|When healthy Clay Matthews is one of the NFL’s most feared pass rushers|
The final game on Wild Card weekend features two teams who also squared off in the play-offs last season. Green Bay lost to San Francisco that time around as the 49ers marched towards the Superbowl and although they ultimately lost that game to the Ravens a star was born in quarterback Colin Kaepernick. After destroying the Packers with his legs last post-season Kaepernick then defeated them with his arm in week one of this campaign, but if he’s to make it a three-peat he’ll have to perform in sub zero temperatures this evening in a head to head with the fit again Aaron Rodgers.
San Francisco 49ers (12-4) @ Green Bay Packers (8-7-1)
4.40 (ET) Kick Off
When San Francisco has the ball..
The 49ers run the leagues most balanced attack and in fact ran the ball over 52 percent of the time during the regular season, the highest percentage in the NFL. While Frank Gore leads the ground attack Colin Kaepernick has his fair share of yards thanks to his athleticism and subsequent dual threat capabilities. Gore once again topped 1,000 yards and Kaepernick racked up over 500 to compliment the former University of Miami workhorse.
Despite the run orientated nature of the offense it would be dangerous to dismiss the 49ers passing game, with tight end Vernon Davis in particular offering Kaepernick a deep threat. Davis averaged a lofty 16.3 yards per reception in 2013, an astronomical number for a tight end and his 13 touchdowns also showed he’s a threat inside the 20. Off-season acquisition Anquan Boldin immediately became the teams standout wide receiver and his 85 receptions and 1,179 receiving yards led the team.
Clay Matthews has battled injuries throughout this season but he’s as close to 100 percent as he’s going to get and he’s still the player opposing coaches have to game-plan for. His 7.5 sacks led the team despite being well below his usual level of production and he was also able to cause three fumbles, also a team best. The likes of B.J Raji and A.J Hawk are big names but unfortunately their production hasn’t lived up to their reputations. On the outside cornerbacks Sam Shields and Tramon Williams are excellent at playing the ball and have four and three picks on the year, respectively.
When Green Bay has the ball..
Aaron Rodgers came back from his collarbone injury just in time to take Green Bay past Chicago and into the post-season and his second half improvement was ominous for potential play-off opposition. The emergence of Eddie Lacy as a legitimate rushing threat has been perhaps the biggest positive for the Packers on the offensive side of the ball this season and the rookie racked up 1,178 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns on his way to probably being named offensive rookie of the year.
Jordy Nelson put up typically elite numbers, eclipsing 85 receptions and 1,300 receiving yards even without Rodgers throwing him the ball for the majority of the seasons second half. James Jones, Randall Cobb and Jarrett Boykin complete a quartet of weapons out wide that Rodgers can, and does, utilise.
San Francisco’s defense has been one of the best in the NFL for a few years now and that’s primarily thanks to a rock solid middle linebacking core of Navarro Bowman and Patrick Willis. Running the ball on this 49ers defense is no easy task and as a result offenses have a tendency to become one dimensional, enabling Aldon Smith and other pass rushers to tee off on opposing QBs. Safety Donte Whitner is also one of the most physical defensive backs in the NFL and strikes fear into receivers crossing over the middle of the field.
Mason Crosby has bounced back nicely at kicker this season for Green Bay and his strong leg has enabled him to hit on five of seven kicks from over 50 yards. Phil Dawson has been steady if not spectacular for San Francisco in 2013 but what he lacks in leg strength he makes up for with consistency.
The 49ers have had two punts returned for scores against them this season which stands out as a weakness on an otherwise solid special teams unit, while the Packers Micah Hyde has at times looked explosive in the return game and took one punt back to the house in the regular season.