Green Bay Packers at San Francisco 49ers: 2019 NFC Championship Pick

Green Bay Packers (14-3) at San Francisco 49ers (14-3)

Like the Chiefs/Titans matchup in the AFC Championship, this NFC Championship matchup between the 49ers and the Packers is a rematch of a regular season game. Unlike the first Chiefs/Titans matchup, which few would have predicted would be an AFC Championship preview, the first 49ers/Packers matchup was an obvious potential NFC Championship preview, with the 49ers entering at 9-1 and the Packers entering at 8-2 in a game that wound up deciding the #1 seed in the NFC. 

Despite both teams having strong records, the first matchup was not close at all, with the 49ers winning at home by a final score of 37-8 in a game in which they won the first down rate battle by 15.87%. Favored by just a field goal the first time around, the 49ers are now 7.5-point home favorites in the rematch, as bettors remember the week 12 blowout well. History suggests that these rematches don’t always go the same way, however, and in fact in non-divisional same-site post-season rematches, the team that lost the first time is actually 33-20 ATS over the past 30 seasons. 

That being said, I think there is good reason to expect that the 49ers should win fairly easily again. Even though these teams have the same record, the 49ers had a much stronger season, holding the edge in the regular season in first down rate differential at +5.29% to +1.15% and in point differential at +169 to +63. The Packers’ point differential was the worst ever by a team that finished with 13 wins or more and ranked just 9th in the NFL, compared to 3rd for the 49ers. In first down rate differential, the difference was even more pronounced, with the 49ers ranking 2nd and the Packers ranking 14th. While the Packers are 9-1 in games decided by 8 points or fewer, the 49ers are just 5-3 in games decided by 8 points or fewer, winning 9 of their 14 games by more than 8 points, as opposed to just 5 for the Packers. 

That’s despite the fact that the 49ers were missing their top edge rusher Dee Ford and their top linebacker Kwon Alexander for most of the second half of the season. Alexander went down in the 49ers 8th game of the season in week 9 and missed the rest of the regular season, while Ford played just 73 snaps after week 9 and was inactive for the Packers game. Neither one is at 100% this week, but having both back in the lineup is significant. The 49ers allowed just a 24.67% first down rate in their first 7 games of the season with Alexander and Ford healthy, which would have been easily the best in the NFL if they kept it up all season. 

The 49ers had a relatively easy schedule over that stretch, but their strength of schedule suggested they should have allowed a 34.56% first down rate over those 7 games, so they performed significantly better than average. Last week, with Ford and Alexander back, the 49ers held a Vikings offense that finished 11th in the NFL in first down rate (higher than the Packers who finished 16th) to just 7 first downs and a 17.78% first down rate. This is the healthiest the 49ers have been since their dominant start and they are playing like it. 

The Packers are basically at full strength as well, but that’s been the case for most of the season. Meanwhile, in addition to the 49ers having Ford and Alexander back, the 49ers will also have tight end George Kittle and wide receivers Emmanuel Sanders and Deebo Samuel at full strength, which they didn’t have in the first matchup and, while they’re missing center Weston Richburg, they will have left tackle Joe Staley this time around, which is more important, especially since backup center Ben Garland has filled in well for Richburg. I’m hoping this line will fall to a touchdown before gametime, but I like the 49ers for a smaller bet even if it stays at 7.5.

San Francisco 49ers 27 Green Bay Packers 16

Pick against the spread: San Francisco -7.5

Confidence: Medium

Seattle Seahawks at Green Bay Packers: 2019 NFC Divisional Round Pick

Seattle Seahawks (12-5) at Green Bay Packers (13-3)

The Packers won 13 games and got a first round bye in the NFC, but they didn’t play as well as their record suggests, barely pulling out some close victories. They went 8-1 in games decided by 8 points or fewer and 4-0 in games decided by 5 points or fewer and ranked just 9th in the NFL in point differential at +63, the worst ever point differential by a team with 13 or more wins. Fortunately for the Packers, they open the post-season at home, where they are 43-22 ATS since 2011 in games that Aaron Rodgers starts and finishes, and they play a Seattle team that is also not as good as their record.

