The breakdowns and the analyses of this game seem never-ending. Yet the only analysis you need is this: If the Packers are to escape with a win, it will be because Aaron Rodgers is special.
Period. End of discussion.
If Rodgers is elite on Saturday, nothing else will matter. If he plays the way he did two years ago in the divisional round on a Saturday night on the road in Atlanta, then regardless of what the 49ers do, the Packers will head to the 2013 NFC Championship game.
The situation the Packers will walk into Saturday night is eerily similar to the one they walked into in Atlanta during their Super Bowl run following the 2010 season.
Green Bay entered the game as the underdog against the 13-3 Falcons and ended it as the Super Bowl favorite—thanks to Rodgers' masterful performance. He completed 31-of-36 passes for 366 yards and three touchdowns and rushed for a score in what ended up being a 48-21 rout.
Now I'm not saying Rodgers will need a repeat of that performance to beat San Francisco, but he will need to remind us why he is considered by many to be the best player in the NFL.
We can talk about how important it is for Green Bay to stop the run or win the turnover battle. How it needs strong play from its offensive line and secondary, or how Colin Kaepernick will play in his first-ever playoff game as a starting quarterback, or whether 49ers defensive end Justin Smith is healthy.
But none of those is as important as the play of Rodgers.
In seven career playoff starts, when Rodgers plays well, the Packers win.
In two career playoff losses, he has averaged 343 passing yards per game while accounting for seven total touchdowns and four turnovers.
With Rodgers, the turnovers are key.
In playoff games in which Rodgers did not turn over the ball, the Packers are 4-0. Yet in the three playoff games he has started and turned over the ball, the Packers are just 1-2.
Thus, if the 2011 MVP is at his best and avoids turnovers, expect Green Bay to walk away with a win.
The 49ers may have more star power than the Packers (with seven Pro Bowl selections this year compared to just three for Green Bay), a more physical defense, a better running game and home-field advantage, but the Packers still have the best player on the field in Rodgers.
That still counts for something.
In the end, it will all come down to Rodgers, the former University of California quarterback who dreamed of one day becoming a 49er.
He would not have it any other way.
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