It's here, NFC fans.
The matchup that we started the season with will help take us to the Super Bowl, and when it boils right down to it, you can't ask for much more from the NFL gods.
Reigning league MVP Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers are on their way back to Candlestick Park to take on the San Francisco 49ers in the second meeting of the two teams this season. The Niners emerged with a 30-22 win in Week 1, but this is the playoffs—anything can happen.
Simulcast in primetime on FOX, Saturday night, should be a great night for fighting. Green Bay is eager to prove that both the first meeting and last year's early playoff exit were flukes, while San Francisco has a new offensive strategy spearheaded by the arrival of QB Colin Kaepernick as the starter over incumbent Alex Smith.
For those reasons and a few more, this matchup of NFC elite pits offense versus defense, a young QB versus a a seasoned vet and two coaches against each other with Super Bowl dreams. Here's a few reasons why you need to tune in to the game tonight—at all costs.
What: Green Bay Packers at San Francisco 49ers
When: Saturday, Jan. 12 at 8 p.m. ET
Where: Candlestick Park; San Francisco, Calif.
Sixteen weeks of an NFL season can really wear you down. It can also help you adapt, change and tweak things that didn't work in losses or failed play calling.
For both of these teams, things are very different than they were in Week 1. For starters, Kaepernick has taken over as the starting QB, and the 49ers offense has more read-option and big-play potential. According to ESPN's Kevin Seifert, the Pack had trouble with that look last week:
Although it was an admittedly small sample size, the Packers gave up an average of 10 yards on the six read-option plays they faced last Saturday against the Minnesota Vikings.
Minnesota did have Joe Webb at QB, who isn't exactly the second-coming of Kaepernick, but he can run the ball and caused trouble for that Green Bay defense—particularly on the opening drive.
The Packers have also changed their style a little bit. Despite having the capability to spread out and beat teams exclusively through the air, the re-emergence of Ryan Grant and youngster DuJuan Harris both playing well has allowed the Pack to focus on the run game more often.
As Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee reports, that might be a good thing for San Francisco and star LB Patrick Willis:
The Packers used so many four-receiver sets - and also used wideout Randall Cobb in the backfield - that the 49ers were forced to play their dime defense for most of the game...If they [Green Bay] continue to dedicate a significant - for them, at least - portion of their offense to the run, Willis will be on the field.
Football is a game of inches, but it's also a game of matchups. Both offenses will prove that on Saturday night.
The Packers and the 49ers have met quite often in the postseason, but it's usually the Pack that comes out on top. Green Bay is 4-1 all-time in postseason play against San Francisco, with the Niners' last win coming in 1998.
As ESPN's Stats and Information reports on Twitter, the opening night win was also rare for San Francisco:
The 49ers have lost 8 of their last 9 vs Packers, but won the last meeting (30-22 in Week 1)— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 8, 2013
Not only do the two teams both have rich Super Bowl histories, starting QBs that live in lore and a trophy case full of accolades, they both have disappointments stemming from last season, when the New York Giants knocked off both en route to a Super Bowl victory.
This time, the only thing standing in the way of an NFC Championship game is each other. That kind of tension is always good for TV.
Defensive Stars Everywhere You Look
Patrick Willis. Charles Woodson. Navarro Bowman. Sam Shields. Justin Smith. Clay Matthews. Dashon Goldson. Aldon Smith. B.J. Raji (OK, maybe I just dig the State Farm commercial).
But seriously, this kind of defensive talent isn't on display anywhere else in football this weekend. You could make an argument that Seattle has some real talent that goes unrecognized, but this San Francisco defense is downright scary, and has been all season.
Justin Smith is a little banged up, and that's a concern, but San Francisco certainly has all the tools to stop this offense on paper.
Green Bay doesn't get much press as a defensive team, but against Minnesota it was lights out. Dezman Moses added to the fireworks, having his way with the Minnesota offensive line en route to a multi-sack day.
As Seifert again reports for ESPN, a healthy Woodson is also a bad thing for opposing teams. All of Green Bay's defensive categories are better with him on the field, and whether that's a result of play-calling or not it doesn't matter—he's good to go for this one.
Alright, we've prepped you on everything to keep can eye on during this Saturday night slug fest. All that's left now is the anticipation to kickoff.
Ethan Grant is a featured columnist for B/R's Breaking News Team.