Revenge is a dish best served cold, and on Sunday, it could be frozen by the time it's delivered to the San Francisco 49ers. The No. 5-seed Niners make the trip to Lambeau Field to take on the No. 4-seeded Green Bay Packers in the latest entry in this historic rivalry.
San Francisco has had Green Bay's number in each of the last two seasons. The 49ers won at home against the Packers in last year's divisional round and then won the rematch in Week 1 of this year. It will take a massive effort on the part of the Packers to avoid making it three in a row.
A.J. Hawk made sure to establish that revenge isn't first and foremost on the players' minds when they take the field, per Mike Spofford of Packers.com:
“It’s not like a redemption thing or we’re going to take back what they took from us,” linebacker A.J. Hawk said. “They’ve beat us. They can say whatever they want. They kind of have the crown over us. The good thing is Sunday is a new day for everybody.”
Green Bay received a massive boost in Week 17 when Aaron Rodgers returned and threw for 318 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions in a win over the Chicago Bears. Michael Silver of NFL.com believes that having their star QB back could be the difference for the Packers:
The reason: Aaron Rodgers is back, in a big way, and the effect of his return on the consciousness of his teammates should not be underestimated.
When a team has a transcendent quarterback as its clear-cut leader, and that quarterback is taken away, the psychological adjustment is real and pronounced. The backup might perform well (as Young did in relief of Joe Montana before becoming The Man in San Francisco), and others might raise their games to compensate, but it is very hard to feel whole.
The 49ers got some help of their own earlier in the season when Michael Crabtree made his return. Colin Kaepernick has seen a marked improvement in his completion percentage since having his No. 1 target back.
Colin Kaepernick: 62% completion pct since Michael Crabtree's return from injury; had 57% comp pct in first 11 games— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 2, 2014
Sunday's game should be a tight affair, with little separating the two teams.
When: Sunday, Jan. 5, at 4:40 p.m. ET
Where: Lambeau Field, Green Bay, Wis.
Betting Line: San Francisco -2.5 (via Covers)
|Goodwin, Jonathan||C||Not Injury Related||DNP||FP||FP||Probable|
How Will Cold Weather Affect Game?
If you're planning on attending this game in person, you may want to take a jacket. The Weather Channel is predicting temperatures in the single digits, and it's gonna feel like minus-23 degrees.
Lambeau Field looks like a barren wasteland heading into the weekend.
There's little doubt about how the Packers will perform offensively and whether or not the weather will adversely affect them. Their players have built up a tolerance to the cold by now, and Rodgers has plenty of experience in snowy, windy temperatures.
In addition, Eddie Lacy is the kind of power back who thrives in cold, ugly games, so he provides sufficient help for Rodgers.
You'd think that the 49ers would be ill-equipped to handle cold temperatures. Although the temperatures in San Francisco aren't scorching, they're often a far cry from those in Green Bay, especially around this time of the year.
Making the adjustment to such frigid weather can cause problems for players who have become used to playing on the West Coast.
However, the 49ers have an offense that should perform well when the mercury drops. It doesn't execute a lot of long passing plays downfield, and Kaepernick has found a groove with short, quick passes over the middle and to the sidelines.
His arm is strong enough so that his throws should be unaffected for the most part.
The 49ers also have Frank Gore, who, like Lacy, thrives in physical football games where the pace of the game has been slowed down.
San Francisco should be just fine, but conditions may get extreme enough that Kaepernick and Co. could run into problems.
Can the Packers Defense Hold Up?
When these teams met back in Week 1, Kaepernick went off. He had 412 yards passing and three touchdowns. It's the only time all season he's eclipsed 400-plus yards, and those three TDs tied for his single-game high in 2013.
There was also the divisional round matchup, when Kaepernick ran for a playoff-record 181 yards and two touchdowns.
Something about Green Bay brings out the best in the 49ers QB.
You can count on the fact that Kaepernick won't set any records on Sunday, but he won't have to in order for San Francisco to advance to the next round.
The Packers have one of the worst defenses in the league. They're giving up an average of 372.3 yards a game (25th in the league), which breaks down to 247.3 yards through the air (24th) and 125.1 yards on the ground (25th).
Football Outsiders is even harsher on Green Bay, ranking the Packers 31st in defensive DVOA.
Even in a game such as this, it's important to be able to rely on your defense. Head coach Mike McCarthy knows exactly how much is riding on his defensive stars, per ESPN.com's Rob Demovsky:
But the defense needs to play its best game of the year. We need to improve off of how we’ve performed here in the past. Offense, we need to get better, too. There’s improvement coming off of our last performance that we can be better, and definitely on special teams.
If the 49ers have long, time-consuming offensive drives, the Packers will be in major trouble.
It's hard to look past the 49ers. As noted previously, they don't have a real vertical offense, so playing in cold weather will suit them just fine. That Week 14 win over the Seattle Seahawks drove home just how good San Francisco can be when it comes to the physical side of the game.
Although having Rodgers back is nice for the Packers, it doesn't cover up how bad that defense has been. You wouldn't consider the Niners electric, but they've got more than enough weapons to move the ball and score enough points against Green Bay.
Prediction: San Francisco 28, Green Bay 20