San Francisco 49ers at Green Bay Packers: 2013 NFC Wild Card Pick

San Francisco 49ers (12-4) at Green Bay Packers (8-7-1)

Aaron Rodgers is back for the Packers and that obviously makes a big difference. He started out a little shaky against Chicago, understandable because he missed almost 2 months with injury, throwing 2 early picks, but bounced back to finish 25 of 39 for 318 yards with 2 touchdowns. With another week of practice with the first team and a full game under his belt, Rodgers will only be sharper this week.

With a healthy Aaron Rodgers, Jordy Nelson, James Jones, Eddie Lacy, and a now healthy Randall Cobb making plays on offense with actually a very decent offensive line, the Packers are near impossible to stop offensively. Because of Lacy’s emergence, this might be the best offensive supporting cast Rodgers has ever had. On the season, in the 8 games Rodgers has started and finished, the Packers moved the chains at a 77.78% rate. Even when Rodgers was out of the lineup, the Packers had a decent offense because of all the supporting talent, moving the chains at an above average 72.33% rate, but with Rodgers back the offense is simply on another level. Only Denver and San Diego move the chains at a higher rate than that aforementioned 77.78% rate on the season.

Aaron Rodgers and the Packers offense has always played well against the 49ers since Jim Harbaugh took over the 49ers in 2011, even though the 49ers have consistently had one of the NFL’s top defenses. In 3 games, he’s completed 77 of 122 (63.1%), 893 yards (7.36 YPA), 8 touchdowns, and 3 interceptions. The 49ers once again have a very strong defense, allowing opponents to move the chains at a 67.24% rate, but once again they should only be able to slow down Rodgers and the Packers, not stop them.

However, the 49ers have won the last 3 matchups because they’ve been able to move the ball at will on the Packers’ defense. Defense is once again an issue for the Packers, as they are allowing opponents to move the chains at a 74.60% rate and are without top player Clay Matthews. However, the 49ers’ offense has been inconsistent this year, moving the chains at a below average 70.35% rate. A few weeks ago, everyone expected them to move the ball all over an even worse Falcons’ defense at home in San Francisco and they disappointed. They could have a good game here, but it’s far from a foregone conclusion.

The 49ers have a rate of moving the chains differential of 3.11%, which is very solid, 9th in the NFL, but the Packers are right in that same area if you take that aforementioned 77.78% rate for their offense, with a differential of 3.17%. That suggests these two teams are roughly even, which I think is very reasonable. They played a close game week 1 that could have gone either way, depending on a call or two by the referees, and that was in San Francisco. The 49ers are 12-4 and the Packers are 6-2 with Rodgers. I think if you played 100 games between these two teams as they are currently constructed on a neutral field, we’d see a fairly even split with one team winning 50-55 of them.

In spite of that, the Packers are getting a field goal at home, which suggests that the 49ers are 6 points better, which doesn’t make sense to me, so getting that field goal with the Packers seems awfully attractive. The Packers have also been incredible at home over the past few years, as long as Aaron Rodgers has been under center. Rodgers is 21-8 ATS at home since 2010 and 26-3 straight up, with an absurd +412 point differential, meaning they outscore opponents, on average, by 14.21 points per game. This also happens to be the first time Rodgers has been a home underdog since week 10 of 2009, an upset win over the Cowboys. For what it’s worth, Aaron Rodgers is 2-1 ATS and straight up as a home underdog in his career as a starter.

Yet still, the public is all over the 49ers, as the biggest public lean of the week is on San Francisco. The public always loses money in the long run, so I like to go against them whenever it makes sense, which it definitely does this week. I understand why the public is all over the 49ers, given that they’ve beaten the Packers in 3 straight matchups and only need to win by a field goal or more. The public seems to think they have the Packers’ number.

I don’t buy that though, because there’s nothing to really support the common narrative that some teams just have another team’s number. Since 1989, teams are 303-326 ATS against teams that they have beaten and covered against in 3+ straight matchups. If you shrink the sample size down to teams that are meeting for the 4th time in 2 seasons, that record is 81-90 ATS.

If you shrink it even further to non-divisional foes, there’s only one instance in the last 25 years of a team even having a chance to win and cover against a non-divisional opponent for the 4th time in 2 years. The Eagles and the Buccaneers met in Philadelphia in the 2002 NFC Championship after the Eagles had beaten the Buccaneers by scores of 17-13, 31-9, and 20-10 over the past 2 seasons. The Buccaneers came in as 3.5 point underdogs against an Eagles team that “had their number”, but ended up winning 27-10 and advanced to the Super Bowl, where they eventually won.

That’s just one case study and even those other numbers alone aren’t enough to take the 49ers, but it certainly doesn’t provide any evidence that teams can “have another team’s number” and that would seem to be the primary reason why the public is on San Francisco. Even in matchups where teams are completely coin flip evenly matched up, there’s a 1 and 8 chance that one team will beat the other 3 straight times. This seems like a trap line and the public is falling for it. I’m taking the field goal with a dominant home team in an even matchup.

Green Bay Packers 31 San Francisco 49ers 27 Upset Pick +130

Pick against spread: Green Bay +3

Confidence: High

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