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How can the 49ers Become NFC Champions?

Can you feel it? The palpable excitement hanging in the air? The Packers and the 49ers will be going head-to-head for the NFC Championship this Sunday. You know what that means. It’s time to embrace the pinnacle of our rivalry with the Cheese Men. It is time…to be reminded of that one time the 49ers drafted Alex Smith instead of Aaron Rodgers. 

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The time-honored tradition of networks beating a dead horse when there is no new controversy to be discussed is as strong today as it was the last time the 49ers played the Packers. And the time before that. And what feels like every game since Rodgers became the starter. April 2020 will mark the 15-year anniversary of this scintillating storyline; it also marks 15 years since much of America discovered what a Hollaback Girl is (Thanks Gwen!). As much as I would love to continue to be force-fed this story roughly once per season until the 36 year-old Rodgers retires, I think it’s time to put this one out to pasture. And now that the Packers have hired Frenchie as their head coach, the tagline has been LaFleur vs Saleh in what ESPN (and probably plenty others) called the “best man battle;” and don’t forget the brother vs. brother (Mike LaFleur) angle. This feels like the next step in the narrative and we’ll all be tired of hearing about it in a year or so but at least it’s SOMETHING else.

Last Sunday, The Packers stifled a late game surge from the Seahawks by getting just enough yardage on a 3rd & 9 reception by Jimmy Graham that it was ruled a first down. Davante Adams shared a picture (as tweeted out by Andrew Siciliano, below) showing a red line attached to the official marker drawn across the field. I know I’m complaining about overused sayings but Sunday would have been a great time for Mr.Joseph Francis Buck to stress to everyone that “our yellow line is not official.” During the game, Green Bay’s Defense gave up 110 yards on the ground and 277 through the air. Russell Wilson may want to have some x-rays taken in the offseason, not because of the 5 sacks he took during the game, but from the wear and tear of having to throw the entire Seattle offense on his back yet again to try to lead them to victory. Not only did he put up good passing numbers but he was also their lead rusher on 7 carries for 64 yards. Skittles and Travis Homer combined for 39 yards on 15 carries (and 2, 1-yard TDs). 

Lots of analysts have been pointing out the current Packers win streak (6 wins). That win streak comes against the Giants (4-12), Redskins (3-13), Bears (8-8), Vikings (10-6), Lions (3-12), and the Seahawks (11-5) last week. These are all games they should have won since half these teams were playing for draft position And only two had winning records. Although I do believe in momentum within a game, each week is different and this stat doesn’t particularly scare me.

What does this mean for San Francisco? Last week we saw what Kyle Shanahan wants to do if everything is going their way: pound the rock and eat the clock. He wants to establish the run and is willing to abandon the pass if their RBs can keep finding lanes. Am I predicting another 47 runs? No. I believe that the Packers want to take away the run from San Francisco and will try to make Jimmy beat them.

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Can they take away the run? On the year, the Minnesota Vikings are ranked as the #13 Defense against the rush, giving up an average of 108 yards per game. They weren’t able to stop the rushing attack last week. On the same list, the Green Bay Packers are ranked #23 and give up 120 yards per game. When it comes to Passing Defense, Minnesota is at #15 and Green Bay is right next door at #14.

If they sell out to stop the run, can Jimmy beat them? He didn’t show much last week with the ground game doing most of the work; however, it’s worth noting that Jimmy is in a 3-way tie for the most 4th-quarter comebacks this year (regular season) with 4 (Steelers, Cardinals, Saints, and Rams). Not just that though. He passes the eye test in those situations. You don’t see him looking panicked or scared when he’s on the field. He doesn’t get rattled after an interception. He comes back and does what he needs to.

Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

What about San Francisco’s Defense? Having Ford, Alexander, and Tartt back meant a nearly endless wave of pressure on Kirk Cousins last week. Keeping that going against Aaron Rodgers will be key to shutting down that offense. Last week’s game film will show an ineffective Minnesota run game so I think LaFluer will shy away from running it up the gut initially and will focus on quick outside passes and keeping Rodgers away from the rush as often as possible. Ultimately, I think the #1 Passing Defense catches up with him. 49ers CB Ahkello Witherspoon appeared to be the weak link against the Vikings and was benched after giving up a 41-yard receiving touchdown to Stefon Diggs. He doesn’t seem to be playing with the same confidence he had at the start of the season so I expect Emmanuel Moseley to get the start this week.

49ers DFS Take:

With only 4 teams playing this week, the DFS pool is getting awfully shallow. I expect everyone and their dog will be starting Patrick Mahomes ($9500) but if you want to zig when everyone else is zagging, Jimmy is the cheapest starting QB available ($7600). If the run game is successful again, I expect him to be near his floor like last week. If the Packers can take away the run and make Jimmy beat them, we could see something closer to his 29.06 point performance against the Saints.

Coleman ($6500), Mostert ($5800), and Breida ($5000) are all listed right next to each other. As I mentioned in my last article, it’s tough to trust any of the RBs on a given week. Matt Brieda got the starting nod last week but only accumulated 17 yards on 8 carries (2.13 y/a). He’s the furthest removed from breaking 100 yards in week 5 and recorded his only TDs of the season that week as well (1 rushing 1 receiving). That being said, I could see him getting the start again with Coleman (ankle) and Mostert (calf) nursing minor injuries this week (both were removed from the injury report on Friday). If I had to choose one, I would buy the price dip of Mostert.

Kittle ($7000) is $800 less than Kelce this week and would be my choice between the two. Deebo ($6300), Sanders ($5500), and Bourne ($5400). I like Deebo in this game and he would be my first choice, if you have the budget left for him. KB’s price jumped up this week so I would much rather roll Sanders out there. Bourne is always a threat in the red zone but Sanders is out there for a significantly higher percentage of snaps. San Francisco’s Defense is the most expensive ($4600) but I’d be willing to spend up for them this week.

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As of this writing, the only player from either 53-man roster listed on the injury report is Packers FB Danny Vitale (knee, questionable). That’s it. Barring any surprise injury additions between now and then, I expect both teams to be all in. There won’t be any excuses or “Yeah, but…”s. Both teams have been slammed as pretenders this year but both have found ways to win when it matters. I think the 49ers have the edge but it should be a good game. If you need me Sunday, I’ll be watching the game with my pregnant Packer-fan wife. Here’s hoping the game doesn’t cause early labor.

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How can the 49ers Become NFC Champions?

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