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Wild Card Weekend preview: 49ers-Packers

The NFL regular season is history, and now it's time for teams to enter the playoff fray for Wild Card Weekend, with trips to Divisional Round Weekend on the line. Let's take a closer look at all four games.

San Francisco 49ers at Green Bay Packers, Sunday, 4:40 p.m. ET, FOX


The backstory


Playoff schedule
The first two rounds of the NFL's postseason schedule for the 2013 season were released Sunday night. More ...

The 49ers' 12-4 record snuck up on us. All four losses were to playoff teams. Their only two losses since Week 3 were by four points combined. San Francisco enters the playoffs on a six-game winning streak.

The Packers didn't sneak up on anyone. My preseason Super Bowl champion pick survived Aaron Rodgers' broken collarbone largely because of a watered down NFC North. The offense looked fully back in gear during Rodgers' return last week in Chicago, but the defense steadily has grown worse all season.

This is a rematch of last year's divisional-round coming-out party for Colin Kaepernick, and a Week 1 shootout that the 49ers won 34-28. The Packers finally have the running game that coach Mike McCarthy wants, but Green Bay is in danger of settling into a tier below the NFC's best. They didn't beat a team this season that made the playoffs.

Under pressure


Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers: The veteran coach could be fighting for his job. Green Bay entered last offseason focused on defensive improvement, especially against the 49ers' read option. They held San Francisco to only 2.8 yards per play in Week 1 when the 49ers ran the read option, but the defense has sagged badly otherwise. They gave up more points than any team that made the playoffs.

The team's safety play has been atrocious. That's especially bad news against Vernon Davis and a 49ers offense that excels at making plays down the seams. Davis has four 100-yard receiving performances and five receiving touchdowns in five career playoff games.

It's a poor matchup for the Packers in many respects. They don't have much of a pass rush with Clay Matthews out with a thumb injury. B.J. Raji has not played particularly well of late. The Packers get pushed around too often up front. And the 49ers' rushing attack is once again a three-pronged attack with Kendall Hunter and LaMichael James increasing their workload behind Frank Gore late in the season.

Matchup to watch


49ers pass rush versus Green Bay offensive line: Rookie left tackle David Bakhtiari has held up reasonably well this season. But this could be his toughest test against Aldon Smith, who is back to his old self after missing much of the season. Smith has averaged more sacks per game than any player in NFL history. The 49ers do a great job testing the opposition's communication with stunts and well-timed creative blitzes. Linebacker Ahmad Brooks and even inside 'backer Navorro Bowman can rush well when asked.

If Rodgers just gets a little bit of time, the matchup advantage favors Green Bay. Even without tight end Jermichael Finley, the Packers boast terrific depth at the skill positions with Randall Cobb back in the mix.

Mind-blowing stats


The 49ers had eight Pro Bowlers this year. The Packers didn't have one. ... The 49ers' lack of depth at wide receiver was a problem for them all year. Kaepernick is the first quarterback in NFL history to throw for at least 20 touchdown passes in a season to only three receivers -- and Michael Crabtree only had one. ... The 49ers are playing their best offensive football entering the playoffs. They haven't turned the ball over since Week 14. They averaged 30 points per game over the last three weeks. The Packers defense, meanwhile, hasn't held a team under 21 points since Week 7. They have given up at least 35 points three times in the last five games.

Kaepernick's play has picked up dramatically late in the season. He has 10 touchdown passes and only one interception in the last six weeks; his passing yards per game was 52 yards higher over that stretch than the first 10 games.

Prediction


Aaron Rodgers gives the Packers a chance to win every week, and their offense is good enough to put up 40 points, even against a strong 49ers defense. But the 49ers are simply the better, more complete team here. They can win in a variety of ways, while the Packers don't have a defense that is playoff-ready. At least not in this loaded NFC.

San Francisco 49ers 31, Green Bay Packers 24

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