The 49ers have been getting some bad news lately.
Justin Smith is playing with one arm and their place-kicker, David Akers, forgot how to kick. Well, Akers is their place-kicker if he survives Jim Harbaugh's kick-off against Billy Cundiff and manages to keep his job.
But on Saturday night, the Niners got great news. They will play the Green Bay Packers next Saturday at home in their first playoff game. Great news for the Niners.
Please bear with me while I explain why the two other possible opponents — no longer possible for next Saturday — would have been tougher for the 49ers.
The Seahawks: They recently beat the 49ers in Seattle, actually murdered them. It would be hard for the Niners to come back from a licking of that magnitude. Plus, the Seahawks have a big, tough running back, Marshawn Lynch. In case you haven't noticed, teams have been running just great against the Niners, especially those with large, punishing backs. And that goes double without Justin Smith at full strength. The 49ers did not want Seattle in their first game.
Washington Redskins: The Redskins would pose an even greater threat than the Seahawks. The 49ers have not played them this season and don't have a book on them. Harbaugh admitted his staff needed to do more computer work on the Redskins than the Seahawks or Packers.
There's more. The Niners had serious trouble containing Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, who ran all over the place. That trouble would grow exponentially against Washington's Robert Griffin III, who is bigger, faster and throws better than Wilson. And the Redskins have their own punishing running back, Alfred Morris, who could have a big game against the run-vulnerable Niners.
That brings us to the Packers. I am going to be critical of the Packers — let's say analytical. But I am not putting them down. They are very good and no one should dismiss them. They may, in fact, beat the Niners. But the Packers have issues.
Take Aaron Rodgers, probably the best quarterback in football. It's just that Rodgers is limited in a certain sense compared to Wilson or RG3. Rodgers is mobile enough in the pocket to extend a play by running around and buying time, but he is not — definitely not — a big-play running threat like Wilson or RG3. He does not scare anyone as a runner.
Because the Niners won't have to worry about Rodgers running, they can concentrate on containing the Packers' receivers, the best group in the business. Against Seattle and Washington, the Niners would have to defend the zone-read option plays, the same plays Colin Kaepernick runs. Not so against Green Bay, and that means, ironically, the Packers are easier to prepare for.
Are you with me?
The Packers run the ball OK — just OK. They have no great back and use a program of running back by committee, with a collection of so-so tailbacks. Their run game simply is not at the level of Seattle or Washington. This makes it easier for the Niners to contend with Green Bay's backs, even without a healthy Justin Smith.
And that means the Packers, despite a fantastic passing attack, are somewhat one-dimensional on offense. It seems weird to assert an Aaron Rodgers offense is one-dimensional, but there it is.
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