The key to a 49ers’ victory on Saturday is simple. Maybe too simple. Maybe so simple you’re going to roll your eyes and say, “no (expletive).” It’s not that Kaepernick needs to have a great game, nor that the Smith brothers need to return to form. No, it’s even simpler than that.
The key to the 49ers victory is the number 30.
Yes, Saturday marks the 49ers 30th home playoff game (if we go all the way back to 1949). The last time the 49ers played was on December 30th. As Mary Walton points out, Bill Walsh came into and left this world on the 30th day of the month. But beyond these coincidences, the real importance of the number 30 is in points scored. The Packers have five losses this season, four of which were handed to them by teams that scored over 30 points. In fact, the Packers are 0-4 when their opponent scores 30 or more. The 49ers were of course responsible for one of those losses. In Week 1, Alex Smith lead the 49ers to exactly 30 points.
That Week 1 victory was the first time the 49ers had beaten the Packers since the 1998 season, when the 49ers beat the Packers 30-27. This victory marks the only time the have beaten the Packers in five playoff match ups. It is also the highest point total the Packers allowed in those five matchups. All-time, the 49ers are just 27-34-1 against the Packers, but they’re 11-0 when they score at least 30.
Aaron Rodgers is 52-26 in his career as a starter, but just 4-15 when his opponents score 30. In the playoffs, Rodgers (6-2) has never beaten a team that scored 30 or more points. His six wins, including his Super Bowl victory, came against teams that failed to reach 30; his two losses came against teams that scored 30 or more.
All-time, the 49ers are 181-9 when they eclipse 30 points. They’re just 180-293-4 when they don’t. In the playoffs, the 49ers are 14-0 (11-0 at home) when they reach the plateau, but just 15-19 when they don’t (9-9 at home). In the Harbaugh era, the 49ers 10-0 when the put up 30 points (they’re also 2-1 when they give up as much).
In total, since 1961, playoff teams who score 30 or more points are 183-17. Of those, the home teams are 115-3. The teams that don’t reach that mark have a winning percentage of just .408. As such, the importance of scoring 30 is obvious.
If we look at the correlation between winning percentage and points scored, the need to score 30 points becomes even more clear.
This chart comes courtesy of our very own @BAStatsGuy. According to data, teams that score 30 pointss win nearly 76% of the time. In the words of the Stats Guy, “From about 0 points to about 10 points, a team has virtually no chance of winning … From 10 points to about 35 points, the chances of winning increase nearly in a straight line, raising from about 10% to about 90%. After about 35 points, a team is a virtual lock to win a game.”
Of course, we should note that Aaron Rodgers has never scored below 20 points in a playoff game. If we take that into consideration, then the importance of scoring 30 points is magnified. As a whole, when the 49ers give up 20 points without eclipsing 30, they’re just 59-347-11. In the playoffs, they’re 4-15. In the Harbaugh era, they’re 2-6-1.
Granted, the 49ers can hope to keep Rodgers under 20 points, but the odds of this happening are slim. Rodgers has been limited to under 20 points only 17 times (14 of which were losses) in his 85 career games. As it is now, the Packers are averaging 26.8 points per game–37.7 in the last three games. The 49ers meanwhile allow an average of 17.1 points per game–29.7 in the last three. In 46 playoff games, the 49ers have allowed less than 20 points just 20 times. The last time this occured was 1996, when the 49ers shutout Philadelphia Eagles.
Sure, the 49ers can win without scoring 30. They’ve done so in the past. But the odds are not in their favor. Given their opponents offense prowess, I would be willing to bet that if the 49ers don’t score at least 30 points on Saturday, they don’t win.