Packers at 49ers: Bookends

by @steven_lebron

These two teams met in Week 1 of the regular season, with San Francisco winning 30-22 in Lambeau Field. The game was not as close as the final score indicated. Let’s use what happened in that game to give us a sense of how these two teams have changed since.

Expectations coming into the season: Many people expected the 49ers to regress from their performance from last year, though few thought they would have much challenge from the rest of their NFC West counterparts. They were wrong on both. The 49ers retained all their starters on defense and that group came up big. A mid-season quarterback change from Alex Smith to Colin Kaepernick has worked for the most part, though it will be the defense and special teams that will decide how far the 49ers go in these playoffs.

As for the Packers, they were coming off a historic regular season tainted by a home playoff loss to the Giants. The Week 1 loss to San Francisco surprised some, and Green Bay would get off to a slow start before turning it around, and have rounded into a popular pick as Super Bowl contenders again.

David Akers kicks 63-yard field goal: He did in the first game, one of three in the first half, to give the 49ers a 16-7 lead that they wouldn’t relinquish. The rest of the season hasn’t gone as well for Akers, and now he is competing with the Billy Cundiff for the starting kicker spot. The last thing you want is a question mark at that position in the post-season. We’ll see if that comes back to haunt the 49ers.

Randy Moss catches first touchdown pass of the season: At the start of the season, many were thinking about how the Smith-Moss combination would ignite the team’s offense. Now, it’s Kaepernick-Crabtree with a heavy dose of Gore, who’s quietly put together yet another great season. We’ll see how Kaepernick does in his playoff debut.

James Jones catches a touchdown late in the game: And went onto lead the league in touchdown catches this season. The Packers — like the Saints last year, like Warner’s Rams before that — are the sexy pick. They have Rodgers, they have their full set of wide receivers back, and a defense that bends but doesn’t break.

But the home field will make a difference, the 49ers defense — if healthy — will give them an edge — and we’ve seen this year how Rodgers can be taken out of a game when his offensive line can’t protect him (see: at Seahawks, at Giants and their first matchup against San Francisco).

And too often, we get caught up in the team that we remember most recently, the teams that played in the wild card week, and forget how the other teams actually earned their byes. There’s a bias there, this one is a close call, but I like the way this 49ers team is built, and I think when you put it all together, they’re the better overall team.

49ers win 27-21.

What does everybody think?

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