Prior to the 2012-13 NFL season, the Green Bay Packers and San Francisco 49ers were considered two of the favorites in the NFC. So it should come as no surprise that the two teams will meet in the divisional round of the playoffs Saturday.
What few could have predicted is that Colin Kaepernick, not Alex Smith, would lead the 49ers against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers.
Born in Chico, Calif., Rodgers grew up a 49ers fan and heading into the 2005 NFL draft, it appeared he could be on his way to San Francisco. However, the 49ers chose Smith with the No. 1 pick and Rodgers was selected 24th overall by the Packers.
Kaepernick, on the other hand, was born in Packers country. Kaepernick's first home was Milwaukee, Wis., but he moved to California at a young age. In fourth grade, he wrote a later stating he hoped to play for the 49ers or Packers someday (via NFL.com). Kaepernick’s wish came true at the 2011 NFL draft when the 49ers selected the quarterback 36th overall.
Kaepernick replaced Smith in Week 10 against the St. Louis Rams after Smith suffered a concussion. He made his first NFL start the following week against the Chicago Bears and has remained the starter ever since.
Kaepernick has thrown for 1,814 yards, 10 touchdowns, three picks and rushed for another five scores this season.
Rodgers is no stranger to the bench. He spent his first three seasons backing up Brett Favre. Rodgers in now in his fifth year as Green Bay’s starting QB and he continues to put up remarkable numbers. This season he finished with 4,295 passing yards, 39 touchdowns and just eight interceptions.
Kaepernick has the advantage of playing at home Saturday, while Rodgers has playoff experience on his side.
In their meeting in Week 1, the 49ers beat the Packers 30-22 in a game where Rodgers wasn’t at his best. The 49ers' defense continued to dominate throughout the season, finishing with the No. 2 scoring defense and the No. 4 passing defense.
Rodgers should have a full group of receivers and tight ends at his disposal as he did against the Vikings. Look for five or more receivers to get at least three receptions, with a number of others being targeted. Last week 10 different Packers had a reception.
Green Bay’s rushing attack has improved significantly since Week 1 and should make a difference in this game. The 49ers’ defense was able to focus solely on Rodgers in Week 1, as the run game was almost a complete non-factor.
With that said, the key for the Packers is still their offensive line. Rodgers was the most-sacked quarterback this season and if healthy, San Francisco’s pass rush can be very effective. However, Aldon Smith and Justin Smith were both limited in practice on Wednesday and Thursday.
Crabtree will likely continue to be Kaepernick’s primary target. Davis, whose production has dropped off in recent weeks, was brilliant in last year’s divisional round game against the New Orleans Saints. Perhaps this is the week when Kaepernick and Davis finally connect.
The key for Kaepernick is making smart decisions with the football, which may mean tucking it and taking off when the opportunity arises. Green Bay’s secondary may give up big chunks of yardage at times, but they can also take the ball away. The Packers were eighth in the NFL this season with 18 interceptions.
Kaepernick’s speed, which was likely a huge factor in making him the starter, will be his greatest asset against Green Bay. For Rodgers, his ability to throw the ball on the run will be crucial, as he looks to avoid the pass rush.
Like Drew Brees and Smith last year, Rodgers and Kaepernick should light it up in what is sure to be a high-scoring affair. Look for both quarterbacks to throw multiple touchdown passes and add one on the ground as well.
This game has the potential to not only be one of the most entertaining games of the weekend, but of the entire playoffs as well.