Renewing Acquaintances - Divisional Weekend Preview
The say the devil you know is better than the devil you don't, and while the Packers may not know the 49ers well, they certainly do have recent history together. More than a season's worth of games ago, Green Bay squared off with San Francisco in a season opening matchup at Lambeau Field. The 49ers, of course, won relatively handily, the eight point margin of victory belying the true nature of the game.
Things, obviously have changed since then. San Francisco was in the driver's seat in the NFC West for most of the year, fending off a serious challenge from Seattle down the stretch to retain possession of the division lead and secure the NFC's number two seed. Green Bay, as we well know, slipped to a 2-3 start before getting hot in the latter half of the season en route to the number three spot in the NFC.
Now, though, all bets are off, seeding or otherwise. The revenge storyline plays well in this one, but it doesn't feel like a revenge game. Last week, Green Bay needed and wanted revenge. This time, San Francisco is nothing more than another obstacle in the way on the road to the Super Bowl.
And a hefty obstacle they are. The 49ers have a well-earned reputation as a big physical team, and their stats back it up. How Green Bay manages to handle the 49ers' power attack on both offense and defense will likely be the deciding factor in this game.
5 - Rushing touchdowns by San Francisco Colin Kaepernick. The second year player out of Nevada adds another, explosive dimension to San Francisco's attack. Kaepernick ran a read-option style pistol attack in college, and has utilized some of those same principles this year. The 25 year old actually has Wisconsin roots, and boy can he run.
4 - Receiving touchdowns by Greg Jennings this year. The oh-so-smooth Jennings has become more firmly integrated into the attack recently, snagging 18 catches for 226 yards and three touchdowns in his last three games.
3 - Sacks by 49ers defensive lineman Justin Smith. The nearly indestructible Smith actually missed a game due to injury this year, a career first. His three sacks are a career low, but he's still been a rock on the 49ers front line. Now, thanks to that injury, he gets to wear one of those arm braces that makes him look part-robot.
2 - 49ers players with 218 passing attempts on the year. Jim Harbaugh made the rare decisions to switch horses (or rather, quarterbacks) in midstream this season, leading to the exactly even split between Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick. Statistically, Smith was actually the better passer this year, but Kaepernick has a bigger arm and adds fantastic athleticism to the position.
1 - Interceptions thrown by Aaron Rodgers in the Packers' Week 1 meeting with San Francisco. Rodgers' volume numbers were actually fairly solid in the first Packers/49ers meeting, but his lone interception may have sealed San Francisco's victory. Should Rodgers avoid a turnover this time around, Green Bay may be able to snag a win this week.
Last Time - San Francisco: 30 Green Bay: 22 - September 9, 2012
San Francisco waltzed into Lambeau Field and punched the Packers right in the nose, jumping to a 10-0 lead and holding on for the win. The 49ers pushed the Packers around the field pretty thoroughly, as Frank Gore ran for 116 yards and a score on just 16 carries.
Also, David Akers did this:
Meet a 49er - Aldon Smith - 6'4", 258 lbs - OLB - 2nd NFL season
Aldon Smith rivals Jason Pierre-Paul for freakish athleticism, and has parlayed his tremendous physical gifts into a 19.5 sack season this year. Smith burst onto the scene as a rookie with 14 sacks, despite not starting a single game.
Odds are good that rookie right tackle Don Barclay will be matched against Smith on Saturday, and how he fares may be the deciding factor. Should Smith torch Barclay and harass Aaron Rodgers, you might want to pencil San Francisco in for a trip to the NFC Championship.
San Francisco will win if...
...they repeat the formula that served them well in the season opener, namely rushing Aaron Rodgers, blanketing the Packers' receivers with the now infamous Cover 2, and powering their way around the football field on offense.
Green Bay will win if...
...the offensive line can keep Aaron Rodgers on his feet and the defense can make Colin Kaepernick a passer. Neutralizing the 49ers' pass rush is an obvious step, but forcing Kaepernick to stay in the pocket and make throws rather than getting to the perimeter and using his athleticism might actually be more important.
The Pick - San Francisco: 27 Green Bay: 21
Though Green Bay has as good of a shot as anyone to unseat the 49ers, this week isn't the day it happens. The Packers are too thin up front and the 49ers can throw too many quality rushers out there. Green Bay certainly has enough talent to keep it close, but there's a good chance their season ends this weekend.
The Rest (home team in ALL CAPS)
BRONCOS over Ravens FALCONS over Seahawks PATRIOTS over Texans
Last week: 3-1
Season total: 174-84-1 (.672)
Tweet of the Week
Milwaukee Bucks radio play-by-play announcer Ted Davis pontificates on the playing surface in Washington for last week's playoff game.