Friday, January 3, 2014

San Francisco 49ers vs Green Bay Packers: SF -2.5 (Pinnacle)

Market Watch

When the point spread for this game was released last Sunday, it originally came out SF -1. It took all of 10 minutes before they pushed it up to -2.5 though, which is where it currently sits.

Of all the games on Wild Card weekend, this is the most lopsided among the casual bettor. 72 percent of the bets are coming in on the 49ers.

Keep an eye on

At the start of the year the Green Bay Packers were my NFC pick to make it to the Super Bowl. Even after their Week 1 defeat in San Francisco, I felt pretty good about it.

Since then, things have changed. While the Packers have gotten a great year out of Eddie Lacy, the defense has not had the kind of rebound season that I expected. This leads us to the first big key of the game.

Can the Packers stop the 49ers run game?

It certainly helps Green Bay that fullback Bruce Miller is on IR. The 49ers used a two-back set 374 times this season, which is 120 more times than every other team. The problem for the Packers is it might not matter who is blocking for San Fran.

Trying to stop the lethal 1-2 punch of Gore and Hunter will be a very poor front seven.  B.J. Raji is rated dead last against the run among defensive tackles, and A.J. Hawk and Brad Jones have been almost as bad in support. The only guy in the front seven to rate positively against the run is Mike Daniels. Last week, the Bears running backs only had to break three tackles on their way to a five yards per carry average. Perry, Neal, Mulumba, and Lattimore were among the suspects who got abused.

It's highly unlikely Colin Kaepernick repeats his 412 yard performance from Week 1, or his huge read-option day from last year's playoffs, but a quality run game should make things a bit easier on the young QB. He finished above-average in his QB ranking this year, but he's also the only QB in the league who had to play the league's top two defenses twice. Also, only Philip Rivers had a better rating on third down this year.

With all this to work with, we come to another big advantage for the 49ers.

Coaching.

Since Jim Harbaugh took over, they are 3-0 against the Packers. Mike McCarthy is a good coach, but he's built up a really suspect reputation for his in-game management. In the latest example, McCarthy had to be talked into going for it on 4th down during Green Bay's final drive against Chicago. He also elected to go for the extra point instead of going for 2 in the second half of that game. Whether it's play-calling or clock management, Harbaugh holds a clear edge on gamedays.

The final key to this game will be turnovers. That is a no-brainer for most NFL games, but the 49ers have won this category 5-1 in the three games between them the last two years. If the Packers can't find a way to make some big plays on defense, this game could get ugly.

Adding to the drama in this game will be the weather. It's expected to be around -12 at kickoff, and it might even go down as one of the top 10 coldest games in NFL history. At those kind of temperatures both teams might be at a disadvantage, but if it comes down to a grind and pound game, you have to think the 49ers are better equipped for that type of battle.

Bottom Line

I would love to take the Packers in this game, but they enter the contest with far too many question marks. Is Rodgers on top of his game and in sync with his receivers? Can McCarthy avoid getting out-coached by Harbaugh? Will the defense stop the run or create any turnovers?  Is Lacy's ankle healthy enough for a big game? Can they create pressure without Matthews?

Given all the uncertainty, the only option here is the 49ers. It's a case of what you see is what you get, and I'm a bit surprised this line hasn't moved to -3 yet. I'll lay the -2.5 and not look back.

NFL Pick: SF -2.5.