The Packers and 49ers met all the way back in week one in what some though could be a preview of the NFC Championship game. This season has been a long road with lots of changes for both teams, but the teams will meet this week just a week before the NFC Championship with a chance to move on to face the winner of the Falcons-Seahawks game next week.
The 49ers offense looks radically different than the Alex Smith led attack that put up 30 on the Pack in week 1. Midseason, Coach Jim Harbaugh made the choice to stick with Colin Kaepernick at QB instead of bringing Smith back after a concussion. Kaepernick brings much more athleticism and running ability to the position, but does lack some of the experience and ability to take care of the ball that Smith showcased in his time under center.
Kaepernick will be up against a Packers defense that appeared to regain a bit of its identity last week in the Wild Card round although it was against Joe Webb. Green Bay’s defense got a huge boost as they welcomed back Charles Woodson who “quarterbacks” a Packers secondary that has shown lots of improvement this year. The Pack also got back a key part to their rush on the quarterback with Clay Matthews Jr. back in action. He had a pair of sacks last week and 2 1/2 the first time these teams met. He’ll try and chase down Kaepernick and force the young QB into turnovers in this one.
The ‘Niners will look to take the pressure off by relying on running back Frank Gore. Gore rushed for over 1,200 yards this season including 112 yards and a 23-yard touchdown run at Lambeau Field in week 1. The Packers have been vulnerable to the run throughout the season but did play well against Adrian Peterson last week although the argument could again be made that Joe Webb at quarterback had a lot to do with that.
The 49ers defense has again excelled this season regardless of the opposing quarterback. As a unit, they rank second in scoring defense, third in total defense, fourth in rushing yards allowed, and fifth in passing yards allowed. They’ve come up with big plays all year as well and will be out to make a big impact as they look to create the turnovers that ultimately cost them last year’s game against the Giants. They expect to welcome Justin Smith back as well at his defensive tackle spot making their defense all the more solid up the middle.
The Packers offense will need to be balanced to take the steam out of the Niners pass rush which makes the emergence of DuJuan Harris even more important. Harris is a second year back out of Troy who bounced around the league a bit before becoming the Packers feature back the last couple of weeks. He had 100 all-purpose yards last week with 47 yards and a touchdown on the ground and the other 53 yards coming on five catches out of the backfield.
Adding Harris to a fully-stocked and healthy group of receivers gives Aaron Rodgers an incredible amount of weapons to attack the Niners defense with. He threw for 303 yards in the season opener but the receiving corps has come a long way since then. James Jones finished the year with a league-leading 14 touchdowns receptions and Randall Cobb led the team with 954 receiving yards to go with his eight scores. The pair of “new guys” joins Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson as well as tight end Jermichael Finley as Rodgers weapons in his aerial attack.
Despite those receivers being in-and-out of the lineup all season and an inconsistent to anemic running game, Rodgers was able to lead the league in passer rating while throwing for 4,295 yards, 39 touchdowns, and just eight interceptions. Rodgers will be the one guy on the field whose best game can single-handedly carry his team to victory.
While the Packers are just 4-4 on the road this season and lost the first matchup of these two teams, I think they’ll be able to pull out the win on the road on Saturday night. Rodgers is the player I’m most confident in, while Kaepernick’s had issues at times with turnovers. The team that wins the turnover battle will win the game, and Green Bay’s defense will be on a mission to avoid being torched like they were last year by Eli Manning.
The Packers are three-point underdogs as they head to Candlestick, but I think they’ll ultimately pull out the win. Take the points and the Pack as they set up a rematch of the Fail Mary with the Seahawks who I think will knock off the Falcons on Sunday.