What's Next for the Green Bay Packers After Wild-Card Win?

Gary DavenportNFL AnalystJanuary 6, 2013

GREEN BAY, WI - JANUARY 05:  (R) Quarterback Aaron Rodgers #12 and guard Josh Sitton #71 of the Green Bay Packers celebrate after fullback John Kuhn #30 scorers on a nine-yard catch and run in the third quarter against the Minnesota Vikings during the NFC Wild Card Playoff game at Lambeau Field on January 5, 2013 in Green Bay, Wisconsin.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The Green Bay Packers rebounded from last week's loss to the Minnesota Vikings by downing those same Vikings 24-10 at Lambeau Field in the Wild Card Round, led to victory by an eye-popping performance from Joe Webb.

Of course, Webb was playing quarterback for the Vikings, but hey, whatever gets it done.

All kidding aside, the Packers handled the Vikings with ease on Saturday night, and that sets them up for the next step in a journey that they hope will conclude in New Orleans with a victory in Super Bowl XLVII.

That next step is a doozy, and in fact there will be many pundits (you can count me among them) who will say that their next game may be more of an NFC Championship game than the one that will actually happen the following week.

That's because next week the Packers will travel west to face the San Francisco 49ers in a rematch of a Week 1 tilt won by the 49ers in Green Bay.

So, what do the Packers need to do next week to avenge that defeat and advance to their third NFC title game in the past six years?

Well, on offense the first thing the Packers can do is forget about running the ball. Green Bay's running back-by-committee this season ranked 20th in the NFL, while the 49ers, as usual, were very difficult to move the ball against on the ground, ranking fourth in the league at just over 94 yards a game.

That isn't to say that the Packers should abandon the run altogether, but the odds of them finding much room to run are about the same as Joe Webb throwing for 300 yards in Saturday night's game.

That's going to place a great deal of pressure on quarterback Aaron Rodgers to play better than he did back in Week 1. Rodgers has had another phenomenal season, but he struggled against San Francisco to open the season, looking flustered for much of the game before padding his stats while leading a Green Bay comeback that ultimately fell short.

Luckily for Rodgers, for the first time in quite a while the eighth-year pro should have all the weapons in the passing attack at his disposal, and with Jordy Nelson and Greg Jennings re-joining Randall Cobb and James Jones, Rodgers and Green Bay should be aggressive in attacking San Francisco through the air.

Go four-wide, spread the field, and let 'er rip.

On defense there are two main keys to Green Bay emerging with a victory. The Packers were a middle of the pack (sorry) run defense in 2012, but to their credit Green Bay allowed only one running back not named Adrian Peterson to top 100 yards on the ground.

Unfortunately that running back was San Francisco's Frank Gore, who rolled for 112 yards on only 16 carries back in September. The running game is the fulcrum for San Francisco's offense, and it's essential that the Packers hold him in check.

The other defensive key is the game's biggest x-factor.

The first time that these teams faced each other, Alex Smith was under center for the 49ers, but Smith has since given way to second-year pro Colin Kaepernick, whose mobility has added an extra dimension to San Francisco's offense.

As mobile as he may be, however, Kaepernick is still set to make his first career postseason start. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers needs to dial up the blitzes, mix up coverages and try to pressure Kaepernick into making mistakes.

It's important though that the mayhem Capers releases on Kaepernick be controlled. With a quarterback as mobile as Kaepernick, it's essential that players maintain their rush lanes and play within the scheme, as any sort of lapse in that area could be a costly one.

If Green Bay can accomplish those goals and win what right now appears to be the most intriguing matchup of the divisional round then it's on to the NFC title game, where if the chips fall just right they could potentially host a rematch of the infamous "Fail Mary" game with the Seattle Seahawks from Week 3.

Avenge that loss, and it's on to the Big Easy.

Hey, a fella can hope, right?