No matter what happens, this game feels like a bonus. A month ago, the Packers were dead. I declared it. I stand by that declaration, too, even if it was wrong. For all intents and purposes, they were done. They had showed nothing that would indicate they could make the playoffs, they were hopelessly behind the Lions and Bears, and they were still without their star quarterback.
Now, it's hard to look back and think that things were that bleak. Today, people are worried about ticket sales, the temperature at kickoff, and a dumb rumor that we all wasted time on that I don't want to talk about now (or ever, really).
Are we a bit spoiled? It's possible, maybe even probable. But I digress.
Are the Packers a real playoff team? Well, they're in the playoffs, so yes. But are they a real playoff team with a real chance to go somewhere? That remains to be seen, but if there's any team that can help us answer that question, it's the 49ers.
The Packers have had little, if any, success against the Niners in their past three meetings, but you know that. Whether it's Colin Kaepernick passing, Colin Kaepernick running, or San Francisco's defense just imposing its will on the Packers, the 49ers have had Green Bay's number just about any way you'd care to slice it.
Once again, if the Packers want to make anything of themselves in the playoffs, they have to prove they can get over the 49ers. By all accounts, the Packers are probably not close to the 49ers' league, but there's that whole matter of Aaron Rodgers. He's certainly an equalizer, and as he continues to shake off the rust of his long layoff, perhaps this is the week that the Packers finally take down the 49ers.
5 - Games with seven or more receptions this year for Jordy Nelson. Nelson has had a career year this year, culminating with his 10 catch, 161 yard performance last week. Some wondered if Aaron Rodgers would have chemistry with his receivers when he returned from his collarbone injury. As far as Nelson goes, the answer is yes.
4 - Rushing touchdowns by 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. He hasn't run quite as successfully this year, but he's still an explosive athlete and he'll take advantage of a defense if he can.
3 - 100 yard rushing games by 49ers running back Frank Gore this season. Despite finishing with 1,128 yards this year, Gore only broke the century mark three times. That says very little about his effectiveness as a back, though. He's still a formidable runner at age 30 and will be a tough test for the Packers this week.
2 - Receptions by Randall Cobb in his first week back from a broken leg. Both went for touchdowns, including a notable play that you may or may not have heard and/or seen once or twice.
Cobb was supposed to be on a limited snap count last week, but obviously he wasn't hugely limited. If he's a bigger part of the offense this week, it can only mean good things for the Packers.
1 - Multi-sack games by NaVorro Bowman, the man who proves that even the nearly inimitable Patrick Willis can have equals. I picked this number to represent Bowman because it's about the only hole you can poke in his statistical resume this year, which is to say there really aren't any holes at all. Complaining that someone (an inside linebacker at that) has not sacked the quarterback multiple times in a game more than once is ridiculous, obviously. Just look at what Bowman has done this year: 118 tackles, nine passes defensed, five sacks, four fumbles forced, two interceptions, two fumble recoveries. He's a machine. A machine the Packers must stop.
Last time - 49ers: 34 Packers: 28 - September 8, 2013
The Packers managed to stop Colin Kaepernick from running like crazy...but not from passing like crazy. He torched Green Bay for 208 yards and a touchdown on 13 catches, while the Packers looked totally unable or unwilling to stop him.
On the plus side, Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson were great, Eddie Lacy improved steadily, and the defense was overall pretty solid. If those things hold true the second time around, who knows what could happen.
Meet a 49er - Colin Kaepernick - 6'4", 230 lbs. - QB - 3rd NFL Season
There's a rumor going around that says Colin Kaepernick isn't playing as well this season as he did at the end of last year. Don't believe it. Yes, his completion percentage and yards per attempt are down, but his TD percentage is up and he's also throwing for more yards per game.
It's possible, perhaps likely, even, that defenses have caught up to Kaepernick's brilliant end to 2012. In that light, I actually find it semi-remarkable that he's maintained nearly the same level of play from last year. On top of that, Kaepernick remains a phenomenal athlete with a big-time arm, and he'll doubtless be looking to duplicate his performance from last year's divisional game.
The 49ers will win if...
....they stick with the run game. Two of the Packers three late season wins came at the expense of teams that appeared to abandon the run too early. The Cowboys forgot about DeMarco Murray in the second half of their collapse, and I thought the Bears could have ended the game if they force-fed Matt Forte the football. With loads of talented runners, the 49ers have no reason to make the same mistake. They can easily pass to get ahead, then run to put the game away and advance.
The Packers will win if...
...Aaron Rodgers and the offense manage to control the time of possession, avoid turnovers, and score just about every time they have the ball. That may sound like a high bar, but the Packers are probably outgunned on offense and outmanned on defense in this one. The best way to equalize those odds, then, is to minimize possessions for the other team, and sustaining long drives is the best way to do it.
The Pick - 49ers: 30 Packers: 21
The Packers have scrapped and clawed to get to this point, but to win in the playoffs, you have to do more than just try hard. I wouldn't say the Packers have zero chance to win, but I certainly wouldn't put down any money on the Green and Gold.
Tweet(s) of the Week
The Packers' Twitter game was strong this week, starting with a humorous Madden-related tweet from a fan to T.J. Lang.
Also, Sam Barrington totally understands how New Year's resolutions work.
Finally, Brett Goode offers some distressing information about a teammate.