The Pack Will Try to Put the 49ers into a Deep Freeze in Their Wild Card Game

Bob FoxContributor IJanuary 3, 2014

GREEN BAY, WI - DECEMBER 23: Green Bay Packers fans with a frozen tundra  hat on during the Tennessee Titans game at Lambeau Field on December 23, 2012 in Green Bay, Wisconsin.  (Photo by Tom Lynn /Getty Images)
Tom Lynn/Getty Images

Postseason football games in Green Bay are always interesting weather-wise, and that definitely seems to be the case this upcoming Sunday, as the 8-7-1 Green Bay Packers will host the 12-4 San Francisco 49ers in a NFC Wild Card Playoff game at frigid Lambeau Field.

The weather forecast for Green Bay on Sunday looks to be extremely cold, at least according to The high is expected to be -5° degrees. Yes, you heard that right, -5°. Seeing as the game will be starting late in the afternoon (3:40 pm local time), the temperature will get much colder as day becomes night, as the expected low is supposed to be -20°.

The wind will also be biting at up to 14 mph, as it whistles through the hallowed stadium built in 1957.

If that holds true, then the game will be second-coldest home game in Green Bay playoff history, only behind the legendary Ice Bowl (1967 NFL Championship game) versus the Dallas Cowboys when it was -13° at kickoff.

In terms of playoff games at Lambeau, the Packers have hosted the 49ers twice in the past, but the weather in those games was almost balmy compared to what the two teams will face on Sunday.

In a 1997 NFC Divisional game against the 49ers, the temperature was 34° at kickoff, as the Packers won 35-14. In a 2001 NFC Wild Card game versus the Niners, the temperature was 28° at kickoff, as the Packers won 25-15.

Overall, the Packers are 16-4 in postseason games in Wisconsin, and are 4-2 lifetime against the 49ers in the postseason.

But the Packers are also 0-3 against the 49ers since the beginning of the 2012 season, including a 45-31 loss last postseason at Candlestick Park.

The Packers will need more than arctic blast to beat the 49ers. They are going to have to make more big plays on 'The Frozen Tundra'.

And you know what? I believe the Packers have an opportunity to do just that.

The main reason is the return of quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers came back last week after being out seven weeks with a fractured clavicle and looked a bit out of sorts in the beginning of the game between the Packers and Bears at Soldier Field.

Rodgers threw two interceptions in the first half of that game, which is very unlike his usual excellent play. But as the game wore on, Rodgers looked much more like the 2011 NFL MVP, as he brought the Packers back to win the game 33-28, as the Packers won the winner-take-all game for the NFC North crown.

No play illustrates that more than the 48-yard touchdown pass Rodgers threw to wide receiver Randall Cobb with 38 seconds to go in the game.

NFL Game Rewind

A lot of things had to go right for that play to work, but everyone did their part, and in the end, the Packers were NFC North champs.

Their reward? A chance to play the 49ers again in the playoffs, this time at Lambeau.

Rodgers has always played well against San Francisco. He is just 2-2 in four regular season games against the Niners, but has thrown 10 touchdown passes versus just two picks for 1,278 yards. That adds up to a 107.8 quarterback rating.

In last year's postseason game against the 49ers, it was the defense which let down the Packers, not Rodgers. No. 12 threw two touchdown passes versus one interception for 257 yards. Not a a great performance by his standards, but better than average, as Rodgers ended up with a 91.5 quarterback rating.

For the Packers to win on Sunday, Rodgers needs to have his quarterback rating over 100. That has become the norm for him, as he has had his quarterback rating for the season over 100 for five straight years now, including this season, when he had a 104.9 rating in nine games.

GREEN BAY, WI - SEPTEMBER 09:  Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers throws a pass during the NFL season opener against the San Francisco 49ers at Lambeau Field on September 9, 2012 in Green Bay, Wisconsin.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Rodgers also has all his weapons at the ready at wide receiver. He not only has Cobb back, but also Jordy Nelson, James Jones and Jarrett Boykin.

The 49ers have been very vulnerable in the secondary recently, and that bodes well for the Packers.

In the last two regulars season games versus the Falcons and the Cardinals, the 49ers allowed Matt Ryan and Carson Palmer to throw for a combined 755 yards.

Additionally, the 49ers also have some injury issues in the secondary as both Carlos Rogers and Eric Wright are nursing hamstring injuries and may not be available to play.

It should be a great test, as the Packers will be bringing the third-ranked offense in the NFL, versus the fifth-ranked defense of the 49ers.

Besides the great passing game that the Packers can bring, Green Bay also has a very potent running attack. When the two teams met in the season opener at Candlestick Park, rookie running back Eddie Lacy was playing in his first NFL regular-season game.

Although Lacy scored a touchdown, he only had 41 yards rushing, plus had his one and only fumble of the season. Since then, Lacy has put up numbers that have to garner support for him winning the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Year.

