On a chilly January night, the San Francisco 49ers and Green Bay Packers went up against one another in the 2013 NFC Divisional Playoffs. Aaron Rodgers, whom the 49ers passed on in 2005, was leading the Packers into the Stick and looking to advance to the NFC Championship in hope of winning his second Lombardi Trophy. The quarterback he was passed over for, Alex Smith, was now the number two on San Francisco’s depth chart, even after leading his team to a combined 19-5 record in games he started.
The player that he was replaced by, second year quarterback Colin Kaepernick, had one of the greatest playoff performances in Niners history, rushing for 181 yards and throwing for 263 and two touchdowns. The brilliance and execution of the “read option” got the national spotlight that it hadn’t received and put defensive coordinators around the league to work on how to stop a new wave of the NFL.
San Francisco trounced Green Bay 45-31, and the score makes it look better for the Packers than it really was. Kaepernick and the 49ers offense pulled out everything they had and exposed the unpreparedness of the Packers defense. That marked the second victory of the season for San Francisco against Green Bay, the first being a 30-22 Week 1 victory.
A lot has changed since the pummeling by the 49ers. What has each team done to upgrade their weaknesses? What players will affect the outcome of the game? What should we watch for? Who will end up victorious?
Green Bay didn’t have a very active offseason. They let Charles Woodson and Greg Jennings go, confident that their depth can replace their absence. The Packers running attack was very poor, starting five tailbacks, with seven single game leading rushers. They addressed this by drafting running back Eddie Lacy out of Alabama in the second round, and he will be the week one starter. He will be counted on to provide a threat to the ground attack to compliment Aaron Rodgers arm.
San Francisco had a very busy off season for a team that came within five yards of a Super Bowl. They sent seven year quarterback Alex Smith to Kansas City to clear $8 million in salary. They lost players such as free safety Dashon Goldson and tight end Delanie Walker but replaced them with the likes of Eric Reid and big Vance McDonald. They traded for Anquan Boldin in hopes of complimenting Michael Crabtree, but with Crabtree out with a torn achilles, expect Boldin to be heavily relied upon. They brought in corner back Nnamdi Asomugha to compete for playing time. General manager Trent Baalke made a good team even better with a very successful offseason
After “The Catch II” in which Steve Young connected with Terrell Owens to provide the 49ers with a 30-27 playoff victory, Green Bay went on to win the next eight matchups, before losing twice to San Francisco last season. How much will their prior history affect sunday’s outcome? Not at all. But the history is there, and interesting to look at.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Aaron Rodgers got sacked a league high 51 times last season, the highest in the NFL. It can’t be a very settling feeling for Green Bay, as Rodgers is their franchise player and they have a whole lot of money invested him. Expect Green Bay’s O-Line to be upgraded, but given the strength of the 49ers defensive line, led by Justin and Aldon Smith, this is where the game could be decided.
It will be interesting to see how Colin Kaepernick, Jim Harbaugh and Greg Roman use the passing game. This has been viewed as the 49ers weakness, but don’t be surprised if players such as Quinton Patton, Kyle Williams and McDonald produce more then you may think. Vernon Davis may be lining up at wideout more often, so it will be interesting to see how this plays out. They will definitely run the ball with Gore and Hunter, but don’t think that San Francisco will be hesitant to throw the ball.
It is said that games are won in the trenches. San Francisco has a better O-line and D-line. It will start out close, but San Francisco is going to wear out Green Bay. Expect the Packers over-preparedness for the read-option to open up some holes for the 49ers running game. I’ll take San Francisco, 27-20