X-Factors for Packers in Divisional Round vs. 49ers

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Packers Wire

Saturday night’s Divisional Round playoff matchup between the Green Bay Packers and San Francisco 49ers is expected to be highly competitive despite the difference in the win column. After all, at this point in the NFL season, the margin for error is razor thin.

After beginning the season with 3-5 record, San Francisco rattled off seven wins in their final nine games. The red-hot 49ers also enter this game with a chip on their shoulder after losing in Week 3 to Green Bay by way of a Mason Crosby field goal as time expired.

In other words, throw the records out. Besides, football is truly a game of inches, and most of the time the end result comes down to situational awareness; in other words: X-factors. The dictionary definition of X-factor? A variable in a given situation that could have the most significant impact on the outcome.

It’s hard to predict exactly how this game will play out. We’ve seen some crazy things happen over the years in the NFL Playoffs. But what we can do is attempt to predict how it might be influenced by certain players. With that said, here are two players who could be X-factors for the Packers in the Divisional Round against the 49ers:

Offensive X-factor: Allen Lazard

It’s easy to overlook Allen Lazard’s value to the Packers’ offense for two reasons: 1.) He has the privilege of catching passes from Aaron Rodgers, and 2.) Davante Adams draws the majority of the attention from opposing defenses. But Lazard isn’t just an ancillary piece anymore. The former undrafted free agent is an important factor in how Green Bay wants to run their offense.

Not only is Lazard a stalwart as a blocker in the run game, but Rodgers trusts him in big moments. As a run blocker, Lazard has no issues against smaller defensive backs because of his large frame (6-5, 230). He’s a tenacious bully who shows great effort on every play. Lazard has been critical to the Packers’ offense down the stretch this season, and it’s hard to argue that he hasn’t been Green Bay’s second-best receiver behind Adams. He’s been on fire over his last five games, having caught 21 passes for 290 yards and five touchdowns.

Lazard’s role becomes even more important against San Francisco with Marquez Valdes-Scantling being listed as doubtful to play due to a back injury. While the Packers are expected to have Randall Cobb back (groin), it remains to be seen how much he’ll actually play. Of course, Adams is more than capable of holding his own, but even he can’t do everything alone.

Green Bay will need someone besides Davante to step up in the passing game. For a quarterback, it’s all about trusting that your receiver will be in the right place at the right time. It’s clear that Rodgers and Lazard have built a connection, especially over the second half of the season.

Defensive X-factor: De’Vondre Campbell

(AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps)

The 49ers run game has been on fire lately, and rookie running back Elijah Mitchell is a major reason why. When these two teams met back in Week 3, Mitchell did not play due to a shoulder injury. In the 12 games he’s appeared in this season, Mitchell has compiled 1,059 rushing yards and seven total touchdowns. Against the Cowboys in the Wildcard round, he posted 96 rushing yards.

But it doesn’t stop there. Did I mention receiver Deebo Samuel’s versatility in the run game? It’s going to be hard for the Packers defense to completely shut down Samuel. He was an All-Pro this season for a reason. Plus, Samuel only lined up in the backfield twice when these two teams faced off in Week 3. Since then, San Fran has regularly deployed him as a running back out of the backfield. He’s averaging 6.4 yards per carry this season and has scored nine rushing touchdowns. Last week against Dallas, he rushed for 72 yards and a score on 10 carries.

All-Pro linebacker De’Vondre Campbell will be the ultimate X-factor when it comes to minimizing San Francisco’s rushing attack. Deebo is one of the toughest players in the NFL to get on the ground on first contact. He’s essentially a running back who plays receiver. Luckily for Green Bay, Campbell is one of the best in the NFL at tackling. Basically, if Campbell gets his hands on a ball carrier, it’s almost a guarantee that he’s going to bring them down. He missed only four tackles and had the lowest missed tackle percentage (2.9) among all qualified linebackers in 2021, per Pro Football Focus.

As the Packers’ leading tackler this season (146), Campbell thrives off his ability to read and react. He’s been the ultimate eraser on the second level, limiting big plays and keeping yards after catch to a minimum. If Green Bay’s defense is to hold Mitchell and Samuel in check, they’re going to need a stellar game from their All-Pro linebacker.