The 49ers may have a first-round bye, but their first playoff game won’t be easy.
San Francisco will likely have to face Green Bay, and if the Packers lose, they will face either the Seahawks or Redskins. All three are ten-win teams, two won their division, and the one that didn’t, (Seattle) had 11 wins and thrashed the 49ers in Week 16.
Colin Kaepernick and company have the talent to be Super Bowl contenders, and they also have the benefit of playing their first playoff game at home. However, they will still have trouble, as they were outscored 70-56 by those teams (they played Seattle twice and Green Bay once).
The 49ers beat the Packers at Lambeau Field in Week 1, but if they clash with the Packers, it will be at Candlestick Park. Still, it won’t be easy to beat the dangerous Aaron Rodgers and his crew, who have an explosive offense and a capable defense. While their defense isn’t known for being the most gifted, they have an incredible defensive coordinator in Dom Capers and the 11th ranked defense in the league.
Green Bay doesn’t have much of a running game or an offensive line, though, so Aldon Smith should be able to have a field day. If San Francisco is going to succeed against Green Bay, they need a defensive gameplan focused on making Rodgers tear them apart. The 49ers have a good defense, and if they can get to Rodgers like Seattle did in Week 3, they can find success.
Against the Redskins, the 49ers could definitely find success, but they will need Kaepernick. Taking away the run by going up early and putting the game in the hands of RGIII would help, and keeping the play-calling balanced would be huge. Greg Roman tends to get pass-happy, and even a weak defense like Washington’s can stop the 49ers if the play calls are uneven.
Washington’s run defense is far from bad, but if Roman can establish the run and get Kaepernick going at home, San Francisco should be able to handle the Redskins. Still, it won’t be easy with the Redskins riding a stream of confidence after winning eight straight to end the season. But the mostly experienced 49ers are better than the young Redskins.
Seattle wouldn’t be as easy. There were some things that would go differently at Candlestick Park in a rematch, but there’s no denying that the Seahawks roughed up the 49ers.
Seattle has a great pass rush and secondary, and Seattle allows a prominent 15.3 PPG, which leads the NFL.
Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch anchor a great offense, but San Francisco shut them down at Candlestick in Week 7. Seattle is containable, and they can be beat by the 49ers. They just need to execute the same gameplan they would have against Washington: get up early, take out Lynch, and make the rookie quarterback beat them.
However, losing to a team by 29 points doesn’t exactly make you want to face them again, and San Francisco probably doesn’t want to play Seattle, even at the friendly confines of Candlestick Park. As for Green Bay, they have lots of flaws and a poor run defense that could be shredded by Gore, but they have experience and a quarterback with a league-leading 108 passer rating.
If you couldn’t tell already, I’m saying that Washington is the most favorable matchup. While it will take wins by the Vikings and Redskins to create a 49ers versus Redskins matchup in the Divisional round, the 49ers would benefit from it.
Against the Redskins, feeding off of the crowd early and taking a big lead will pretty much ice the game. RGIII is explosive, but he is ailing, and I think the 49ers’ defense would maintain a big lead. Iif they can jump out ahead early and contain RGIII, a berth in the NFC Championship Game will be theirs.