49ers vs. Packers 2014, NFL Playoffs game preview: Can Green Bay slow Colin Kaepernick and San Francisco?

Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

The 49ers have beaten the Packers twice in the last 12 months, but will the third time be the charm for Green Bay?

The Packers and 49ers meeting in the playoffs has become an NFL staple during the last two decades and the game on Sunday will be the seventh playoff meeting between the teams since 1995. Green Bay holds the overall advantage, with four wins, but the 49ers ended Green Bay's season last year.

There will be no shortage of star power at Lambeau Field on Sunday with Aaron Rodgers back and healthy for Green Bay. San Francisco has its own cast of All-Pros. The players on both sides will have to deal with extremely cold weather as the wind chill is expected to drop temperatures into the negatives.

SB Nation 2014 NFL Playoff Coverage

San Francisco has won the last three matchups with the last two turning into shootouts. Despite a number of talented defenders on both sides, the teams have combined to score 138 points in the last two meetings.

Meet the Packers

The Packers needed a Week 17 win to secure a playoff spot, but Rodgers returned and the Packers got the win they needed. Green Bay was a different team with Rodgers in the lineup, going 6-2 when he was healthy and 2-5-1 when he was injured.

Green Bay's offense has been clicking recently -- even without Rodgers -- and the Packers averaged 33.7 points per game over their last three. Green Bay, however, compiled a minus-1 point differential during that span, pointing to some serious defensive issues.

The Packers' defense finished the regular season ranked 28th in yards per play, 21st in yards per point and 24th in red zone touchdown percentage. Green Bay had issues against both the run and pass, ranking 25th in yards per attempt and 29th in yards per rush. To make matters worse, the Packers will play without Clay Matthews, who remains out with a thumb injury.

Meet the 49ers

After some midseason issues, the 49ers closed the regular season strong with six straight wins. While they still came up short in the NFC West, the 49ers finished the year 12-4 and as the No. 5 seed. San Francisco was effective offensively, but the defense still leads the way.

The 49ers finished the regular season eighth in yards per play allowed and fourth in yards per point allowed. Although San Francisco finished the season strong, the 49ers were far from perfect coming in and allowed big passing games to Matt Ryan and Carson Palmer in the final two games. Palmer threw for 407 yards in Week 17, averaging 8.3 yards per attempt. The 49ers finished ninth in yards per pass allowed at 5.7, but that number jumped to 6.7 during the final three regular season games.

Offensively, the 49ers improved as the season went along. The return of Michael Crabtree helped and San Francisco averaged 7.9 yards per pass attempt during its last three games -- the second-highest in the NFL during that span. The rushing attack is still the focus, however, and the 49ers ran the ball on 52.6 percent of their plays, the highest in the NFL.

Local Takes: Green Bay

Colin Kaepernick shredded the Packers on the ground and through the air in the last two meetings and Evan Western of Acme Packing Company said the focus will once again be on stopping the San Francisco quarterback:

There are reasons to think that Kaepernick has regressed somewhat from those remarkable highs, whether by the design of the 49ers' offense or other means. He threw for 300 or more yards only once since that week one game (in Week 17 against Arizona) and he has had only two games this season with more than 55 yards on the ground. But just based on what he has done to the Packers in recent memory, Kaepernick should be treated as the most dangerous weapon in the 49ers' arsenal.

Local Takes: San Francisco

Green Bay had success stopping the 49ers ground attack in the season opener. David Neumann of Niners Nation took a closer look at how the Packers did it:

So what in the hell changed so drastically in Green Bay's ability to stop the San Francisco run game from last year's playoffs to that Week 1 game? Green Bay was obviously determined to not get embarrassed on the ground in the manner that caused their early exit from the postseason, but in rewatching every rushing play from that Week 1 game, a few things stuck out to me:

  • San Francisco strayed from their staple running plays
  • Green Bay was able to consistently win one-on-one match-ups up front and didn't frequently drop a safety into the box
  • There were an unusual number of missed blocks from the 49ers' offensive line and lead blockers

Follow the Fun

Be sure to check out SB Nation's team blogs, Acme Packing Company and Niners Nation, for more analysis and highlights from the game.

Add these fine follows to your Twitter timeline:

@acmepackingco

@NinersNation

@TyDunne -- Packers beat writer

@mattbarrows -- 49ers beat writer

Prediction

With Rodgers and Randall Cobb back, the Packers should have an offensive advantage. The question is whether the offense will be able to make up the defensive deficiencies. The 49ers shredded the Packers in the playoffs last season and again in the season opener this year. Kaepernick threw for 412 yards in the Week 1 win.

One difference from those two other games will be weather. The teams will play in sub-freezing temperatures on Sunday, possibly giving Green Bay an advantage. Snow and poor field conditions can be an advantage for the offense, but the 49ers are built well for the conditions with a solid running attack. Rodgers is certainly capable of carrying Green Bay to a win with an MVP-like performance, but he'll have a lot to overcome if he's going to do it this week.

The pick: San Francisco 34-24

Odds

San Francisco opened as a 2.5-point road favorite, according to OddsShark.com. The total opened at 46 points.

Next Week

It's win or go home. The winner will move on to play either Seattle or Carolina while the loser's season comes to an end.

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