(KPIX) — The San Francisco 49ers defense is back. One of the NFL’s most dominant units the first part of the season dropped off in the latter part of the season. Three key starters returned for the divisional-round playoff game against the Minnesota Vikings, and it was like a flashback to early October. The Vikings offense was basically shut down. Should the Green Bay Packers be concerned?

As SportsLine NFL analyst Kenny White sees it, “the three starters that came back last week, Kwon Alexander, also Dee Ford, and in the secondary Jaquiski Tartt, those guys are worth three points to the betting line, almost three and a half, because Dee Ford is almost a point-and-a-half player.”

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While the difference shows up in the spread, it is obvious in the final score as well. “The first eight games of the year, the San Francisco 49ers defense allowed just less than 14 points per game,” White points out. “Over the last eight games, that defense allowed over 26 points per game. So right now, with starters back, everybody healthy, I think we’re getting that San Francisco defense that we saw the first eight games, not the last eight.”

Their performance against the Vikings was as dominant as some of their early-season showings, and evidence can be found all over the box score. Dalvin Cook, the NFL’s rushing leader earlier this season, was held to just 18 yards on nine carries. Kirk Cousins competed 21 passes for 176 yards, but was also sacked six times. The Niners allowed the Vikings to convert just two of their 12 third-down attempts and neither of their two fourth-down attempts. Minnesota held the ball 21 minutes and change, with seven of their possessions lasting three plays and six of those “drives” yielding under five yards.

The Vikings’ seven-play 79-yard touchdown drive in the first quarter to even the score at seven apiece signaled a competitive game to follow. It turned out to be an anomaly, as the 49ers defense tightened up, allowing only a field goal off an interception the rest of the way.

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Kirk Cousins may yet emerge as the consistent clutch quarterback we saw in the wild-card round, but Aaron Rodgers already is, and has been for awhile. His middle-of-the-pack completion percentage (62%), yards per game (250.1), yards per pass (7.0) don’t place him among the NFL’s best in 2019, but his showing against the Seattle Seahawks last week certainly quieted the doubters. His stats weren’t gaudy, but the deft hand he showed in guiding his team to a 28-24 win was obvious. Rodgers has showed that much of the year.

“More than anything, the Green Bay Packers have had a great year against good teams, 7-1 ATS versus teams with winning records,” notes White. “They’ve been very successful in those games. A lot of the numbers guys have said Green Bay [is] very overrated. At 14 wins now and just three losses, their points-for-points-allowed equivalent should really be a factor of a team maybe 10-7 instead of 14-3. They’ve really over-achieved to the number. But that also could be [due] to a couple of collapses while playing on the west coast this year.”

A Rodgers-led Packers team should not be taken lightly by this once-again dominant 49ers defense. Green Bay’s Week 12 collapse is not indicative of what this team can do. San Francisco is favored by 7.5 points.

The Packers play the 49ers Sunday @ 3:40 PT.

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