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Miami is on the mind for the 49ers as they find themselves just one win away from a Super Bowl.

Before they pack their swimsuits and sunblock, the 49ers are tasked with taking down Aaron Rodgers and the Packers for the second time this season in the NFC Championship game.

The 49ers triumphant return to glory has been one for the ages, and one of the most impressive turnarounds in NFL history is not over yet. Blowing out the Packers 37-8 just eight weeks ago, the 49ers are expecting a much more sound and prepared Packers team Sunday at Levi’s Stadium.

Barely 24 hours after their win over the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC Divisional Round, 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan gave his team a strong message, warning them not to overlook this Packers team:

“Don’t be that stupid. That’s not real. This is about Sunday’s game. I could give a thousand stories of things like that, parts and plenty of games from my history that I’ve been a part of. I remember losing to Carolina 37-0 when they were 13-0 and we had to play them two weeks later and then we beat them at Atlanta and they ended up being 15-1 that year. There’s so many stories like that and this is the NFL. The game before never matters like that. … Also, our players, the type of guys they are, the way they’ve been all year, I’m not concerned about that. They’ll have to answer that question, I’m sure, a lot, but I don’t think that’ll be a worry for our players, which means it won’t be for me.”

49ers defense dominated Rodgers in Week 12. Now? They’re much healthier

Last time these two teams played, the 49ers defense was lights out. Sacking Rodgers five times, the 49ers front seven was dominant, even without Dee Ford and Kwon Alexander. As healthy as they’ve been all season, the 49ers defense will look for a repeat of Week 12–or something close to it. Beating up on Rodgers like that twice in one season is very hard to do, but the 49ers are more than equipped to do so.

The Packers have two key offensive weapons in wide receiver Davante Adams and running back Aaron Jones. Both players will be the focal point of the 49ers gameplan on defense, and rightfully so, but Rodgers will always be the number one priority.

Scot Tucker/SFBay Green Bay Packers starting quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) hands the ball off to Green Bay Packers’ Aaron Jones (33) in the first half as the Green Bay Packers face the San Francisco 49ers at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., on Sunday, November 24, 2019. (Scot Tucker / SFBay.ca)

In Week 12, Jones totaled 13 rushes for 38 yards, second to backup running back Jamaal Williams 11 rushes for 45 yards. Jones was not much of a factor then, and there’s a chance he won’t be a big factor now, especially after what the 49ers did to Dalvin Cook and the Vikings rushing attack (combined 10 rushes for 21 yards). The Packers will certainly have a different game plan this time around and should get creative with their use of Jones, but if this season has shown anything, it’s that the 49ers will adjust.

If the 49ers are to successfully shut down Jones and the Packers running game, that leaves only Adams and Rodgers. I say “only” as if that’s some walk in the park, which it absolutely is not. The 49ers secondary handled their own against the deadly duo of Rodgers and Adams in Week 12, holding the Packers receiver to 7 receptions for 43 yards and a touchdown. If the 49ers defensive front is applying pressure like they did that week, it’s hard to image Rodgers and Adams having a field day against the 49ers defense.

Scot Tucker/SFBay San Francisco 49ers’ Jimmie Ward (20) brings down Green Bay Packers’ Davante Adams (17) in the second quarter as the Green Bay Packers face the San Francisco 49ers at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., on Sunday, November 24, 2019. (Scot Tucker / SFBay.ca)

49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh gave his scouting report of Davante Adams:

“He’s very strong. He’s a very good route runner. He’s got great hands. He’s got a salty to him where he’s really good in double moves. He just kind of lulls you to sleep. But, he’s savvy, and him and [Green Bay Packers QB] Aaron [Rodgers] have a really good relationship. They’ve got a good rapport with one another, so they’re very comfortable. They know where each other is going to be. Just the whole combination of the routes they have for him and all the different things they ask him to do, it’s a good match, and he’s very talented.”

This all goes back to Shanahan’s message to the team at the beginning of the week, and how the 49ers must not over-look this Packers team. The 49ers defense needs to come out with the same intensity as they have all season if they look to handle business against Green Bay.

