I’ve had the game script swimming around in my head all week.
This is where the fun ends. This is the game that has us all calling for Joe Barry’s head again after the San Francisco 49ers prance up and down the field all afternoon and put up a forty-burger on their way to the NFC title game. It’s the game where Jordan Love’s brilliant nine-game run crashes into the reality of the Niners’ fearsome front seven and a couple of picks turn the game into a laugher.
But then I found out that Saturday is National Cheese Lover’s Day. Look it up. The gods can’t possibly let the Pack’s season end on the most sacred day on the calendar for Cheeseheads across the land. Right?
So, for karma’s sake, let’s look at the recipe that will need to be concocted to spring the monumental upset on a rainy night in Santa Clara.
What’s that you say? Rainy? Yep, we could be in store for heavy rains for much of the game. I don’t think that favors one team more than the other, but it levels the playing field a bit. Brock Purdy last played in wet and windy conditions on Christmas in Baltimore. He threw four picks, and San Francisco got blown out.
The Niners haven’t played a meaningful game since then. They played a scrimmage in Washington and rested many of their starters in a meaningless finale against the Los Angeles Rams. That’s nearly four weeks since they competed in an important game. It’s not far-fetched to think it might take them a while to get their mojo going. Yes, they’re well-coached. Yes, they are the third-oldest team in the league and are littered with All Pros who understand the gravity of the situation. But sometimes it’s not as easy as flipping a switch.
Can the young Pack capitalize on that and ride their Texas-sized momentum to a fast start? Safe to say, they will get the ball first, whether they win the coin toss or not. If they can move down the field and put points on the board on their opening drive, it tightens the screws a little bit and applies a little bit of pressure to the double-digit favorites.
Frankly, I have no idea how the Packers get any stops, short of turning them over. When the 49ers protect the ball, they win. It’s that simple. I’d be surprised if their all-world punter, Mitch Wishnowsky, trots onto the field for anything other than holding for extra points and maybe a field goal or two.
The Packers don’t have to worry about San Francisco’s QB beating them with his legs. But they will need to try to corral Christian McCaffrey, who will figure heavily in the soggy game script, both on the ground and through the air. That’s the biggest mismatch on paper, though the Pack’s run defense has looked a little better lately. CMC presents an entirely different threat than they’ve faced over the past month, though.
Then there’s that pesky middle of the field that Green Bay’s defense struggles to cover. Purdy will attack there with George Kittle, Deebo Samuel, and Brandon Aiyuk. And if Jaire Alexander misses the game – he’s questionable with the ankle injury – things get a lot dicier on that side of the ball. Wonder if Rasul Douglas feels like pulling double duty this weekend.
The Pack has to get pressure on Purdy – particularly up the middle – and force him to make mistakes. He is prone to making them, and as a young QB who was injured at this time last year, the playoff expectations could get the best of him. The Packers better hope that’s the case.
With the Niners likely able to score seemingly at will, it will be up to the offense to try to keep pace. Fortunately, Green Bay is equipped to attack their weakness – stopping the run. As you know, the revival of the Pack’s offense has coincided with Aaron Jones’ return to good health, who has banked four straight games of over 100 yards. The Niners were 2-4 when allowing 100 yards on the ground. They get DT Arik Armstead back from injury, which may force Matt LaFleur to test the edges of the defense more than he did last week.
San Fran is also vulnerable against slot receivers, with a litany of players who have had big games against them, notably rookies Jordan Addison and Zay Flowers. This could be a Jayden Reed game for the Pack. Look for his number to be called early and often after he put up a doughnut last week.
Bottom line: The Pack will need another Superman game from Jordan Love, who’s blossomed over the last nine weeks into a quarterback that most NFC teams would take right now going into 2024. Does he have one more storybook performance in him? Can he build off the highest QBR any quarterback has ever registered in a playoff game, with Nick Bosa, Chase Young, and Co. breathing down his neck?
I don’t feel like betting against him. My brain says the Niners win this game 34-23, and we head into the offseason with warm fuzzies about the late-season run and Love’s bright future. But a win by the Pack would even the all-time playoff record between these teams at 5-5, giving Green Bay 38 all-time postseason wins, one ahead of the New England Patriots.
Maybe after four straight heartbreaking playoff losses to the 49ers, the Packers finally beat them when we least expect it. I’ll tell ya one thing: I’m not picking against the Pack on National Cheese Lover’s Day: