Preview

Packers vs 49ers

Sunday's game between San Francisco and Green Bay will be the fourth meeting between the two teams since the start of last season. If the Packers want their season to continue, they'll need to have more success than they did in the previous three. San Francisco won all three games, including last season in the playoffs.

Unlike that game, this one is in Green Bay, where the weather could be a factor with temperatures expected to drop below zero at gametime. The Packers are better acclimated to playing in the cold, but San Francisco is well built for a sloppy game with a powerful rushing attack and stout defense.

The big story is the return of Aaron Rodgers, who led the Packers to the playoffs last week after sitting out seven weeks. Green Bay may need Rodgers to play at an MVP level if it is going to overcome defensive issues. The Packers ranked 28th in yards per play allowed and have had very little success stopping Colin Kaepernick.

The 49ers offense had its way with Green Bay in the last two meetings, averaging 536.5 yards per game and 39.5 points per game. Even with Rodgers back, the Packers are likely going to need to at least prevent Kaepernick from having another career day.

Whichever team wins, the road gets tougher with either the Seahawks or Panthers waiting on the other side.

Mark Sandritter

The Packers will win because

Their offense is back to full strength and is capable of outscoring anyone. Aaron Rodgers’ return in Week 17 against the Bears from a fractured collarbone started in unpleasant fashion, with two interceptions on the first two drives, but ended masterfully as the QB led a critical 15-play, 87-yard drive for the division-winning touchdown. Slot receiver Randall Cobb returned last week as well, and made an instant impact with two scores. Jordy Nelson averaged more than 100 yards per game when Rodgers throws the passes. Rookie running back Eddie Lacy adds a tough, physical presence on the ground to take pressure off Rodgers and the passing offense, making the play-action pass more effective. With an offensive line whose opening-week starters have started a combined 78 of 80 possible games, the offensive skill players should have room to maneuver and put a hefty number of points on the board. The biggest question is whether the defense can come up with the timely turnovers to keep the Packers’ opponents from keeping pace with Rodgers and company.

The 49ers will win because

They are as healthy as they have been this season. Michael Crabtree is back on the field, and while he is not quite at full speed, his return has made a huge difference in the passing game. Colin Kaepernick’s numbers are up across the board since Crabtree came back, and it gives this offense more playoff weapons than in any of the past two postseasons. On defense, the 49ers' only injury concern is cornerback Carlos Rogers, who didn't practice Thursday after suffering a hamstring injury in Week 17. Otherwise, this unit is healthier than last year when Justin Smith had to play through a torn triceps muscle. They have the weapons in place to beat the Packers and move on.

Number of interest

7

The Packers ranked seventh in the NFL in rushing this season behind the running of Eddie Lacy and James Starks. This landed them in the top 10 of the league in that category for the first time since 2004. Added to a passing offense that moved the ball well even with Aaron Rodgers injured for almost half the season, and this newly effective running game alongside Rodgers will force defenses to respect both facets of the offense.

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