Week 12’s Sunday night affair features a throwback matchup between two Super Bowl contenders in the NFC: the Green Bay Packers and San Francisco 49ers. However, instead of Brett Favre and Steve Young, we will see Aaron Rodgers and Jimmy Garoppolo square off for the first time in their careers.
This is the first time two teams with such staunch records (Green Bay 8-2, San Francisco 9-1) will face off this late in the season. It also marks the toughest three-game stretch in the history of the NFL for the 49ers. It is the first time a team will face three consecutive teams with a winning percentage of 0.800 or above. That could change if the Saints or Ravens were to falter before their matchup with the 49ers, but nevertheless, were about to find out how good San Francisco really is. Their test begins with the Packers and quarterback Aaron Rodgers at home, and I think they’re up to the task.
|Unit||Adjusted Line Yards||Adjust Sack Rate|
The 49ers have played several games without starting tackles Joe Staley and Mike McGlinchey, yet haven’t missed a beat. The unit has played spectacular and is one of the primary reasons for the 49ers’ success this year. While he isn’t designated as an offensive lineman, tight-end George Kittle probably labels himself as such. His absence in the run game has been felt, as the 49ers rank just 31st in rushing success rate and early down rushing success rate the past three weeks, according to Sharp Football Stats. Kittle is expected back, however, which should make their matchup against the Packers defense even more lucrative.
Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine has openly stated he doesn’t care about stopping the run, evidenced by their yearlong defensive splits. They rank 32nd in rushing success rate and early down rushing success rate. That doesn’t bode well against the 49ers, who own the 2nd highest rushing rate in the league, overall (51%) and on early downs (56%). Matt Breida is doubtful for this game, but the trio of Tevin Coleman, Raheem Mostert, and Jeff Wilson Jr. should have success running behind the holes created by the San Francisco offensive line.
Despite ranking seventh in adjusted sack rate, I do expect the “Smith brothers” (Za’Darius and Preston) to have success pressuring Garoppolo in obvious passing situations. Success on early downs and keeping out of third and long will be imperative against the dynamic pass-rushing duo for Green Bay.
While I expect the 49ers to have success running the ball, the Packers offense should have their fair share of success on the ground as well. Headlined by Aaron Jones, the Packers rushing attack has been one of the best in the league this year. They rank 4th in rushing success rate and 1st in early-down rushing success rate. San Francisco’s defense ranks 23rd and 27th, respectively.
David Bakhtiari and company will have their hands full on passing downs, as no team can pressure the QB better than the 49ers, but their run defense can be exploited. Same story for the Packers as it is for the 49ers; having success on early downs and avoiding 3rd and long will be imperative.
While the matchup in the trenches figures to be even on both sides, I think the 49ers have a massive advantage in coaching. Kyle Shanahan has long been regarded as one of the best offensive minds in the league. His unit carried the 2016 Atlanta Falcons to their second Super Bowl appearance as a franchise, a feat that earned him head coaching duties of the 49ers. Despite Garoppolo playing just two and a half games last year, their offense was still respectable.
|Yard Per Play||13th|
|Yards Per Pass Attempt||9th|
|Points Per Game||21st|
Considering his QB is healthy and the offense has more talent, it’s no surprise the 49ers are where they are at this point in the season. The Packers’ defensive philosophy has been to ignore the run in favor of the pass. Their rushing defense reflects that, but not the passing defense. They rank 17th in passing success rate and 21st in early-down passing success rate. Whether they want to attack the Packers with the pass or stay true to their yearlong rushing rate, the 49ers should be able to do whatever they want on offense.
While Shanahan is the superior coach, Packers coach Matt LeFleur has been fine in his own regard. The onus has been taken off of Aaron Rodgers this year, as the strength of their offense has been the ground game. He’s done a great job all season of scripting plays early in the game so their defense can play with a lead.
