The San Francisco 49ers are a very talented football team, but it will take a lot, even at home, for them to beat the Green Bay Packers.
Green Bay possesses Aaron Rodgers, the 2011 NFL MVP and the Super Bowl 45 MVP. Rodgers threw 39 touchdowns and eight interceptions in the regular season, and he has the potential to shred a defense, even the 49ers defense.
That's not to say Colin Kaepernick, Patrick Willis and the 49ers can't win, though. They have a wealth of talent and the ability to win it all. But to win it all, they must beat the Packers.
But how will they take down Green Bay? Here are four keys to success for the men in red and gold.
Aaron Rodgers is great at avoiding sacks, but he has been sacked 51 times this year, the most in the NFL.
The Packers have a horrible offensive line, and the 49ers have a talented defensive line. Aldon Smith and Justin Smith anchor the D-line, and while Justin has been hurt, he will be fine for Saturday night. Justin doesn't pile up on sacks, but he bulldozes lineman and takes up at least one to allow more space for Aldon.
San Francisco also blitzes linebackers and cornerbacks, and they gave the Packer O-line a hard time when the teams met in Week 1. Sending more guys makes life easier for the Smiths, but it also increases the already high risk of Rodgers finding an open man on a short pass. Rodgers is a very smart, strong and mobile quarterback, and he is accurate when throwing from any spot on the field.
Rodgers won't be intimidated, but he can be limited. Both Smiths can have a field day, but the secondary needs to do it's job. Rodgers is a great player, and he won't let up at all. It will take a consistent effort through four quarters for the 49ers.
The 49ers have struggled on special teams lately, and they know better than anyone how costly bad special teams can be.
Kyle Williams cost them last year, and the kicking game has not been good this year. Ted Ginn Jr. looks scared when returning punts, and if he muffs a punt and/or the kicker (either the erratic Billy Cundiff or the also erratic David Akers) misses a field goal, San Francisco can be in trouble.
Last year, in the NFC Championship, the defense harassed Eli Manning, and Alex Smith threw two touchdowns. However, because of Williams' blunders, the 49ers lost at home. That could very well happen again, even if the offense does it's part and the defense does too. Special teams controls a lot.
Green Bay has an erratic kicker in Mason Crosby, but Akers has missed a kick in three straight games and five of six. Cundiff isn't any better, and it will be crucial that the 49ers don't leave anything in the hands of their kicker or punt returner. Andy Lee is a great punter, but very rarely do you see a game left in the hands of a punter.
Don't expect special teams to kill the 49ers, but expect it to play a part. If the 49ers can't find success on special teams, their chances of winning definitely go down.
Colin Kaepernick has lots of talent, but there is a simple way to make him even more effective.
Ever since Kaepernick got inserted into the starting lineup, offensive coordinator Greg Roman has gotten pass-happy and abandoned the stellar running game that got the 49ers to this point. Frank Gore is a spectacular running back, and while he isn't as effective in the option, LaMichael James has the explosiveness needed to complement Kaepernick. However, Gore can break tackles, and he averaged 4.7 yards per carry this year.
If Roman abandons the run and goes into panic mode, Green Bay's 17th-ranked run defense won't have to worry about the ground game and the man who averaged seven yards per carry and scored a touchdown against them in Week 1. They will be able to contain Kaepernick and win the game.
With Gore as a threat too, windows will be opened up for Kaepernick. He is a deep threat, so if Green Bay keys in too much on the run, the 49ers can try and catch them off-balance with a deep pass. It will make things way easier for the 49ers, and it will give a defense that was known last year as one of the worst pass defenses in NFL history a tough, tough time.
When you think of loud stadiums, the Seahawks usually come to mind. But the 49ers can make Candlestick Park rock too.
Last year's playoff games at Candlestick were tough games for the opponents', and the 49ers can make this game the same. It won't be easy for the Packers to jump out ahead and drown out the crowd, and with the crowd on their side, the 49ers can build some early momentum and seize the early advantage.
San Francisco took a 17-0 lead on the Saints in the Divisional Game last year, and the crowd was a factor. They relinquished that lead, but that probably won't happen again. Green Bay will probably have to abandon the run and put it all on Rodgers and the offensive line, and if a turnover is forced because of the poor offensive line, it could break the Packers.
The 49ers can definitely go on top early, if they want Kaepernick to go deep early and it works or if they are balanced and keep the Packers off-balance. They need to get going from the start, though, if they want to beat Green Bay, because Roman's play-calling is definitely a concern when playing from behind.
Can the 49ers come back and win if needed? Yes. Is it likely? No.