After just squeaking by the Arizona Cardinals in Week 17, the fifth seeded San Francisco 49ers (12-4) get a belated Christmas present in Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers in the first round of the postseason.
Pardon the sarcasm, but what a great gift.
While I'm sure the 49ers would have loved to travel to Philadelphia rather than Lambeau field, the current scenario could actually work in their favor.
Get this, if the 49ers and New Orleans Saints move past the first round, the Seattle Seahawks would be waiting for Drew Brees and Co. to arrive in the divisional round. Anything can happen, but this is the scenario many envision.
Regardless of what happens, this matchup in the first round between the Packers and 49ers should be quite interesting. With the recent history between these two teams, can you blame the football Gods for setting up this matchup?
Now, both teams aren't exactly the perfect picture of health, but there are some desirable matchups that could make quite the show.
Here are three matchups to watch in the 49ers' showdown with the Packers.
1. Anquan Boldin-WR vs. Tramon Williams-CB
As many remember, Anquan Boldin started his 49ers career with a big bang. Well, a big, big bang.
Against who you ask? The Packers, of course.
In Week 1 of this season, the 49ers defeated the Packers on the strength of a monster debut by Mr. Boldin. Against an injury ravaged Packers secondary, Boldin posted 13 receptions for 208 yards and a touchdown.
Now, Boldin won't get close to these type of numbers this Sunday; however, his performance in Week 1 brings some optimism heading into Sunday's matchup. To make matters worse for the Packers, Boldin was dominant without star receiver, Michael Crabtree.
Remember, Crabtree was still recovering from an Achilles injury, leaving Boldin to play opposite Kyle Williams. Heck, even Mario Manningham, who is currently on injury reserve, was absent in Week 1.
The Packers will now have to contend with both Boldin and Crabtree through the air. Don't forget Vernon Davis as well.
|Michael Crabtree vs. Opposing Defenses|
The key in all this is the performance of Colin Kaepernick. Will Kaepernick resemble the same guy in Week 1 who threw for over 400 yards?
If Kaepernick is up to the challenge, then Boldin should have a significant advantage over Tramon Williams.
In all likelihood, the Packers will turn to Sam Shields to defend Crabtree. While Crabtree has been solid in his return, he still lacks some burst.
2. Aldon Smith-OLB vs. David Bakhtiari-LT
David Bakhitari has been a revelation this season for Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. With Bryan Bulaga out for the season, the rookie fourth-round pick has stabilized the left side of the Packers line.
The Packers offensive line as a whole has been subpar, ranking near the bottom of the league in sacks allowed, but Bakhitari has been a bright spot.
Bakhitari started the season slow, but his play has picked up considerably as the season has progressed. However, the real test will happen this Sunday against Aldon Smith.
In their last meeting, Aldon Smith recorded 1.5 sacks and, for the most, dominated the Packers offensive line, especially in the second half of that game.
Aaron Rodgers still was able to pass for over 300 yards and three touchdowns, but many of his throws were rushed or hurried. Bakhitari's improvement should help, but just how much?
When you consider Rodgers' sore collarbone, plus the potential inclement weather, this matchup between Bakhitari and Smith could have significant implications on the outcome of this game.
3. Joe Staley-LT vs. Andy Mulumba/Mike Neal-OLB
In normal circumstances, Joe Staley would be matching up with fellow All-Pro Clay Matthews. Considering their sideline clash in Week 1, this was a matchup many were anticipating.
Unfortunately, Matthews re-injured his broken thumb in the Packers' loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 16. While Packers head coach Mike McCarthy hasn't rule out Matthews for the season, common sense dictates the Pro Bowl linebacker will at least be for the majority of the postseason.
Matthews' earlier thumb injury kept him out for four weeks.
Instead, we get to see Staley face off against two backup linebackers. In all likelihood, the Packers will use a rotation centered around Mulumba and Neal to attack the left side of the 49ers line.
It may not matter, however.
The Packers defense, even with Matthews, was struggling mightily. As we speak, Packers fans are wondering how defensive coordinator Dom Capers will try to pressure Colin Kaepernick without his best pass rusher.
The Packers will likely try to cook up some blitz and pressure packages to throw the 49ers offense for a loop. If so, the Packers should look at some game tape of the Cardinals' success at pressuring Kaepernick and Co.
Luckily, fellow B/R writer Matt Bowen is here to breakdown the Cardinals' blitz packages against the 49ers.
Who knows? Maybe the Packers will take note.
In their last three meetings, the 49ers have outscored the Packers, 109-81. Two of the three matchups, the 49ers put at least 30 on the scoreboard. All three games, the 49ers came out victorious.
If the Packers intend to change recent history, they'll have to win the individual matchups, including the few mentioned above.
Regardless of the outcome, when these two teams meet up, we seem to have a shootout on our hands. Outside of the 49ers' 45-31 postseason victory, the matchups have also been relatively close.
We may very well have another one this Sunday.