There are a number of storylines heading into Sunday's NFC title game, beginning with the rematch of a Week 12 battle between two of the top teams in the NFC. The San Francisco 49ers stunned a healthy Green Bay Packers team, fresh off of their Bye, 37-8. This tilt won't be a cakewalk the second time around for San Francico as Packers head coach Matt LaFleur stated the team will recount everything that worked against them in the previous matchup. To prepare for Sunday's title-clinching showdown, here are a few things to watch as the 49ers host the Packers in the NFC Championship round.
Richard Sherman vs. Davante Adams
One of the most interesting matchups ahead of Sunday is one of the league's top corners against one of the best receivers in the NFL. Adams is fresh off of a record-breaking performance against the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC Divisional Round where the wideout caught eight passes for a playoff-record 160 yards and two touchdowns. One of those receptions was a crucial third down conversation late in the fourth quarter that helped seal Green Bay's victory over the Seattle Seahawks. As the Packers No. 1 pass catcher, Adams leads Green Bay in targets (127), receptions (83), yards (997) and touchdowns (5) this season.
Aaron Rodgers compared his most trusted receiver to his former favorite target, Jordy Nelson. Rodgers and Nelson spent nine years together in Green Bay, connecting for more than 7,800 yards and 63 touchdowns, and also included a Super Bowl victory during that span.
Head coach Matt LaFleur will rely on that connection against Sherman the second time around as Adams was limited to one reception for seven yards when lining up across from the corner in Week 12. In Rodgers' career against Sherman, the quarterback has completed 11-of-17 passes for 107 yards, zero touchdowns and one interception for a passer rating of just 57.7. This matchup is likely to be the headline of Sunday's game.
The score might not indicate it, but the 49ers were shorthanded when these teams last met in Week 12. Kicker Robbie Gould (quad) was out and tight end Levine Toilolo was dealing with a groin injury. Running back Matt Breida missed his first game of the season with an aggravated ankle. Veteran tackle Joe Staley, who was replaced by rookie Justin Skule, was also out with a dislocated finger.
It's also worth noting, the 49ers didn't have a fully-healthy George Kittle, as the tight end was dealing with an ankle and knee injury suffered three weeks prior (he still went on to post a game-high 129 yards on six receptions). Another notable absence was pass rusher Dee Ford, who was nursing a hamstring injury.
In his first game back since Week 14, Ford recorded a sack and three quarterback pressures on 17 pass rushes last week against the Vikings. When the pass rusher was on the field, Kirk Cousins was limited to 9-of-14 completions for 48 yards and an interception. When he wasn't on the field, the quarterback was 12-of-15 passing for 124 yards and a touchdown, according to Next Gen Stats. His impact, as well as the rest of the 49ers returnees, could make all the difference in Green Bay's success during Sunday's rematch.
Limiting Aaron Rodgers
Continuing from the previous bullet, even without the veteran edge rusher, the 49ers managed to sack Rodgers five times on the night in Week 12. DeForest Buckner and Jaquiski Tartt split a sack and Fred Warner and Nick Bosa also brought down Rodgers. Arik Armstead led the team with two sacks, becoming the first 49ers defender to record double-digit sacks this season with 10.
The 49ers defensive line was key in limiting Green Bay to 198 net yards (117 rushing and 81 passing), equaling a mere 2.83 yards per play. San Francisco's No. 1 ranked passing defense held Rodgers to his lowest yards per attempt in his career as a starter (3.2). Green Bay was 2-of-18 on third and fourth down attempts (1-of-15 on third down; 1-for-3 on fourth down).
Rodgers is 1-4 in his career against top ranked passing defenses, averaging a 60.5 completion percentage, 169.2 yards per game, has thrown four interceptions to four touchdowns and has been held to a 72.2 passer rating.
Which back will lead the charge?
Emmanuel Sanders was a guest on NFL Total Access Live this week and discussed the "unpredictability" of San Francisco's offense. On any given day, any skill player's number can be called to lead the charge. Some days it's Kittle. Other days it might be Sanders. But where this is particularly evident is in San Francisco's host of running backs.
San Francisco owns the No. 2 ranked rushing attack in the league led by Raheem Mostert, Tevin Coleman and Matt Breida. All three of the featured backs have registered at least 720 all-purpose yards on the season and account for 19 of the team's 51 total touchdowns (24 including Jeff Wilson Jr.). Shanahan said he goes off of who has the hot hand, which can be a challenge for opposing defenses. Last week, it was Coleman setting season-highs in rushing yards (105) and carries (22). This week, it can be anybody's game against a Green Bay defense owning a 23rd-ranked rushing defense that has allowed 4.7 yards per carry.
Keeping Aaron Jones at 'Bay'
While coming off of a monster performance against the New Orleans Saints in the Wild Card Round, the 49ers were able to limit running back Dalvin Cook to just 18 yards on 9 carries last week. The question is, can the 49ers repeat the performance against Jones, who has amassed 1,084 rushing yards to go with 16 touchdowns this season? Next to Adams, Jones is equally a large threat San Francisco much account for. Last meeting's numbers don't matter when looking ahead to Sunday, but it's worth mentioning the running back was held to 38 yards on 13 attempts. The 49ers will need a repeat performance from what was once considered a "weakness" of their defense if they hope to stamp a ticket to Miami next month.