WIth just two more days until the Green Bay Packers and San Francisco 49ers take the field at a frigid Lambeau Field, we have a few more previews for you here at Acme Packing Company to get you ready for the Wild-Card game.
In conjunction with Niners Nation, each blog came up with reasons why their team will win and lose Sunday's game for each team's offense and defense. Here are the ways we think our respective teams can win on Sunday, and make sure to head over to NN this afternoon to see how we think our teams would lose the game.
Why the Packers Will Win
With a full slate of playmakers ready to go on Sunday, the Packers' offense is the rival of any in the NFL. Aaron Rodgers brings with his healed collarbone the legitimate passing threat he has always been, and Randall Cobb's return gives him the quick, shifty, versatile slot receiver that is so critical in today's NFL. Cobb's return also allows Jordy Nelson to shift back outside, where he works best in single coverage on hitches and deep crosses.
The running game has finally found a solid balance between the bludgeoning Eddie Lacy and the more explosive James Starks, and the Packers will likely ride their streak of three straight 150-yard rushing days as a team to help Rodgers be effective off play-action for big gains. With all these factors in play, the Packers' offense is capable of scoring early and often on any defense.
Takeaways will be critical, and the Packers defense has recorded at least two in each of its last five games and 12 total over that span. Timely turnovers will be critical, as the team has been giving up yardage aplenty in recent games, so it will be crucial to get off the field quickly and not allow the Niners to take control of the game early. A strong pass rush will be critical to forcing bad throws from Colin Kaepernick or stripping the ball from his grasp.
If the Packers do give up big chunks of yardage, they will need to stand firm in the red zone as they have in recent weeks and hold the 49ers to field goals instead of touchdowns. That ability helped the Packers keep the first half against Dallas from getting out of hand and ultimately kept the Cowboys' lead "small" enough that the team could rally for a win in the second half, and it could be equally important on Sunday.
Why the 49ers Will Win
The 49ers offense will put the team in position to win this game if they attack the Packers secondary early and often. In the cold weather it's often about establishing the run, but as we saw in Week 1, the Packers could very well be content to sell out against the run and force Colin Kaepernick to beat them with his arm. I think the Packers adjust from Week 1, but I still think the 49ers will need to establish the passing game from the get-go.
The big difference this time around is the return of Michael Crabtree. The 49ers have three serious weapons in the passing game, which is a first for them in the Jim Harbaugh era. Previously it was Michael Crabtree, Vernon Davis, and whatever else they could scrounge together. This season, the team added Anquan Boldin. With Michael Crabtree back from his Achilles injury, the team has the weapons in place to diversify their attack. If they can spread out the Packers defense, this is an instance where it opens up the ground game, it opens up running lanes for Kap.
The 49ers defense can win this game if they can pressure Aaron Rodgers. Eddie Lacy presents a threat all his own, but injuries in the secondary could leave the 49ers in a bit of trouble. Carlos Rogers is working back from a hamstring strain, and missed the first two days of practice this week. His backup, Eric Wright, is dealing with a hamstring strain of his own that happened during practice. If they can't go, Perrish Cox (released earlier this year, and signed again this week) and rookie Darryl Morris would need to step up.
The 49ers secondary has been thrashed in recent weeks, and part of that has been a lack of noticeable pass rush. The 49ers absolutely need to figure out ways to get pressure on Rodgers and force him out of his comfort zone. I suspect we see some extra blitzing early on, but the 49ers have kept things relatively close to the vest the last few weeks.