This Saturday's NFC divisional round matchup pitting the San Francisco 49ers against the Green Bay Packers is the best, most-evenly matched game of the NFL playoffs thus far. Both teams have flaws, both have strengths. San Francisco has been reeling a little bit recently after suffering a demoralizing defeat at the hands of the Seattle Seahawks and a less-than convincing victory over the lowly Arizona Cardinals at home.
Their best defensive player in Justin Smith is playing with a torn triceps, an injury that has kept lesser players out for months at a time. Kicker David Akers has been consistently poor the last month or so and might give way to equally scatter-legged Billy Cundiff. Colin Kaepernick is making just his eighth career start and his first in the postseason. The heartbeat of the 49ers offense, Frank Gore, could use a defibrillator as he's shown signs of slowing down the last few weeks and the receiving corps has been decimated by injury. However, the game is in majestic Candlestick Park where the 49ers have played well in the postseason and can enter the game knowing they beat the Packers once already this season in Green Bay.
The Packers are not without their own issues. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers has been playing lights out but the team has little to no running game and their offensive line has struggled to pass protect at times. The defense is poor against the run and the front seven has shown a tendency to get manhandled by big, physical offensive lines. Their own kicker, Mason Crosby, actually had a worse field goal percentage than Akers this year (63.6 to 69.0). Not only have they not faced Kaepernick's unique skill set before, they have not faced a team that runs the read option all season.
Despite the issues each team has, they both have their strengths. There are three areas in particular that the 49ers will look to exploit their decided advantage over the Packers. Whether or not the 49ers can capitalize on these advantages may well determine the outcome of the game.