What a difference one year makes. Last year at this time, both the Packers and 49ers were well into their offseasons, licking their proverbial wounds after disastrous campaigns. But now two of the NFC’s most historic franchises are back on top, and one win away from reaching the Super Bowl.
San Francisco’s turnaround starts with the return of Jimmy Garoppolo, who’s now 22-5 as a starter. While the 49ers rely on an elite running game and stellar defense, there’s no doubting the correlation between Garoppolo standing under center and his team winding up victorious.
The Packers, meanwhile, fired their coach Mike McCarthy after another lackluster and apathetic season. They brought in Matt LeFleur, who seems to jive much better with Aaron Rodgers. The Hall of Fame quarterback is pack to making sensational plays at the end of games, such as in last week’s Divisional Round, when he found Davante Adams and Jimmy Graham on key fourth quarter third-down conversions to keep the chains moving.
The Packers are looking to return to their first Super Bowl since 2010, wheres the Niners are hoping to reach their first Super Bowl since 1994. As 7.5-point favorites, the Niners are expected to get there.
NFC Championship: Packers at 49ers (49ers -7.5)
Sunday, 6:40 p.m. EST
The 49ers walloped the Packers 37-8 when they met at Levi Stadium on Nov. 24. Though the rematch should be a little closer, expect the 49ers to win and cover.
The biggest advantage for San Francisco is the man standing on its sideline, Kyle Shanahan. The young head coach is one of the most brilliant offensive minds in football, and will probably have an unpredictable game plan. While the 49ers are a run-heavy squad, Garoppolo is capable of filling up the stat sheet, such as when he threw for 424 yards in Week 11 against the Cardinals. The Packers struggled to contain Jimmy G when they faced off against him, surrendering 253 yards on just 14 completions.
With numbers like that, Shanahan could open up the passing game, and perhaps catch the Green Bay defense off guard.
Speaking of defense, Robert Saleh’s unit dominated the Packers in Week 12, holding Rodgers to just 104 yards and a garbage-time touchdown. He was sacked five times as well.
One of the biggest reasons why the 49ers vanquished the Vikings last week was their dominant pass-rush. Rookie Nick Bosa, who recorded nine sacks this season, finished with six tackles and two sacks in the victory. Richard Sherman, taking advantage of the chaos in the backfield, notched his third career playoff interception as well.
The 49ers have proven they’re a difficult matchup for the Packers and are the most complete team left in the postseason. They can win in a number of ways. If they can lock down Adams and Graham on the defensive side, Rodgers will not have many weapons to throw to.
Three years ago, Shananhan took the Falcons to the Super Bowl. He will repeat that feat this season, and it could be the start of a mini-dynasty.
Verdict: Bet 49ers