In the 2013 regular season, Lacy rushed for 1,178 yards and 11 touchdowns. The Packers have a nice one-two combination at running back, as they can also use James Starks, who rushed for 493 yards this season and had three rushing touchdowns.

That running attack, which is ranked seventh in the NFL, will be tested by the 49ers' fourth-ranked rushing defense in the NFL.

Bottom line, I believe the Packer offense will do their share of damage versus the 49er defense and put up a decent amount of points.

The question is, however, can the defense of the Packers do enough to stop quarterback Colin Kaepernick and the 49er offense to win the game?

Kaepernick has had his way with the Packers in their last two games. In last year's playoff win, Kaepernick had 181 yards rushing just by himself and scored two touchdowns, plus threw two more touchdown passes.

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - JANUARY 12:  Quarterback Colin Kaepernick #7 of the San Francisco 49ers runs the ball against nose tackle B.J. Raji #90 of the Green Bay Packers during the NFC Divisional Playoff Game at Candlestick Park on January 12, 2013 in San Fran
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Then in the opening game of this regular season, Kaepernick threw for 412 yards and had three touchdown passes, as the Niners won 34-28.

The Packers must try to find defensive balance to beat Kaepernick and the Niners. The weather should help. Add to that, the passing-offense of the Niners has not been as productive as one might think.

In fact, the 49ers were only ranked 30th in passing offense in the NFL in 2013. Still, the Packers have to be aware of two weapons at receiver for the 49ers.

Veteran wide receiver Anquan Boldin was unstoppable in the opener this season, as he had 13 receptions for 208 yards and one touchdown.

Tight end Vernon Davis also had six catches for 98 yards and two touchdowns.

Now the Niners will have Michael Crabtree available as well, as he is back from his Achilles injury. In last's year's playoff game, Crabtree had nine catches for 119 yards and two touchdowns.

Needless to say, the secondary of the Packers will have their hands full. Green Bay was ranked 24th in pass defense during the 2013 season.

Overall, the defense of the Packers was ranked 25th in total defense in the NFL, and the run defense became an eye sore as the season progressed.

Before the Week 9 contest between the Bears and the Packers, the run defense for Green Bay was ranked fourth in the league. That mark had plummeted to the 25th spot in the NFL by the end of the season.

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - JANUARY 12:  Running back Frank Gore #21 of the San Francisco 49ers runs the ball against the Green Bay Packers during the NFC Divisional Playoff Game at Candlestick Park on January 12, 2013 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Ste
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

The Packers will somehow have to find a way to stop the third-ranked rushing offense of the 49ers, led by Frank Gore. Gore had 1,128 yards rushing and nine touchdowns rushing.

It will not be an easy task for the Packers to do well defensively, as they will be missing a number of key components to their defense.

The biggest loss is outside linebacker Clay Matthews, who broke his thumb for the second time this season in Week 16 versus the Steelers.

Also missing will be defensive back Casey Hayward (hamstring), who normally would play slot cornerback. In addition, defensive end Johnny Jolly (neck) also is not available.

Both Hayward and Jolly on are injured reserve, and all told, the Packers have a whopping 15 players on that list.

This game is going to come down to which team will make the biggest plays. That's why special teams could play a part in the outcome.

Each team has excellent placekickers. Phil Dawson of the 49ers has made 32-of-36 field goal attempts, while Mason Crosby of the Packers has made 33-of-37 kicks.

Punter Andy Lee is still one of best punters in the NFL, as he has a 41.7 net average on his punts and has placed 27 of them inside the opponents 20-yard line.

Tim Masthay of the Packers is also very good, as he has a 39.0 net average with his punts. He has placed 22 of those punts inside the opponents 20-yard line.

The return game could also play a key factor in the game. LaMichael James does both kickoff and punt return duties for the Niners, while rookie Micah Hyde does the same for the Packers.

Like all football games, especially one played in frigid weather, the game will be most likely be determined by turnovers.

The ball will be slick because of the freezing temperatures and both teams must be aware of ball security at all times.

On the surface, the 49ers would appear to have the edge in this category because of their great defense led by inside linebackers Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman.

The San Francisco defense forced 29 turnovers (18 interceptions and 11 fumble recoveries) this season, and had five defensive touchdowns.

Meanwhile, Green Bay forced 22 turnovers (11 interceptions and 11 fumble recoveries) and had two defensive scores.

The good news for the Packers is that their defense has been creating more turnovers as of late.

The Packers have also played three of their last four games in cold weather, while the 49ers have been playing in places like California, Florida and Arizona the last four weeks.

When it's all said and done, I see the Packers upsetting the 49ers on Sunday. I believe they will make more big plays than the 49ers in an extremely chilly environment, one better suited for the Packers.

Call me crazy, but I see the Packers winning 31-28.




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