Divisional Round: Green Bay Packers At San Francisco 49ers
- QuarterbackThis is a special era when it comes to quarterback play in the NFL. The gold standard includes Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Peyton Manning. However, Aaron Rodgers is the one at the top of the class. He simply throws the football better than anyone else in the game. He can also buy time when his protection breaks down. Rodgers can be counted on to make the big throw at most important moment.Jim Harbaugh showed plenty of guts when he decided to replace Alex Smith with Colin Kaepernick and the move appeared to work out well for the 49ers. However, while Kaepernick may have a brilliant future – and he is already quite good – he is not in Rodgers’ class and he may have a hard time matching the Packer quarterback in big plays.
- OffenseThe Packers have not gotten a lot from their running game, but they have turned to DuJuan Harris and Ryan Grant in recent weeks to relieve some of the pressure on Rodgers. Wide receivers James Jones, Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb are all capable of making big plays. Tight end Jermichael Finley is playing his best football of the year.Frank Gore is a perfect example of the physical edge the 49ers have over the Packers in this game. He is a relentless runner who will punish tacklers. The Niners want to attack through the air with Michael Crabtree, Vernon Davis, Randy Moss and Delanie Walker. Crabtree is a much improved receiver while Moss may be good for one or two big plays.
- DefenseThe Packers are certainly a much better defensive team than they were a year ago. If they are going to stop Gore and the Niners running game, nose tackle B.J. Raji must get penetration and cause havoc in the backfield. Clay Matthews appears to be at the top of his game once again. He had 2.0 sacks in the Wild-Card win over the Vikings.The 49ers defense got the best of the Packers in the regular-season opener. While much has changed since then, the 49ers appeared bigger and stronger in that game. Linebacker Aldon Smith will try to get in Rodgers’ face and he had 19.5 sacks during the regular season. NaVorro Bowman led the Niners in tackles and he may be the fastest linebacker in the NFL.
- Special TeamsIt was a disastrous regular season for Mason Crosby, but head coach Mike McCarthy stuck with him and he remains the Packers’ field goal kicker. He made his only attempt in the Wild-Card win over the Vikings. Tim Masthay gets good height and direction on his punts.The 49ers have also struggled with their placekicking. David Akers has had a painful year, making 29-of-42 FG attempts. The 49ers could decide to replace him with retread Billy Cundiff. Andy Lee averaged 48.1 yards per punt this season and put 36 of his 66 punts inside the opponents’ 20-yard line.
The Packers’ have a significant edge at the skill positions. However, the 49ers are bigger, stronger and faster at most of the positions on the line and at linebacker. This gave them an edge in the regular-season meeting in Week One, and it may be difficult for the Packers to overcome in this game.