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Packers vs. 49ers: 5 Under-the-Radar Storylines for NFC Divisional Round Matchup

Joseph AkeleyAnalyst IJanuary 11, 2013

Packers vs. 49ers: 5 Under-the-Radar Storylines for NFC Divisional Round Matchup

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    "Justin Smith's effectiveness will be the difference."

    "Aaron Rodgers won't lose to a quarterback making his first NFL playoff start."

    "Frank Gore will shred a porous run defense and get the last laugh." 

    I'm sure you've heard all of these statements as the divisional round matchup between the San Francisco 49ers and Green Bay Packers nears.

    But there is so much more to this game than just Smith, Rodgers and Gore. 

    The following slides are your guide to storylines being overlooked by many media outlets heading into Saturday's playoff clash.

Is QB Battle Closer Than You Think?

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    There's no denying that Aaron Rodgers is one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL right now.

    The 2011 MVP may already be one of the greatest of all time.

    In a "down year," Rodgers threw for 4,295 yards and 39 touchdowns with just eight interceptions.

    Although it's clear that the Packers have the better quarterback in this matchup, the gap may be closer than you think.

    Colin Kaepernick was second in the league in adjusted net yards per pass attempt this year, a stat that takes into account sacks and interceptions. Rodgers was fifth.

    A major reason why Kaepernick was superior to Rodgers in this category is the fact that Rodgers was sacked 51 times this year, which equates to more than three per game, whereas Kaepernick was only sacked 16 times.

    Kaepernick was also third in QBR, two spots ahead of the fifth-place Rodgers.

    Don't buy into the notion that Kaepernick has to run to be an effective quarterback.

    The stats show that he's a major threat to beat any defense with his arm.

    Considering that San Francisco has the better defense in this matchup, it wouldn't surprise me at all to see Kaepernick outplay the former Super Bowl MVP. 

Casey Hayward Is the Best Corner on the Field

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    Hayward's stat line of 21 pass deflections and six interceptions is worthy of Defensive Rookie of the Year and Pro Bowl consideration on its own.

    But when you dig a little deeper, you see why the Pro Football Focus staff selected him to the 2012 PFF All-Pro Team.

    According to PFF, Hayward allowed only 44.6 percent of passes thrown at his man to be completed. More impressively, he didn't allow a single touchdown or commit one penalty all year.

    Hayward normally guards slot receivers when opposing teams line up with at least three wide receivers. San Francisco isn't likely to utilize many three wide receiver sets with all the injuries to its wide receiver corps. 

    It'll be interesting to see who Hayward matches up against, as well as whether Colin Kaepernick tries to attack the talented rookie.

Michael Crabtree Is the Most Dangerous Receiver on the Field

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    Green Bay may have the superior receiving corps, but the wideout with the best chance of taking over this game wears No. 15 for San Francisco.

    Michael Crabtree exploded for 538 yards and four touchdowns in the final five games of the regular season.

    His regular-season totals of 85 catches, 1,105 receiving yards and nine touchdowns are all career highs.

    In San Francisco's 30-22 win over Green Bay in Week 1, Crabtree led the 49ers with seven catches and 76 receiving yards.

    Crabtree will be looking to erase the memories of last year's playoffs in which he had just 28 receiving yards in two games combined.

    Expect Tramon Williams to match up with Crabtree on most plays. 

Green Bay's Running Game Nearly as Effective as San Francisco's

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    Of the 710 rushing yards the Packers accumulated since Week 12 (see chart below), Green Bay running backs accounted for nearly 600 of those yards. Whether it's been Alex Green (192), DuJuan Harris (157), Ryan Grant (127) or James Starks (101), the Packers have been able to line up in run formations and pick up about four yards per carry.

    Meanwhile, Frank Gore (383), LaMichael James (125) and the rest of San Francisco's running backs combined for about the same amount of yards as Green Bay's backs in the six-week stretch.

    With 228 rushing yards during this timeframe, Colin Kaepernick is clearly the more dangerous running quarterback. Yet despite two 50-yard runs for the second-year signal-caller during this stretch, San Francisco only averaged 0.2 yards per carry more than Green Bay did.

    This isn't to say that I believe the Packers will have as much success running the ball as the 49ers will on Saturday. San Francisco has one of the best run defenses in the NFL, whereas Green Bay is in the middle of the pack. 

    Still, Green Bay's running game at least must be accounted for, and it could possibly tip the scales in the Pack's favor, especially if Justin Smith isn't effective.

    Week Opponent Green Bay Opponent San Francisco
    17 Minnesota 72 yards 4.5 YPA Arizona 129 yards 3.5 YPA
    16 Tennessee 117 yards 3.3 YPA Seattle 82 yards 4.3 YPA
    15 Chicago 113 yards 3.5 YPA New England 180 yards 4.6 YPA
    14 Detroit 140 yards 5.6 YPA Miami 166 yards 5.5 YPA
    13 Minnesota 152 yards 4.2 YPA  St. Louis 148 yards 4.1 YPA
    12 NY Giants 116 yards 4.5 YPA New Orleans 144 yards 4.6 YPA
    Total   710 yards 4.2 YPA   849 yards 4.4 YPA

Will Home-Field Advantage Make a Difference?

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    Since October of 2011, the 49ers have lost just two games at home (including the playoffs). Both were to the New York Giants. 

    San Francisco's 13-2-1 record in that stretch includes nine victories by at least 10 points, and its defense allowed just 12.9 points per game.

    Meanwhile, the Packers went just 4-4 on the road this year, although three of those losses were decided by three points or less.

    Still, you'd think that the home crowd might just be the difference in this matchup, unless you remember what Rodgers did in the 2010 playoffs.

    That's when he led the sixth-seeded Packers to three road victories before dominating the Steelers in Super Bowl XLV on a neutral field.

    In that playoff run, Rodgers threw nine touchdown passes and two interceptions, and Green Bay averaged 30 points per game.

    If the Packers can reach the 30-point plateau, they should win this game. If San Francisco can hold Green Bay closer to 13 points, it should have enough firepower to advance. 

    The Candlestick crowd has historically aided the 49ers defense, but Rodgers might be immune to its effects.

     

    Follow @JoeyAkeley on Twitter.

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