Jimmy Garoppolo and the 49ers offense against the Packers defense and the Smith ‘brothers’

If you’re looking for pass-rushers, pressure off the edge and sacks-a-plenty, this game is for you. We know what the 49ers bring to the table with their defensive line—overwhelming pressure, which happens to be something the Packers also are very good at.

The Smith ‘brothers,’ who aren’t actually brothers, are one of the most lethal pass-rush tandems in the NFL. In Week 12, both Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith got home on Jimmy Garopolo, accounting for two of the team’s three sacks. The duo will be the biggest obstacle for the 49ers defense Sunday, and any success the 49ers will have on offense begins up-front.

It’s always difficult to guess what a team’s game plan will be heading into a matchup. If I were to guess what the Packers want to do on defense, I would expect them to stack the box against the 49ers offense, and try to contain the 49ers running game. Just last week, the 49ers killed the Vikings on the ground, allowing them to take complete control over the game. Taking away the 49ers rushing attack and forcing Garoppolo to throw the ball might just be the Packers best plan of attack against the 49ers.

Aside from their defensive line, the Packers defense is not that impressive. At linebacker, the Packers have Blake Martinez who finished second in the NFL in tackles (155). Behind Martinez, the Packers secondary is okay, but not great. In Week 12, Garoppolo put together a very nice game through the air (14-of-20, 253 yards, 2 TDs) while completing big passes to George Kittle and Deebo Samuel.

Garoppolo has received plenty of criticism this season and is often overlooked by those in the national media. The 49ers believe in Garoppolo, they trust him in any scenario. 49ers right tackle Mike McGlinchey had this to say about a potential advantage the Packers have over the 49ers at the quarterback position:

“Oh ‘Aaron Rodgers is superior to…[Jimmy Garoppolo],’ we think it’s bullshit. Aaron Rodgers is a Hall of Famer, but we’re very confident in number ten. He’s as good as anybody out there, he’s proven that time and time again.”

Who has the edge?

These are two very good teams, which is why they both finished the season 13-3 and had a first-round bye. There’s one team that has a clear edge over the other, but which one?

Scot Tucker/SFBay Green Bay Packers starting quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) throws a pass in the first quarter as the Green Bay Packers face the San Francisco 49ers at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., on Sunday, November 24, 2019. (Scot Tucker / SFBay.ca)

Quarterback: Packers

If you compare both Garoppolo and Rodgers regular-season starts, the two quarterbacks are closer than you would expect. But this is the postseason, and this is Aaron Rodgers. The future Hall of Famer should not be overlooked … ever.

Scot Tucker/SFBay San Francisco 49ers’ Raheem Mostert (31) runs upfield in the fourth quarter as the Pittsburgh Steelers face the San Francisco 49ers at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., on Sunday, September 22, 2019. (Scot Tucker / SFBay.ca)

Running back: 49ers

If we were talking about who has the best single running back, the answer would definitely be the Packers, Aaron Jones is a monster. I give the 49ers the edge at this position because of the three-headed-monster of Raheem Mostert, Matt Breida and Tevin Coleman. The 49ers are so unique in the running game, deploying three dual-threat running backs with an abundance of speed. In terms of the rushing attack as a whole, and the offensive system in place, I believe the 49ers have the edge here.

Scot Tucker/SFBay San Francisco 49ers’ Emmanuel Sanders (17) runs after a catch in the first half as the Minnesota Vikings face the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Divisional Playoff game at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., on January 11, 2020. (Scot Tucker / SFBay.ca)

Wide receiver: 49ers

Again, similar to running back, the Packers No. 1 receiver Davante Adams is better than any receiver on the 49ers roster. Unfortunately for the Packers, they will need more than one receiver to have success against this San Francisco secondary. Aside from Adams, the Packers have nice pass-catchers in Allen Lazard and Marquez Valdes-Scantling, but their depth does not compete with the 49ers at wide receiver. Emmanuel Sanders, Deebo Samuel, and Kendrick Bourne make up an overall better wide receiver corps.