The Seahawks won 11 games, but just one by more than a touchdown and had a +6 point differential that is 14th in the NFL and 3rd worst ever by a team with 11 or more wins. While the Packers are around a 10 or 11 win caliber team that won 13 games because of close wins, the Seahawks are around an 8 or 9 win caliber team that won 11 games because of close wins. Two of the Seahawks’ wins came because the other team shanked makeable field goals that would have ended the game. If not for those two misses, the Seahawks easily could have missed the post-season entirely. They won their opening round playoff game in Philadelphia, but likely would have lost had Carson Wentz not gotten hurt in the first quarter, as the Josh McCown led Eagles got inside the Seahawks’ 30-yard line five times, but managed just three field goals and two failed 4th downs in a 17-9 loss. 

The Seahawks also are in much worse injury shape than the Packers. While the Packers are as healthy as any team left in the playoffs, the Seahawks are without linebacker Mychal Kendricks, running backs Chris Carson and Rashaad Penny, left guard Mike Iupati, and possibly defensive end Ezekiel Ansah, left tackle Duane Brown, and backup left tackle George Fant. Despite their injury situation and the Packers’ significant edge in point differential and first down rate differential (+1.15% vs. -1.17%), the Seahawks are only 4-point underdogs in this game in Lambeau, where the Packers are very tough to beat with Aaron Rodgers under center. I have this line calculated at Green Bay -7.5, so we’re getting great line value with the Packers at -4. This is my biggest play this week.

Green Bay Packers 31 Seattle Seahawks 23

Pick against the spread: Green Bay -4

Confidence: High

Green Bay Packers at Detroit Lions: 2019 Week 17 NFL Pick

Green Bay Packers (12-3) at Detroit Lions (3-11-1)

It’s hard to believe there was a time when the Lions were 2-0-1. In fact, when the Lions and Packers met the first time back in week 6, the Lions could have taken over the division lead had they prevailed in a game that ended up being a 1-point loss. Even as late as week 10, the Lions were still in playoff contention at 3-4-1, but quarterback Matt Stafford injured his back and ended up missing the remainder of the season. As a result, the wheels have fallen off for this team. With one of the worst backup quarterback situations in the league, the Lions have lost all 7 games since Stafford went down, dropping them to 3-11-1 on the season.

The Lions ranked 15th in the NFL in first down rate differential at 36.75% at the time Stafford went down, but have managed just a 30.96% first down rate in their past 7 games without him, most equivalent to the 31st ranked Jaguars on the season. With a defense that ranks 26th in the NFL on the season with a 38.10% first down rate allowed, the Lions are undoubtedly one of the worst few teams in the league. They currently rank just 29th in my roster rankings. 

The Packers, meanwhile, are at the opposite end of the spectrum, able to lock up a first round bye in the NFC with a win in this game. However, they’re not quite as good as their record suggests. A lot of their wins have been close, with 7 of 12 games coming by one score or fewer and an average margin of victory of 9.25 points per game. On the flip side, two of their three losses have come by 15 points or fewer, giving them a point differential of +60 that ranks 9th in the NFL, suggesting they’ve played more like a 10-5 team this season. This spread requires them to win by 13 or more points on the road, so their inability to blow teams out this season is very relevant. They could still blowout a hapless Lions team, so I definitely don’t want to bet on the Lions, but I am taking them for pick ‘em purposes, though this is more of a fade of a slightly overrated Packers team than anything.

