When the Green Bay Packers kick off the NFC Wild Card game against the San Francisco 49ers Sunday afternoon at Lambeau Field, it may well be the second coldest game ever on the frozen tundra. Don't think it will catch the Ice Bowl with it's kickoff temperature at -13. The 1996 NFC Championship game against Carolina opened at 3 degrees, the final game in 1990 against Detroit was 2 above, the 1993 home finale against the Los Angeles Raiders that clinched Mike Holmgren's first playoff berth and hatched the Lambeau leap, checked in at 0 and the 2007 NFC Championship game against the New York Giants started with the thermometer at -1, and got painfully colder by the time that overtime interception was thrown, are all in jeopardy. The high on Sunday is projected at zero and there's nowhere to go but down.
Can the 8-7-1 Packers warm the hearts of those shivering fans by springing the upset against the 12-4 and 2 and a half point favorite San Francisco 49ers? Sure they can. Mike McCarthy's offense will be missing only one key ingredient, tight end Jermichael Finley. They've functioned just fine without him since late October. The return of Aaron Rodgers and Randall Cobb last week gave McCarthy his full compliment of perimeter weapons. Another key factor is the Packers are now an accomplished running team. Eddie Lacy has turned into a bull of an NFL back, smashing and tugging his way to over 1100 yards on the season. If they remain effective on the ground and throw off play action and quarterback movement to elude the 49er pass rush, they should be able to score against a formidable defense. The Niners finished in the top ten almost across the board defensively but the Packers have averaged 27 points a game in the last three meetings, all losses.
They've dropped all three because the defense gave up 30, 45 and 34 points in those games. To have any chance at all, coordinator Dom Capers has to come up with a plan that neuters the bevy of playmakers in red and gold. They simply got fooled by Colin Kaepernick's legs in the playoff rout at the Stick a year ago. Yes, the read option was hard to deal with but his first touchdown run came from a broken pocket, the go ahead 56 yard scamper was an untouched option run. After spending the off-season trying to get a handle on the read option, the Packers did very well against the run in this year's opener but Kaepernick crossed 'em up again by throwing for more than 400 yards against a littered secondary, playing without Morgan Burnett. Anquan Boldin had a monster game, 13 catches for 208 yards and now he has Michael Crabtree running alongside. Lest we forget Vernon Davis. Capers' pass defense will be taxed. The best way to help that unit will be to force the 49ers to throw by winning on first and second downs. If San Francisco gets the offense into a groove, it'll be trouble.
Field position will also play a big role. The kicking and return game yardage will create long or short fields, the longer the better. If the Pack's cover units continue to struggle, points may come too easy.
What are the guys saying about the cold, the plan and the matchups? Listen for yourself:
On talent alone, the Packers offense and the 49ers defense is a push in my opinion. Can't say the same about the San Francisco offense against the Green Bay defense, especially without Clay Matthews and Johnny Jolly. The 49ers had 8 players elected to the Pro Bowl, the Packers had none. San Francisco has won three straight against the Pack, two of them convincingly. Unless a magic wand has indeed come from the heavens to touch Team 93 to turn their unlikely Division Title winning season into something much more.....logic tells me the dream will die hard in the frost bitten environment of Lambeau Sunday night. I like the 49ers to win 30-27.