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In NFC, it's Rodgers vs. 49ers 'D'

By Jeff Fogle  ( 

You might have watched San Francisco’s 37-8 rout of the Green Bay Packers on Nov. 24. That result looms large over betting choices in Sunday’s rematch for the NFC championship.

How can you bet the Packers + 7.5 when they were so badly outclassed the first time? Aaron Rodgers posted a ridiculous 23-37-0-81 net passing line. The offense was 1 of 15 on third-down tries. 

A review of regular-season performance in our key indicator stats seems to confirm the Packers aren’t championship-ready:

— San Francisco (-7.5) vs. Green Bay (6:40 p.m. ET Sunday, FOX)

Green Bay: No. 18 offense, No. 18 defense, No. 26 schedule, + 12 turnover margin

San Francisco: No. 4 offense, No. 2 defense, No. 17 schedule, + 4 turnover margin

Green Bay ranked roughly league average on both sides of the ball despite playing a soft schedule. You’re going to ask that team to win and cover on the road in January against the top seed in the conference?

The problem with auto-betting the Niners is that their defense drifted back to normalcy or worse late in the season. December opponents scored 20 (Ravens), 46 (Saints), 29 (Falcons), 31 (Rams) and 21 (Seahawks). Rodgers probably isn’t facing the second-best defense in pro football this time around. 

It’s not much of a simplification to say pundits emphasizing the first meeting love San Francisco laying a manageable number — and pundits emphasizing the last month of the season love the Packers at least to stay within a touchdown. 

Let’s see if we can go beyond the obvious:

— The case for San Francisco: A bye week might have helped the defense find its mojo. Last weekend’s 27-10 domination of Minnesota looked a lot like the regular-season rout of the Packers. The Niners held the Vikings to 147 total yards on 3.3 yards per play compared with 198 and 2.8 for the Packers. Minnesota converted only 2 of 12 third-down tries. It’s much easier to cover spreads of a touchdown or more if the opponent is going to score 10 or fewer points. Green Bay’s statistical dead heat with Seattle last week seemed to confirm its lack of championship readiness. 

— The case for Green Bay: The Packers went 4-1 straight up and against the spread in their five other games against teams that reached the playoffs. Rodgers is an experienced veteran likely to figure out a way to move the ball and get something on the board with so much at stake. San Francisco could fall into the trap of assuming what worked last time will continue working. Or it might find that having one week off wasn’t enough to inspire two great weeks of defense. 

Bettors have an obvious question: Will Rodgers score enough on the Niners defense? Answer that, and the pick emphatically makes itself.

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