The San Francisco 49ers and the Green Bay Packers are on a collision course once again.
After their week 1 matchup at Lambeau in which the 49ers prevailed 30-22. This was the test that the 49ers were thought to be unable to pass, but they did, and set the 2012 season off and running. That game was back in September, and to say the least things have changed a bit. This time the 49ers get to host, and Aaron Rodgers will make his first ever start at the stadium where his favorite childhood team calls home.
The Packers battled mediocrity and injuries throughout the year, top WRs Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson missed significant time during the season. Both are healthy enough to play though on Saturday. This Packers team really began to hit its stride in week 6 when they routed the Houston Texans 42-24. They rolled to another NFC North championship and the number 3 seed in the NFC playoffs. They aren’t the force they necessarily were in previous years, but they are no pushover.
This bye week for the 49ers could not have come at a better time, they had stumbled a bit over the last few weeks of the season primarily due to the torn tricep of Justin Smith.
It’s not exactly breaking news that Justin Smith is important to the success of the 49ers defense, but these games demonstrated that without him the defense simply isn’t the same. Smith has been out since leaving the field in the 3rd quarter of the 49ers’ week 15 game in New England. The plan is to have Smith in there on Saturday, but just how much of the Justin Smith we’ve all come to know and love we’ll see is still unknown. But hopefully his presence will re-unleash the beast that is Aldon Smith.
On the offensive side the 49ers must establish Frank Gore in the running game, that will open up options for Colin Kaepernick in the passing game. The emergence of Michael Crabtree as an upper echelon receiver, and his apparent chemistry with Kaepernick is going to be key to the team’s success. Vernon Davis has been relatively nonexistent over recent weeks, and it really makes no sense for someone of his talent to be used as a decoy and not a weapon. If Davis becomes a factor in this game, the 49ers will more than likely be in great shape. Meanwhile Billy Cundiff has been brought in to compete with David Akers as he continues his kicking struggles, who is called upon in kicking situations will be closely examined as this game plays out.
There are no teams in these playoffs that the 49ers are incapable of beating, that goes for the AFC as well as the NFC. There are only a few teams that I think are truly capable of beating the 49ers, and the Green Bay Packers are one of those teams. This will likely be the most hard fought and competitive game of the Divisonal round. I see the 49ers emerging victorious in this game, and I expect them to host the Seattle Seahawks for the NFC Championship next week when they defeat the Atlanta Falcons.
The first round of the playoffs was without major drama, things are about to change.