week 3 contest against San Francisco in September, 30-28.
However, that long-ago game likely means little for Saturday. Both teams look quite different now. The 49ers overcame a 2-4 start to finish their season 10-7 and earn the #6 seed in the playoffs. Green Bay went on to achieve a 13-4 record and secure the NFC’s #1 seed. Furthermore, the Packers have received an influx of talent as multiple players, including several key offensive lineman and defensive contributors, have returned from injury in the past few weeks. With all these factors in mind, here are three bold predictions for Packers vs. 49ers.
1. The Packers Get Out To A Fast Start
In most of their games this year, Green Bay has been plagued by slow starts. They’ve scored a touchdown on their opening drive only three times this season. I think there are a lot of factors that have gone into this, but perhaps the primary one is the injuries the Packers have sustained. Key players such as David Bakhtiari, Josh Myers, Marques Valdez-Scantling, Billy Turner, and Davante Adams have all missed time at various points during the season. This could have hurt the offense’s ability to sustain opening drives.
With their offensive personnel mostly restored as they enter the Divisional Round of the playoffs, I think that the Packers will come of the gate ready to set the Frozen Tundra on fire. I predict that they will not only score on their opening drive, but they will achieve a two-score lead within their first two possessions. The defense will obviously play a big part in this prediction. They have to get a stop or two for Green Bay to get up 14-3 or 10-0. However, the point is that the offense will operate more effectively than it has in months. An early lead will be critical to put pressure on the battered Jimmy Garoppolo.
2. Za’Darius and Mercilus Both Return and Have an Immediate Impact
The first portion of this prediction may no longer be quite as “bold” as it was yesterday. From Matt LaFleur’s comments earlier today, it appears as though both Za’Darius Smith and Whitney Mercilus have a good chance to return to the field Saturday. With this in mind, I have increased the boldness of the second part of my forecast.
Not only will the veterans have an impact on the 49ers’ offense, I predict that they will amass three sacks between them. If the Packers can get an early lead, then San Francisco could be forced out of their diverse run-based offense. A throwing Garoppolo is a vulnerable Garoppolo. I think that both Z and Mercilus will come out hungry to make up for lost time. If the chance presents itself, they will waste no time harrying and harassing the opposing QB.
3. Rasul Douglas Comes Up Big for the Packers
As mentioned earlier, Garoppolo is dealing with injuries to both his throwing hand and shoulder. This, combined with the frigid cold and Green Bay’s excellent pass rush, will likely force several errant throws. I predict that not only will Rasul Douglas come down with two of these balls, he will return one of them for a defensive touchdown.
The cornerback has already ruined the win streak of one NFC West team this season. What better player to continue Green Bay’s storybook run and punch their ticket to the NFC Championship?
Make no mistake, the San Francisco 49ers will be a tough match-up. They have a potent offense and a good pass-rush. However, they also have weaknesses. If Green Bay can get out to an early lead, get pressure, and force turnovers, they will be in a great position to advance to the next round of the playoff: the NFC Championship game.
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