Green Bay Packers 27 Detroit Lions 16

Pick against the spread: Detroit +12.5

Confidence: None

Green Bay Packers at Minnesota Vikings: 2019 Week 16 NFL Pick

Green Bay Packers (11-3) at Minnesota Vikings (10-4)

The Packers have a one game lead over the Vikings in the NFC North and they won the previous matchup between these two teams back in week 2, but the Vikings have been the more impressive team on the season. While 7 of the Packers’ 11 wins have come by one score or fewer, the Vikings have just 2 wins by one score or less. As a result, the Vikings have a significant edge in point differential at +119 to +47 and in first down rate differential at +4.78% to +0.70%. The Packers are closer to full strength injury wise, with the Vikings missing feature back Dalvin Cook with injury, but I still have the Vikings a couple points better than the Packers in my roster rankings. Given that, the Vikings have a great shot to win the re-match, after falling just short in Green Bay (21-16), where the Packers are close to unbeatable with Aaron Rodgers under center (43-22 ATS since 2011).

Unfortunately, we’re not getting any line value with the Vikings, as the odds makers seem to recognize that the Packers haven’t played quite as well as their record suggests and, as a result, have made them 4.5 point underdogs in Minnesota. My calculated line is actually Minnesota -4, so we’re getting the slightest bit of line value with the visitors, but not nearly enough to take either side with confidence. This is one of my lowest confidence picks of the week.

Minnesota Vikings 24 Green Bay Packers 20

Pick against the spread: Green Bay +4.5

Confidence: None

Chicago Bears at Green Bay Packers: 2019 Week 15 NFL Pick

Chicago Bears (7-6) at Green Bay Packers (10-3)

The Packers are 10-3, but there are reasons to be concerned, especially after an underwhelming home performance against the last place Redskins last week. That 20-15 victory was the Packers’ sixth win by a touchdown or less this season and, with two of their losses coming by more than 15 points, the Packers have a point differential of just +39, 11th in the NFL. That’s despite benefitting from a +11 turnover margin and turnover margins tend to be unpredictable on a week-to-week basis, so they’re not necessarily going to continue winning the turnover battle going forward. In terms of of first down rate differential, they rank just 16th in the NFL at +0.43% and they’ve been even worse since a hot start, ranking 20th at -0.77% since week 7.

The Packers are also in a terrible spot, facing a divisional opponent they’ve already beaten with a much bigger divisional game on deck in Minnesota next week. Since 2002, divisional home favorites are just 53-79 ATS against a team they previously beat as road underdogs. On top of that, divisional home favorites are just 30-65 ATS since 2002 before being divisional road underdogs and the Packers are currently 4.5 point road underdogs in Minnesota on the early line. They could overlook the Bears a little bit with a bigger game on deck.

Given all of that, I was expecting to be betting on the Bears in this one this week, but unfortunately this line has shifted all the way from a touchdown last week on the early line down to 4 points this week, likely as a result of heavy sharp action on the Packers, with the sharps recognizing the Packers are overrated and in a bad spot. With this line now at 4, I actually think I’m going to take the Packers, at least for pick ‘em purposes.

Even though the Packers aren’t quite as good as their record, I still have this line calculated at Green Bay -5.5, as the Bears have been a middling team at best this season. Facing a much tougher schedule than last season with a less dominant defense, the Bears rank just 19th in first down rate differential at -0.59%. Their defense will get a boost this week with defensive end Akiem Hicks set to return from injury (9 games missed), but I still have the Packers slightly higher in my roster rankings and the Packers have been very tough to beat in Lambeau with Aaron Rodgers, going 42-22 ATS since 2011 in games Rodgers starts and finishes. This is a no confidence pick, but with this line moving to where it has the Packers make sense this week.

Green Bay Packers 24 Chicago Bears 19

Pick against the spread: Green Bay -4

Confidence: None

Washington Redskins at Green Bay Packers: 2019 Week 14 NFL Pick

Washington Redskins (3-9) at Green Bay Packers (9-3)

The Packers have been close to an auto-bet at home with Aaron Rodgers under center, going 42-21 ATS since 2011 in games that Rodgers starts and finishes. Unfortunately, we’re not getting good line value with them at home this week. The Packers are 9-3, but 5 of their wins were decided by a touchdown or less, as opposed to just 1 of their losses, and they’ve benefitted from a +11 turnover margin, which tends to be very unpredictable on a week-to-week basis.

