NFC divisional round predictions: Can the 49ers stop Jordan Love’s run?

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The 49ers enter the divisional round a 9.5-point favorite over the Packers as they seek their third consecutive appearance in the NFC Championship game and fourth since 2019. The Lions don’t have that kind of history on their side when they take on the Buccaneers, looking to reach the conference title game for the first time since 1991.

Here are our picks for this weekend’s games in the NFC.

Green Bay Packers (10-8) at San Francisco 49ers (12-5) | 8:15 p.m. ET FOX

The 49ers must get off to a fast start. Their rush defense is middling, but they can negate that weakness by building an early lead and forcing the Packers into a pass-heavy game plan, which might seem counter-productive. Quarterback Jordan Love was masterful regardless of what the Cowboys threw at him in the wild-card round. Whether blitzed or not, kept clean or pressured, Love had an answer for all the ways Dallas tried to stop him.

The Packers did an excellent job of making Cowboys edge Micah Parsons a non-factor; he finished with three total pressures in 19 pass-rush opportunities, his third-lowest pressure total of the season.

The problem for Green Bay is the Niners’ depth on their defensive line. Edge Nick Bosa led the team with 95 total pressures while Chase Young, who the team added at this year’s trade deadline, has 28 pressures in nine games. They have a strong interior pass-rush with Arik Armstead, Javon Hargrave and Javon Kinlaw, which can collapse Green Bay’s pocket and force Love to throw before he wants to.

49ers quarterback Brock Purdy will have his own challenges against a Packers defense with the sixth-highest pressure rate in the league. Edge-defenders Rashan Gary and Preston Smith were first and second in the team in sacks while linemen Kenny Clark and Devonte Wyatt combined for 110 pressures.

Both teams use pre-snap motion at among the highest rates in the league, but San Francisco will likely be able to use it to its benefit more often. Green Bay will miss safety Rudy Ford (hamstring), who was placed on injured reserve on Jan 6. 

This is also a terrible matchup for the Packers’ rush defense, which ranked 28th during the regular season and allowed 4.4 yards per carry, setting up a potential monster game from Niners running back Christian McCaffrey.

PREDICTION: 49ers, 34-24

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (10-8) at Detroit Lions (13-5) | 3 p.m. ET NBC/Peacock

The Lions won the first meeting 20-6 in Week 6, but Buccaneers head coach Todd Bowles doesn’t believe that game has any bearing in the divisional round.

“We’re a different team now. We’re mentally tougher. I think we’ve gotten stronger from it, and we learned some things” Bowles told Tampa Bay Times’ Rick Stroud.

The Bucs offense should produce more points. Quarterback Baker Mayfield was excellent against the Eagles and can pick up where he left off against a Lions secondary that is the weak link of the defense.

Mayfield must be better than in the first game because Tampa is unlikely to succeed running the ball. The Bucs gained the same amount of rushing yards (1,509) as the Lions allowed, making them the worst rush offense and the Lions the second-best rush defense. 

Edge Aidan Hutchinson could also be a problem lined up against right tackle Luke Goedeke, who allowed 40 pressures during the regular season, the second-most on the team. 

Lions quarterback Jared Goff also has a favorable matchup against the Bucs defense which finished 29th in passing yards allowed (248.9 yards per game). The offensive line should be able to protect Goff so that he can get the ball to Detroit’s superior playmakers.

PREDICTION: Lions, 26-20

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