49ers vs. Packers: How Green Bay Can Pull off Upset over San Francisco

Chris Roling@@Chris_RolingFeatured ColumnistDecember 31, 2013

CHICAGO, IL - DECEMBER 29: Running back Eddie Lacy #27 of the Green Bay Packers carries the ball against the Chicago Bears during a game at Soldier Field on December 29, 2013 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

One half of the NFC Wild Card Round is a rematch of a 2013 regular-season game as the Green Bay Packers host the San Francisco 49ers at Lambeau Field.

The miracle run is complete for the Packers (8-7-1) as quarterback Aaron Rodgers returned in Week 17 to help defeat the Chicago Bears and claim the NFC North title.

But the opponent is San Francisco (12-4), arguably the NFL's hottest team. The 49ers enter the battle on a six-game win streak, surviving a Week 17 scare against the 10-win Arizona Cardinals.

Given current momentum and overall records, the Packers can very much be classified as an underdog at home. There are several key factors the Packers must take care of in order to pull off the upset.

Keep Frank Gore in Check

GREEN BAY, WI - OCTOBER 06:  Mike Neal #96 of the Green Bay Packers reacts with A.J. Hawk #50 to a stop of Reggie Bush #21 of the Detroit Lions for a loss during the first quarter at Lambeau Field on October 6, 2013 in Green Bay, Wisconsin.  (Photo by Har
Harry How/Getty Images

Green Bay cannot allow San Francisco running back Frank Gore to run wild.

Gore has not done much of that lately, having rushed for more than 100 yards in just two of his last 11 games. In Week 17 against Arizona, he rushed 13 times for 14 yards.

Dec 23, 2013; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers running back Frank Gore (21) carries the ball against the Atlanta Falcons in the final regular season game at Candlestick Park. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

But Gore is due for a big game. The much-maligned Packers defense that ranks No. 25 with an average of 125 rushing yards allowed per game can ill-afford to ignore Gore.

The Packers have every reason to do so given Gore's recent performance and the fact it was Colin Kaepernick and the aerial assault that torched them for 412 yards and three touchdowns in the 34-28 loss in Week 1.

Interestingly enough, when the 49ers knocked the Packers out of the postseason a year ago, Kaepernick used the read-option and ripped up the defense on the ground. San Francisco then flipped the script to open the season.

If San Francisco chooses to do so once more, the Green Bay defense has to be ready.

Dominate Third Down

CHICAGO, IL - DECEMBER 29: Randall Cobb #18 of the Green Bay Packers catches the game winning catch during the fourth quarter as Zack Bowman #38 of the Chicago Bears defends him on December 29, 2013 at Soldier Field in Chicago, Illinois. The Green Bay Pac
David Banks/Getty Images

Green Bay head coach Mike McCarthy understands that the Packers primarily lost the opening game of the season because of issues on third down. He said to the media, as captured by the team's Twitter account:

In that contest, the Packers allowed the 49ers to hit a 9-of-18 mark on third downs, which is a great mark at the professional level given the number of opportunities. Green Bay can do better in this regard by keying on Gore and not giving up major yardage on the first two downs in each series.

While McCarthy focused on the defensive side of the third-down spectrum, the offense needs to learn from its Week 1 performance, too. The unit managed a 4-of-10 line when the chains needed moving.

This time around, the Packers will be without tight end Jermichael Finley, who caught five balls for 56 yards and a score in Week 1. To help make conversions easier, the Packers must rely on rookie back Eddie Lacy, who carried the ball just 14 times for 41 yards and a score. 

Remain Resilient

Dec 29, 2013; Chicago, IL, USA; Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) takes the field before the game against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports
Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

This will be the fourth meeting between the two teams since the start of the 2012 season.

Green Bay has yet to win in that span.

But this has to feel different for both sides this time around.

Green Bay has survived Seneca Wallace, Scott Tolzien and Matt Flynn. No team wants to play the Packers. One high-ranking scout for another NFC playoff team said anonymously to Tom Pelissero of USA Today: "Been hoping they get knocked out for weeks."

In fact, the Packers have been playing playoff football for weeks. Granted, most of those have been without Rodgers under center, but the point stands. McCarthy puts it best, per the team's official site: “Playoff football is different. I’m thankful we’ve had a chance to play in these types of games. We’ve been playing playoff-like football. We’ll be ready to go."

Green Bay has remained resilient and essentially been in playoff games the past few weeks. But now Rodgers is back, and as fans surely know, anything is possible with him under center.

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