By Gabe Schapiro
Playoff football is upon us, and for the San Francisco 49ers the quest for six begins in the not-so-friendly confines of the Frozen Tundra. They’ll be taking on the Green Bay Packers, this Sunday at 1:40pm, at the legendary Lambeau Field. On the final day of the regular season the Packers clinched the NFC North title with a win over the Chicago Bears. The 49ers head into the playoffs as the fifth seed, after winning a Wild Card spot.
In Green Bay, San Francisco will be taking on a team that has and continues to battle injuries, and went through several ups and downs this season. On the bright side for the 49ers, star linebacker Clay Matthews has already been ruled out for the contest. On the not-so-bright side for the 49ers, last weekend the Packers got back the face of their franchise, quarterback Aaron Rodgers. In addition, talented wideout Randall Cobb is also back and is already making an impact.
With Rodgers, Green Bay has a lethal offense. They lost tight end Jermichael Finley earlier this season, but are still loaded with weapons; namely Jordy Nelson, James Jones, and rookie of the year candidate, Eddie Lacy. Despite being without Rodgers for eight games, as a unit they still finished tied for eighth in the league in points scored. They were ranked sixth in passing yards, and in a new development, thanks in large part to Lacy, they ranked seventh in rushing.
Their big weakness is on defense. They’re missing multiple starters, and have been shaky much of the season. They gave up the ninth most points this season, the ninth most passing yards, and the eighth most rushing yards.
Finally, the last potential cause of concern for the 49ers, will be the harsh elements. As of this writing the expected high temperature this Sunday in Green Bay is a freezing -5. No, that’s not a typo. Add in wind chill, and the forecast is calling for Ice Bowl-esque numbers of -30 degrees or lower. It is expected to be one of the coldest games in NFL history.
The Packers are more accustomed to dealing with such frigid weather, but when you’re talking about record-breaking levels of cold, both teams will certainly be feeling the ill effects. I wouldn’t expect it to be a major factor to swing the odds in either direction.
With such bad conditions, look for the winner to be the squad who makes the least mistakes, and establishes the better running game. Thankfully for San Francisco, in the regular season they topped the Packers in both categories.
In addition, of late the 49ers have just had the Packers number. You can throw numbers and everything else out the window, that’s just been the trend. Back in Week 1, San Francisco came away with a 34-28 win over Green Bay. In last years divisional round, these foes faced off, and again the 49ers were victorious, 45-31. Colin Kaepernick has struggled at times this season, but you’d think he was the best QB on the planet if you were just looking at the last two times he faced off with the Packers.
The normal high-scoring affair expectations might need to be tempered because of the conditions. I would expect both sides to lean more heavily on their run game. And generally speaking, that plays in the favor of the 49ers. They have a strong run game, and a significantly better run defense.
With all of that said, anything can happen in the playoffs. Expect the cold, expect some snow, and expect the unexpected.