However, the 49ers edge in coaching doesn’t stop with the head coaching match up. While Pettine has openly admitted to not caring about stopping the run in favor of the pass, you could say the same for the 49ers. The difference is, the 49ers have been one of the best pass defenses in the league this year, while Green Bay has been below average up to this point. Two teams with similar philosophies, yet one has been significantly better than the other.
The Packers are coming off a bye, but that can be a volatile proposition for teams. We don’t have a track record for Matt LeFleur off a bye week, so we can’t say if it will be beneficial or not.
Most would assume the edge at QB belongs to the Packers. A closer look at the numbers, however, will yield a different result.
|Player||CMP%||exCMP% +/-||Y/A||ANY/A||TD%||INT%||QB Rating|
Since passing offense is mostly a reflection of the QB, here’s where they rank in terms of success rate.
San Francisco: 10th
Green Bay: 16th
Most fans and analysts still view Rodgers in the “no-brainer” tier 1 of QB’s. The truth is, he hasn’t been in that group in a while.
|Year||Yards per attempt (NFL rank)||TD% (NFL rank)|
|2018||7.4 (17th)||4.2 (21st)|
|2016||7.3 (13th)||6.6 (2nd)|
|2015||6.7 (30th)||5.4 (11th)|
|2014||8.4 (2nd)||7.3 (2nd)|
This isn’t to say that Rodgers is dust and should retire to solitary confinement. My point is, the gap between him and Garoppolo is virtually nonexistent. Rodgers can still make all of the throws and wow you with his arm, but he isn’t old dominant Rodgers like we’ve become used to.
Garoppolo has thrown a lot of “wtf” interceptions this year. That’s going to happen though when you aren’t afraid to take chances. His mental toughness has been phenomenal. According to Josh Dubow, Garoppolo is 32/35 for 288 passing yards, 2 touchdowns, 0 interceptions, and a 120 passer rating in the drives following an interception.
Garoppolo can go toe-to-toe with Rodgers if need be. Considering he is expected to have a full complement of pass catchers, I’d call the QB matchup even.
The Week 12 49ers vs. Packers spread opened at 3.5 and was immediately bet down to 3. We have seen the spread inch closer and closer to 3.5 as the week has progressed. At the moment, it is a juiced three in several sportsbooks.
According to the net yards per play model, San Francisco is 6.5 points better than Green Bay on a neutral field. After you factor in the home-field advantage, the 49ers should be favorites north of seven. Instead, we’re seeing sportsbooks telling us that these teams are equal. That simply isn’t the case.
The Packers are the only team in the NFL with a winning record despite having a negative net yards per play differential (-0.2). The 49ers own a 1.1 net yards per play differential, second-best behind only the Cowboys. “But James, they’ve played an easy schedule!!!” I call bologna. What would you expect from a great team against an easy schedule? Dominance. That is what the 49ers have been. Their only close games have come in the last three weeks, starting with a Thursday Night football affair with the Arizona Cardinals. The 49ers outgained them in yards per play in both contests, which means the score was closer than it should have been. Against Seattle at home, they lost in overtime despite missing a game-winning field goal. You play that game 100 more times and it’s 50/50 AT WORST.
The Packers have had several close calls against some mediocre teams. Look no further than the Carolina Panthers, a common opponent. The 49ers blew the doors off of the Panthers, while the Packers were an inch away from potential overtime against the same squad. Both teams hosted the game at home.
The 49ers are straight-up better and more physical than the Packers. They should have all three of George Kittle, Emmanuel Sanders, and Deebo Samuel suit up for this game. The only cog they will be missing is Dee Ford, which will hurt, but they have the depth on the defensive line to somewhat make up for his absence rushing the passer.
On top of the Week 12 49ers vs. Packers spread, I’m also on the over here. Hopefully, you got the 45.5 I gave out at the beginning of the week. I wouldn’t bet it at the current number (48), as all value is gone.
James Aguirre is a writer for PFN covering NFL betting and Fantasy Football. You can follow him on Twitter @PFN_James.