The final game of NFL wildcard weekend figures to be a good one. The 49ers and Packers met back in week 1 and in the divisional round of the playoffs last year, with San Francisco winning both games. These two teams should know each other pretty well, so it should be interesting. Let’s take a closer look:
HOW THYEY GOT HERE?
The Packers persevered over an eight-week period without quarterback Aaron Rodgers, enduring a five-game winless streak during that time, and thanks to a complete collapse by the Lions, Green Bay was in position to win the NFC North in week 17, when Rodgers returned and led the Packers to victory over the Bears to put them in the postseason. Things weren’t quite as complicated for the 49ers, who won their final six games and clinched a playoff birth in week 16. However, with Seattle winning the NFC West, San Francisco had to settle for a wildcard spot, despite winning 12 games this season.
SAN FRANCISCO OFFENSE VS. GREEN BAY DEFENSE
San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick has had an uneven season and hasn’t always been a game changer with his arm, but he finished the regular season strong with 10 touchdowns and one interception over the final six games. The Green Bay defense has had their fair share of problems this season, especially over the last three weeks, and if that continues it may put Kaepernick in position to make plays with his arm, especially with the trio of Anquan Boldin, Michael Crabtree, and Vernon Davis in place. Meanwhile, the 49ers know that they have a good rushing attack behind Frank Gore, with Kaepernick also being a threat to take off and make plays with his legs. The goal for the Packers on defense will be to stop the run as best they can and force Kaepernick to beat them with his arm, which will be their best chance to keep the game as low scoring as possible and keep the pressure off Rodgers and their offense as much as possible, although based on how Kaepernick has played in recent weeks, that doesn’t guarantee success for the Green Bay defense, as Kaepernick is capable of beating the Packers through the air, throwing for over 400 yards against them in week 1.
GREEN BAY OFFENSE VS. SAN FRANCISCO DEFENSE
Not only is Rodgers back, but so is Randall Cobb, and that combination came up big for the Packers in crunch time last week, with both of Cobb’s receptions going for touchdowns, and those two will have to come up big for Green Bay again this week. Rodgers did show some signs of rust, but he should be a little sharper in his second week back, and it should help that he has a nice collection of receivers, including Cobb, the reliable Jordy Nelson, James Jones, Jarrett Boykin, and emerging tight end Andrew Quarless. That group should be enough for a quarterback like Rodgers, although if the Packers need to rely on their running game, they can do so with potential rookie of the year Eddie Lacy, as well as James Starks, who had a big game against the Bears last week. Of course, things won’t come as easy against the San Francisco defense as they did last week against the Chicago defense. The Packers may have one of the best rushing attacks in the NFL, but they’ll be going up against one of the top rush defenses in the league, and whichever team gets the better of that matchup will have a distinct advantage, especially if the weather conditions make it difficult to throw the ball. As good as Rodgers can be, it will be tough for him if the Packers are forced to become one-dimensional on offense against a quality defense, so it’s imperative that the Packers run the ball effectively and maintain balance on offense, especially if the Green Bay defense struggles and the game turns into a shootout in the second half.
It’s inevitable that the cold temperatures at Lambeau Field will become a factor, although it may end up helping the 49ers more than the Packers, as the strength of the 49ers is their defense, which should be largely unaffected by the weather. The Packers have made a great run to the playoffs, but the 49ers are a more balanced team and better suited for the postseason. It’ll be tough for both teams to throw the ball, and while Rodgers will have some success in the passing game, San Francisco has a better front-7 defensively, as well as a quarterback that can help move the ball on the ground, and those two areas will ultimately give the 49ers the edge. San Francisco 23, Green Bay 14.