Scot Tucker/SFBay San Francisco 49ers’ George Kittle (85) sits on the bench after a TD as the Green Bay Packers face the San Francisco 49ers at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., on Sunday, November 24, 2019. (Scot Tucker / SFBay.ca)

Tight end: 49ers

George Kittle. That is all. No, but seriously, Kittle is lightyears better than Jimmy Graham. Kittle and Adams are hands down the two best pass-catchers on the field for both teams.

Scot Tucker/SFBay San Francisco 49ers’ Nick Bosa (97) chases Seattle Seahawks starting quarterback Russell Wilson (3) out of the pocket as Seattle Seahawks face the San Francisco 49ers at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., on Monday, November 11, 2019. (Scot Tucker / SFBay.ca)

Defensive line: 49ers

The Packers defensive line is fantastic, it’s been a huge factor for their defense all season long. Garoppolo and the 49ers offensive line will certainly have their hands full all game against the Smith’s. The answer is easy here: 4 > 2. The 49ers have four guys who can terrorize quarterbacks, the Packers have two. The 49ers defensive line also does better stopping the run.

Scot Tucker/SFBay Arizona Cardinals’ Kenyan Drake (41) is brought down by San Francisco 49ers’ Dre Greenlaw (57) as Arizona Cardinals face the San Francisco 49ers at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., on Sunday, November 17, 2019. (Scot Tucker / SFBay.ca)

Linebacker: 49ers

Blake Martinez has been a stud linebacker for the Packers for three years now, recording at least 144 tackles in three straight seasons. Aside from the Martinez, the back-end of the Packers front-seven is okay. The 49ers linebacker duo and even trio of Kwon Alexander, Fred Warner, and Dre Greenlaw is superior to the Packers.

Scot Tucker/SFBay San Francisco 49ers’ cornerback Richard Sherman (25) reacts in the first half as the Arizona Cardinals face the San Francisco 49ers in Santa Clara, Sunday, Oct. 7, 2018. (Scot Tucker/SFBay.ca)

Secondary: 49ers

It shouldn’t be that much of a surprise that the 49ers top-ranked secondary is better than the Packers, right? The Packers have some talent with cornerback Kevin King, safety Adrian Amos, cornerback Jaire Alexander safety Darnell Savage, and cornerback Tramon Williams, but the 49ers secondary is much better.

Scot Tucker/SFBay San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan reacts after a no call as Seattle Seahawks face the San Francisco 49ers at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., on Monday, November 11, 2019. (Scot Tucker / SFBay.ca)

Head coach: 49ers

Packers head coach Matt LaFleur and defensive coordinator Mike Pettine have ties to both Kyle Shanahan and Robert Saleh. The second reunion of sorts for both sides should have the 49ers with the better coaching duo in Shanahan and Saleh.

It’s pretty clear that the 49ers have the edge over the Packers. Of course, the mantra of “on any given Sunday’ will always be in effect, but at this point, I believe that rebuttal to be rather lazy. I believe this game will be much closer than the Week 12 blowout, but I simply cannot see a way the Packers walk away with the win, as long as the 49ers play their brand of football.

Injury report

The 49ers will once again be almost fully healthy Sunday. Last week we saw the returns of Ford, Alexander, and Jaquiski Tartt. All three will play this week, which could be the deciding factor.

Notes

  • Sunday’s NFC Championship game at Levi’s Stadium will be a packed house. For the first time in Levi’s Stadium history, the 49ers have a true home-field advantage.
  • 49ers rookie defensive end Nick Bosa burst onto the scene this season. This week, he took home not one, but two prestigious honors. Focused on beating the Packers, Bosa wasn’t doing much celebrating.
  • With the fall (for now) of one Bay Area dynasty, is another one beginning to form? Kyle Shanahan discussed how this 49ers team compares to some of the best Golden State Warriors teams of late.
  • Jimmy Garoppolo has a side-hustle, and it involves selling t-shirts with his famous “feels great, baby” motto. George Kittle pitched an idea to Garoppolo for another shirt design.
Taylor Wirth

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