By Jerrell Richardson
If you asked any player on the 49ers if they have a preference for their first round opponent they will of course say it doesn’t matter. This is football and to be the best you must beat the best, however, it doesn’t hurt to have a favorable path to the Lombardi Trophy. To emerge as the NFC representative, San Francisco will have to go through several teams that have a legitimate shot at winning it all, and each presents a very different challenge. Outside of the Washington Redskins, San Francisco has faced all of the NFC playoff teams, with mixed results. They beat the Packers and Seahawks, but lost to the Vikings at the beginning of the season, and just recently were hammered by Seattle in the division rival’s second meeting. This is the playoffs and there is no easy win no matter where they look, but it will help their chances of winning it all, if this weekend, Washington and Minnesota are able to advance.
Packers vs. Vikings
The Packers and Vikings are meeting for the second straight week. After Minnesota pulled off a overtime win that gave the 49ers the #2 seed in the playoffs, they will travel to Green Bay this time around to try and again beat Aaron Rodgers and company. This is a game of superstar vs superstar, with Adrian Peterson on one side, trying to knock off Rodgers. Although the Vikings beat San Francisco earlier this year, it’s Minnesota, with their run first offense that matches up better against the 49ers, with their stout defensive front and top tier linebackers. As the 49ers can say they are not the same team that lost the the Viking, so can be said about the Packers, who fell to San Francisco in the season opener. Green Bay struggled to get it all together earlier in the year, but have played extremely well as of late, and with a high powered offense, one of the best quarterbacks in the game, and Super Bowl experience, the 49ers do not want to play the Packers if they can avoid it.
Redskins vs. Seahawks
The game that is getting all the headlines is the Redskins and Seahawks game. Both teams are a nightmare to match up against, but the Redskins are the more favorable playoff match for the 49ers. Robert Griffin III is hobbled, their defense is not as physical as Seattle, and the Redskins and 49ers have not played this year. San Francisco utilizes elaborate blocking schemes to create confusion for their opponents in the running game, and with nothing but game film to study, Washington would be hard pressed to stop the 49ers. In addition San Francisco has shown to play better against teams the first time around, struggling against every NFC West team the second time they played. These are the same reasons why Seattle is not a good match up. They have played San Francisco twice, have one of the most physical defensive units in the NFL, won the previous meeting convincingly and their quarterback is 100%. The 49ers might want to settle a personal score with the Seahawks, but it will be difficult, and would be better off going through the Redskins.
It Doesn’t Matter
The good news is that whoever the 49ers face will have to come to Candlestick. The only time San Francisco will have to travel is if they play the Atlanta Falcons for a berth in the Super Bowl, which is something they can worry about if they get there. No matter what, they are going to have a fight on their hands in the first game, but outside of Seattle no team can really say they have the 49ers number, and the Seahawks are a different team on the road. Regardless of the outcome of this weekend’s NFC playoff games, San Francisco will be playing at home, against a team that they have yet to face this season (Redskins), with their less then 100% quarterback, a team that stole a victory from them early in the season (Vikings), or a team that they have already beat this year (Seahawks), and have a score to settle with. Not bad for the 49ers teams confidence as they enter the postseason.
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Jerrell Richardson is a Bay Area native who due to a college career at San Diego State University has grown an appreciation for all things sports related in California. His heart will always remain in San Francisco though where he currently resides and covers everything from the San Francisco 49ers and Giants to the San Jose Sharks and California Bears Baseball team. His work can be found on Examiner.com.