Wednesday, April 23, 2014

NFL playoff preview: Grind-it-out 49ers headed to Lambeau to face suddenly resurgent Packers (6 items)

By Mitch Kunzler, For the Deseret News

Jan. 4, 2014

The final playoff matchup of the week features the San Francisco 49ers against the Green Bay Packers, a matchup that may be the most highly anticipated and intriguing matchup of the weekend. With both teams fully capable of playing near-flawless football, NFL fans everywhere will be in for a real treat.

To get a good idea of exactly what type of action will take place on Sunday, it is important to consider the journey each team has had to get to this point, and what type of things to watch for when they match up against each other this weekend.

You can follow Mitch Kunzler on Twitter at @MitchKunzler.

1 of 6. Game information: 49ers at Packers

When: Sunday, Jan. 5 at 2:40 p.m. MST

Where: Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis.

On TV: Fox

2 of 6. The 49ers' journey



After their loss to the Baltimore Ravens in last year's Super Bowl, the 49ers have had a chip on their shoulder, and redeeming themselves in this year's Super Bowl is their ultimate goal.

All season, the Niners have done what they do best: Run the football and play smash-mouth defense. San Francisco has gained a reputation for its physical play, and rightly so; its physicality normally winds up being the difference-maker in its games.

The 49ers haven't had any head-scratching losses this season, as each loss has come at the hands of a current playoff team. They have been the model of consistency for the entire NFL while performing at an elite level. If San Francisco has one weakness, it is in its passing game. While quarterback Colin Kaepernick is one of the most promising young quarterbacks in the league, he took a ton of criticism this year following a couple of sub-par performances.

The 49ers ended the season on a six-game winning streak with a 12-4 record.

3 of 6. The Packers' journey



At the beginning of the season, the Packers looked as though they would once again be among the elite teams in the NFL as they got off to a solid start. In its first seven games, Green Bay went 5-2 and was on a four-game winning streak heading into its rivalry game against the Chicago Bears.

In the first series against Chicago, quarterback Aaron Rodgers was sacked, and during the collision broke his left collar bone. After the injury, the Packers' season started to spiral downwards. They went five games without a win, and it seemed that the Packers would have to wait until next year to compete for a Super Bowl slot.

Green Bay then won its next two games, winning by one point in each matchup. Then in Week 16, the Packers lost to the Steelers and the Bears lost to the Eagles, which meant that the final game of the season between Chicago and Green Bay would decide who would win the division and secure a playoff spot.

Rodgers was cleared to play in the season finale and led Green Bay to victory in the final minutes of the game. With the win, the Packers were division champions and playoff bound. They ended the season with an 8-7-1 record.

4 of 6. Previous matchup

The Packers and 49ers met in Week 1 this year, a high-scoring matchup that the 49ers won 34-28. Kaepernick had his best passing game of his young NFL career as he threw for a career-high 412 yards and three touchdowns in the game.

Rodgers threw for 333 yards and three touchdowns for the Packers, but he had one costly interception as well. The Packers' defense couldn't stop 49ers receiver Anquan Boldin, who had 13 receptions for 208 yards.

While Kaepernick had the game of his life against the Packers early this season, it isn't anything that happens on a regular basis. The 49ers rank 29th in the NFL in passing yards per game and are a run-dominant team. While they will certainly look back to Week 1 for exploits they can possibly use, don't expect Kaepernick to throw 39 times again.

5 of 6. What to watch for

The Packers have home-field advantage, something that may play an important role for them in this series. In home games that Rodgers has played at least one quarter in, the Packers have won 11 straight.

Green Bay ranks sixth in the NFL in passing yards per game with 266.8, and that's even with Rodgers not playing the full season. Its rushing attack is also dangerous, as it averages 133.5 yards per game on the ground, which ranks seventh in the league.

Even with the Packers' explosive offense, the 49ers should get their fair share of stops, as they rank fourth in the NFL in rush defense (95.9 yards allowed per game) and seventh in pass defense (221 yards allowed per game).

San Francisco is third in the NFL in rushing yards per game, averaging 137.6 a game, but only 29th in passing yards per game, averaging just 186.2. The Niners' offense should be helped by the fact that Packers linebacker Clay Matthews will miss the game with an injury.

In addition to Matthews' injury, the Packers rank 24th in the NFL in both passing yards allowed and rushing yards allowed. The defense is going to have trouble stopping San Francisco the entire game.