In terms of first down rate differential, the Packers rank just 16th at +0.52% and have been even worse in recent weeks, ranking 22nd since week 7 at -0.76%. The Redskins are one of the worst teams in the league, ranking 31st in first down rate differential at -7.07%, but I still only have this line calculated at Green Bay -11.5. I’m still taking Green Bay -13 for pick ‘em purposes because of the Packers’ incredible homefield advantage, but I’m not confident in this one at all. 

Green Bay Packers 27 Washington Redskins 13

Pick against the spread: Green Bay -13

Confidence: None

Green Bay Packers at New York Giants: 2019 Week 13 NFL Pick

Green Bay Packers (8-3) at New York Giants (2-9)

The Packers were blown out last week in San Francisco in embarrassing fashion, losing by a final score of 37-8 in a game in which they lost the first down rate battle by a whopping 15.87%. Ordinarily, that loss would put the Packers in a good betting spot this week, as they are 35-21 ATS off of a loss with Aaron Rodgers under center. However, the Packers seem to be overrated this week, even after last week’s loss.

The Packers are 8-3 and have Aaron Rodgers so people are going to want to bet on them, but they have more problems than the general public realizes. Their 8-3 record has been boosted by a 5-1 record in games decided by 8 points or fewer and their 8 wins have come by a combined 67 points, while their 3 losses have come by a combined 51 points, giving them a pretty underwhelming point differential of +16. 

That’s despite the fact that the Packers have benefited significantly from turnover margins (5th in the NFL on the season at +8), which are very unpredictable on a week-to-week basis. In terms of first down rate differential, the Packers are dead even at 0.00% and have been even worse in recent weeks, with a -2.22% point differential since week 7 that ranks 23rd in the NFL over that time period. The Giants are just 2-9, but they’ve actually been slightly better in that metric over that time frame, ranking 21st at -1.79%. Overall, the Giants rank 23rd in first down rate differential at -2.29% on the season, struggling on the scoreboard primarily because of a -11 turnover margin that ranks 3rd worst in the NFL.

That being said, it’s hard to get excited about betting the Giants this week because they’re in a tough spot. Not only will the Packers likely be totally focused for this game after a loss last week, but they don’t have any upcoming distractions on deck, with a home game against the Redskins up next on the schedule, a game in which they are currently 14.5-point favorites on the early line. The Giants, meanwhile, have a big rivalry game against the Eagles in Philadelphia on deck, a game in which they are currently 8-point underdogs on the early line. 

Favorites of 6+ are 148-94 ATS since 2012 before being favorites of 6+ again the following week, while underdogs of 6+ are 84-132 ATS since 2012 before being underdogs of 6+ again the following week. Combining the two, underdogs of 6+ are 11-49 ATS since 2012 before being underdogs of 6+ again the following week when their opponent will be favorites of 6+ again the following week. It’s tough for an inferior team to compete with a superior team with another tough game on deck, especially when the superior team has another relatively easy game on deck. 

The Giants also are missing a pair of key players in their receiving corps, wide receiver Golden Tate and tight end Evan Engram, although they haven’t had a full strength receiving corps all year, so that’s not anything new. Even without those two players, I still have this line calculated at Green Bay -3.5, but I would need the full touchdown with the Giants to wager on them in a tough spot. This is a low confidence pick for now, but I’ll probably have an update tomorrow morning if the line moves.

Final Update: This line has moved to +7 in most places, but Bryan Bulaga is unexpectedly active for the Packers this week after being expected to miss a couple weeks with a knee injury. He may not be 100% and could be at risk of an in game injury setback, but I don’t want to bet on a team in a bad spot with a comparably worse injury situation, so I’m leaving this at a low confidence pick.

Green Bay Packers 24 New York Giants 20

Pick against the spread: NY Giants +7

Confidence: Low