Green Bay Packers @ San Francisco 49ers
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Niners feeling the strain
The 49ers were the last undefeated team this season. They finally succumbed to the (almost) inevitable in Week 10 against bitter rivals Seattle in an instant classic. That game started with Kyle Shanahan's side bulldozing through the Seahawks defence and making plays through the air via the recently acquired Emmanuel Sanders.
Hopefully San Fran fans enjoyed those drives because injuries to Sanders, tight end George Kittle and running back Matt Breida threaten to scupper much of the positivity around the club now. They have coped so far with these offensive losses - they did have a kick to win the Seahawks game, but it was missed by their stand-in kicker. They've also seen off the improving Cardinals, another rival from the NFC West, in both Weeks 9 and 11.
Both of these wins, however, have been closer than expected. The 49ers failed to cover the spread in each, and the defeat against Seattle means it's three games since they met bookies' expectations. They've gone from 5-2 to 5-4-1 on the handicap following those results, and that push came via a freakish final play last week where Arizona gave up a touchdown.
Kittle's absence has been most keenly felt, and not just because he's QB Jimmy Garoppolo's most reliable target. Though he's missed the last two games, he still leads the team across statistical categories. When he went down versus the Cards in Week 9, he had more than double the number of receptions of the next best San Fran receiver. He's also missed as much for his work off the ball blocking defensive players and helping in the running game. Ross Dwelley, his replacement, caught two scores last week but is not the same presence at all.
Quarterback Garoppolo has had a murky season so far, despite the wins, and Kittle's loss has not helped. His receivers have a habit of tipping passes and dropping balls, but some of his play this season has been below the standard expected of the former heir to Tom Brady's job.
He won't welcome lingering knocks to Sanders, Kittle, Breida and rookie Deebo Samuel going into this game, and all could sit out Sunday night. Tackle Joe Staley is also definitely out, and the defence isn't unscathed by the intensity of their recent run either, with linebacker Kwon Alexander out for the season. Passrusher Dee Ford also appears to be out of this one.
With the offence not clicking as it did in the early weeks, the defence has been asked to do more work too. Those extra downs and longer stints on the field add up and could impact a team who had their bye week back in late September.
Packers LA bump
By contrast, the only significant injury Green Bay have ahead of this game is the one their collective egos took when they were dismantled in Week 9 by the LA Chargers.
It was a stunning loss. Reports from Las Vegas suggested that more than 95% of money wagered on the game had come for the Packers as four-point road favourites. But it didn't go to plan for gamblers as Aaron Rodgers endured one of the worst games of his career with the Chargers pass-rush harassing him on virtually every down. The 26-11 scoreline flattered Matt LaFleur's team as LA could've scored more and Green Bay's only TD came in garbage time.
It's generally thought that the Pack took their eye off the ball in LA. They were 7-1 entering the game and the players were given some time to relax in the City of Angels before the game. While such lapses might infuriate bettors, the explanation has an appeal given how well they'd played up to that point.
Another factor, however, was their defence. Mike Pettine's unit started the season well, but they've been more vulnerable in recent weeks, giving up over 380 yards per game, the fifth-most in the NFL.
Aaron Rodgers' offence has kept them afloat despite working with limited options this season. Thankfully, Davante Adams is back and should be feeling fresher after their bye, while Aaron Jones is playing like no other Packers back in Rodgers era. The rusher leads the league in touchdowns with Christian McCaffrey.
Green Bay got back on track in their last game before a Week 11 bye with a 24-16 win over McCaffrey's Panthers team, a game where their defence was helped by the one-dimensional play of Carolina's offence with Kyle Allen at QB. They'll be hoping the 49ers are similarly limited on Sunday night.
And so will I, as the Packers represent good value getting a field goal headstart or more here on the handicap at 2.111/10. The Niners are so banged up and have shown signs of wear and tear in recent weeks. The Packers had a warning against the Chargers and won't be so complacent again. They've also had two weeks to prep for this game.
As mentioned above, a string of Niners could miss the game, but Kittle is the crucial one. He's going to be limited even if he plays as well, so I also think the Packers are worth taking on the Moneyline at 2.526/4 because of the possible drop-off in play for San Fran. The Seahawks pulled out a spectacular win two weeks ago, but I'm not convinced they're as good as their record suggests. I'd back Green Bay to beat Seattle more often than not on a neutral field. That the Californians couldn't do it at home suggests the Packers have a better chance than the odds suggest of winning this outright.
In terms of scoring bets, it's hard to look past Davante Adams as a percentage play. He has 57 targets on the season but hasn't got in the endzone yet. That's partly down to injury, but he's fit again now, so stands out as an Anytime scorer at 13/8. I'd also take him as a First TD option too at 11/1.
The Packers defence is also worth looking at for a score. Jimmy G's had ball-protection issues this season and the Packers D has been heavily dependant on turnovers to make an impact. They'll be after the QB, and could notch a TD at 5/1.
You can put together a 25/1 Same Game Multi of Green Bay to win and both Adams and the defence score to score for the Packers on the Betfair Sportsbook too.