Saturday, January 12, 2013

Packers vs. 49ers: let's roll!

In less than three hours from the time of this posting, the Green Bay Packers meet the San Francisco 49ers in Candlestick Park for an NFC Divisional Playoff game. The Niners are favored by three points...home field advantage. San Fran had a bye last week by virtue of their Number 2 seed in the NFC playoffs. The Packers, as we know, beat the Minnesota Vikings at Lambeau Field in the Wildcard round. The winner of tonight's game will meet tomorrow's winner of the Seattle vs. Atlanta game. If the Packers win -- and we know they will, right? -- and Seattle wins, the Packers will host the Seahawks at Lambeau Field next weekend in the NFC Championship Game; if the Falcons win, the Pack will travel to Atlanta next weekend for the Championship Game.

Those are the stakes.

What are the chances for a Packers' win?
In a word: very good. Of course, some might say the same about the 49ers' chances tonight. These two teams are arguably the best in the NFC, despite Atlanta's #1 seeding and the hot streak that Seattle is on behind Rookie of the Year candidate (and former Wisconsin Badgers star) QB Russell Wilson. The Packers have the best quarterback in the NFC, particularly come playoff time, in Aaron Rodgers. The Niners have a dangerous, second-year QB in the person of Colin Kaepernick. The edge goes to the Packers in this department. But only if the Pack's offensive line keeps pressures and sacks to a minimum. If Rodgers is sacked five or more times during the game, stats show the odds are that the Packers will lose the game. With the return of DE Justin Smith to the 49ers' lineup, and Aldon Smith coming from the other side, the Packers' O-line will have their collective hands full. The Niners linebackers could also make life difficult for Rodgers if protection fails.

A key part of keeping Rodgers upright this evening will be the ability of the Packers' running game to keep up the pace it has over the past month or so. In the first meeting of the season between these two teams, the leading rusher was Rodgers. If that happens again tonight, the Packers will lose. The Pack will once again likely have street free agent DuJuan Harris -- who seems to be turning into another Ted Thompson diamond in the rough -- as the starter at running back. He brings elusiveness, speed and surprising power in a Barry Sanders-sized package. If he is half as good as Barry tonight, it can be a very good evening for the Packers. An efficient running game, with more than 100 yards combined via the running-back-by-committee, will likely mean Rodgers will have the ability to work the passing game. And if Rodgers can work that, and distribute the ball as he did against the ViQueens (for example, to 10 different receivers), the Pack will likely come out on top. We have more offensive weapons than do the Niners. But that will matter little if Rodgers doesn't have the time to use them.

Thus, the biggest factors on offense likely affecting the chances of the Packers winning this evening will be control of the line by the Packers and the rushing game. Oh, that and no turnovers by the Packers. That's always good. Especially on the road and in a playoff game.

As to what the Packers need to do on defense, the key will be containing RB Frank Gore, shutting down WR Michael Crabtree and TE Vernon Davis, and making QB Colin Kaepernick win the game. This will be a formidable task. Kaepernick has a strong arm. He can throw long and on target. He also can beat you with his feet. He can be 15 yards downfield very quickly when flushed from the pocket. Containing him from getting those types of breakaway runs will be key for the Pack. Facing a big running-type quarterback last week in the form of Joe Webb at least gave the Packers a chance to deal with a similar style. The difference is that Webb couldn't beat you with his arm if contained; Kaepernick could.

If the Packers defense plays at the level it did in last week's game, it bodes well for picking up the win. Especially if the Packers can generate a timely turnover or two and convert those into points.

The Prediction
To no one's surprise -- at least not to anyone who is a regular reader of this blog -- we're calling this in favor of the Packers, 27-24. I have a feeling that the Packers could actually win by a wider margin, but on paper it's a toss up and that's why we're keeping the score close. Let's hope it isn't as close when the actual game concludes.

Go Pack Go!!!