The 49ers kicked off the 2012 season with a huge win in Green Bay, and made it look relatively easy. Now they have to do it again if they want to earn a trip back to the NFC Championship.
It'll be a slightly different Packer team rolling into San Francisco Saturday though, as they won 9 of their last 11 games of the regular season then man-handled the Minnesota Vikings (who gave the 49ers won of their worst losses of the season) in the Wild Card round last weekend. The Packers, who were banged up and looked way out of synch in week one, have gotten all their key guys back and have had some players emerge over the second half of the season who the 49ers didn't see in week one. Instead of the sluggish Cedric Benson in the backfield, the Pack will display a much more complete duo of Ryan Grant and DuJuan Harris which will force the 49ers to have to game plan against this rushing attack.They really didn't have to do that in week one, it was mainly just contain Aaron Rogers and the passing game but the Packers have a new dimension now. Speaking of Rogers and the passing game, Green Bay has another dangerous weapon who's now fully established on offense in Randal Cobb. Before, he was sort of a punt return and occasional deep-threat, but he was Rogers favorite target throughout the regular season. With Cobb, the improved running game and the plethora of receiving options, this will likely be the best offense the 49ers will have played all year.
Still, even with the Packers improving across the board, the 49ers main goal heading in still has to be to contain Rogers. They did a great job of doing just that in September, and have to bring in that same mentality into this contest. No matter what though, you have to assume the Packers are going to score some points, so ultimately, it's going to be the 49ers offense that's the real key to this game. Colin Kaepernick doesn't have to out-perform Aaron Rogers, but he's got to
make smart decisions and keep the 49ers offense on the field. He's going to have to avoid turning the ball over, and the 49ers are going to need some guys to step up in the passing game, most notably Vernon Davis. Michael Crabtree has been an absolute stud lately, and you have to assume the Packers will likely blanket him with double coverage all day, so Vernon Davis has to open up the middle of the field for Kapernick. Last year, it was Davis who was the only consistent threat in the passing game, but he's really disappeared since Alex Smith lost the starting QB job and has been basically non-existent since his concussion in early December.
I like the 49ers in this one, because of both home field advantage, and the fact they've had some time to heal up and get some players back. Justin Smith should be back and close to 100%, which should give a huge shot in the arm to a defense that sorely missed him while he was out. The one area I'm a little concerned about though is at kicker. Jim Harbough is going to have a tough decision to make with David Akers. On one hand, Akers has all the playoff experience and up until this year, had been the best kicker of the last decade but he's had an epic meltdown over the second half of the season. His range has deteriorated and all of the sudden, we're all holding our breaths on even easiest, chip-shot field goals. I have a feeling this one's going to be close and will come down to the fourth quarter, so the 49ers better have confidence in whoever they trot out there!
Prediction: 49ers 30-Packers 24