Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers came back from an injury last week to lead Green Bay past Chicago in a game that decided the NFC North title. (Reuters)
The Green Bay Packers may benefit from brutally cold weather in today’s playoff game against San Francisco, but the 49ers are the NFL’s hottest team and have warm memories of their recent clashes with the Packers.
The teams, two of the NFL’s glamour franchises, will be meeting for the fourth time since the start of the 2012 campaign, with San Francisco winning the last three encounters and their final six games of the regular season.
Green Bay (8-7-1), however, have hopes for a special playoffs run in the return of quarterback Aaron Rodgers, the Most Valuable Player of the Packers’ Super Bowl triumph in 2011.
Rodgers, who missed seven games with a broken collarbone, came back and showed his magic last Sunday when he threw a 48-yard touchdown pass with 38 seconds remaining to clinch the NFC North title in a do-or-die, 33-28 win over the Chicago Bears.
He thinks the elements could be in the Packers’ favor.
“Winter is coming. It’s here. It’s here in Green Bay,” said Rodgers about forecasts of near zero Fahrenheit (-18 C) temperatures for Sunday’s game.
“We do practice in it, live in it. I think we’re going to be better adapting to it initially. But once the game starts, it’s about who can execute in the cold weather. It does some different things to the football.”
San Francisco (12-4) quarterback Colin Kaepernick could not be blamed for eagerly awaiting his return to the gridiron against the Packers’ porous defense.
In last year’s 45-31 win in the second round of the playoffs against Green Bay, the long-striding Kaepernick rushed for an NFL record 181 yards with two touchdowns en route to the Super Bowl.
In their opening game match-up this season, Kaepernick set a personal best by throwing for 412 passing yards, including three touchdowns, in the Niners’ 34-28 win.
Those two victories came in San Francisco, while this one will be played on the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field, not far from Kaepernick’s birthplace of Milwaukee.
San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh does not think the conditions will faze his team, which boasts the NFL’s fifth-ranked defense. Green Bay was rated 25th in the 32-team league.
“We try to keep it pretty simple here,” said Harbaugh. “We’re gonna take our best players and come to you guys and see if that’s better than your best players. Keep it as simple as we can.”
San Francisco is on the road as a wild card as Seattle (13-3) won the NFC West. But the 49ers are loaded with talent, tying the NFL lead with eight players selected to the Pro Bowl including linebackers Navorro Bowman, Ahmad Brooks and Patrick Willis.
But Rodgers, helped by the bruising running of rookie Eddie Lacy, is capable of neutralizing any match-up.
“At this point, you don’t care who you play,” says 49ers wide receiver Anquan Boldin, who helped beat San Francisco last year in the Super Bowl while with the Baltimore Ravens.
“At this point, all teams are good. If not, they wouldn’t be in the playoffs.”