The NFC Divisional Playoff Game (Saturday 8:00 PM ET) features the Green Bay Packers (12-5) vs. San Francisco 49ers (11-4-1), with both teams looking to light up Candlestick Park. Both the Packers and the 49ers have the distinction of losing last season in the playoffs to the defending champion New York Giants. The disappointing postseason losses should have both teams just as hungry to represent the NFC for the Lombardi Trophy on February 3 in New Orleans LA.
The creaky old stadium by the bay is nearing retirement age, as the Niners will move to a brand new home in Santa Clara in 2014. The fifty-two year old landmark has been no stranger to dramatic playoff football action since “The Catch” against the Dallas Cowboys in 1981; a play which would catapult QB Joe Montana and the Bill Walsh led 49ers towards a dynasty decade. Just last year, the 2011 NFC Championship Game hosted by the Niners vs. Giants also had its share of drama, with a controversial no fumble ruling by an official late in the game going against the home team and ultimately costing them the game.
Just like Candlestick is no stranger to playoff nail biters, Packers QB Aaron Rodgers is not unfamiliar with postseason play, this is his fourth consecutive appearance out of five as a starter. Rodgers is the frontrunner in passer rating this season (108), having connected on 39 TDs while only suffering 8 INTs. WR Randall Cobb (80 REC) and WR James Jones (14 TDs) are Rodger’s primary targets.
The weak link in the Packers offense is the running game, which has sputtered this season, ranking 20th at 106.4 yards per game and only 3.9 YPA. With Rodgers launching 33 passes per game and the Pack only running 27 times, the game will fall straight on the lethal right arm of Rodgers. Green Bay’s offensive line will have to step up and protect Rodgers, who was sacked 51 times this season, second only to the Arizona Cardinals collective group of signal callers.
The Packers defense has played well over the past six games, especially against the pass. The return of SS Charles Woodson in last week’s Wild Card Game victory against the Minnesota Vikings cannot be minimized. Woodson, age 36, is in his 15th season and could cause growing pains for the Niners young QB Colin Kaepernick. The Pack’s outside LB Clay Matthews led the team in sacks with 13 and will bringing the heat on the pass rush.
To send Green Bay packing, the Niners will need their second year quarterback to nearly emulate the performance of Montana thirty-one years ago to the week, who also was in his second season at the time of his memorable NFCCG victory against the Cowboys. After taking over for QB Alex Smith in mid-season, Kaepernick has shown poise and done an excellent job, going 5-2 in the last seven games. In less than half a season, Kaepernick has a 98.3 rating and 415 rushing yards.
The key for the Niners will be their ability to establish the running game, with RB Frank Gore leading the way with 1,214 yards on the season and a 4.7 YA. If the Pack is able to shut down Gore and Kaepernick on the ground, it will be difficult for the Niners to outduel Rodgers in an aerial shootout.
The Forty-Niners defense is high end, ranking second in points allowed (17.1) and third in total yards allowed (294.4). DE Aldon Smith with 19.5 sacks (2nd in league) will be teeing off on Rodgers all afternoon. San Francisco will have to get pressure on Rodgers, as they ranked in the middle of the pack with only 38 sacks on the year. If Rodgers does get time, it could end up being a long day for the Niners secondary.
Both teams have struggled with their field goal kicking this season so this category is a wash. Assuming San Francisco can properly field their punt returns, there should not be a high amount of turnovers, as both teams take care of the ball well.
Game time temperature is expected to be in the 40’s with a mild breeze and little threat of rain. The teams met in Week 1 at the same venue with QB Alex Smith leading the Niners to a 30-22 victory. Here is the injury report for the game.
Rodgers and Woodson have too much big game experience under their championship belts to let this one slip away. Although Kaepernick has impressed with his productive play, he is going up against an opponent who has been there and done that. If Gore does not have a big game in the 125 yard range, the Niners will have a difficult time preventing Rodgers from moving the ball consistently through the air. Packers 24 Forty-Niners 20