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NFC Divisional Round Game 1: Green Bay Packers at San Francisco 49ers

The Green Bay Packers head to the West Coast as three point underdogs against the San Francisco 49ers in one of the tightest playoff games in recent football history. Strong and legitimate cases can be made for both sides, and football’s prediction makers seem to be split almost evenly on what the final outcome will be. The reason this game is tougher to predict than most is simple: it can’t be boiled down to a single matchup or team weakness. There are so many factors at play: the return and health of San Francisco 49ers defensive lineman Justin Smith, the Packers’ offensive line’s ability to hold up against both Justin and Aldon Smith, the health of the Packers’ receiving core, the effectiveness of Frank Gore against a Packers’ defense that will see a fully healthy Charles Woodson and Clay Matthews on the field, and even more. There’s a million little factors to this game, but as always, it will most likely come down to stellar quarterback play.

First year starter Colin Kapernick has had a good year for the Niners, getting it done on the ground and through the air. However, he’s got nothing on Aaron Rodgers, who will be playing against the team he rooted for growing up – and dramatically passed on him for the number one overall pick in 2005 in favor of Alex Smith. Yikes.

“Aaron Rodgers is a great quarterback,” Kaepernick said. “You see what he does on the field and you see performances he’s been having, so you can’t say enough about the guy. We’re going to have to go out and put up points.”

Green Bay’s pass defense has been troublesome at times this season despite being ranked 11th overall in the league, though one of the only legitimate weapons left in the Niners passing attack after Mario Manningham’s knee injury is Michael Crabtree, finally having a breakout year. Superstar tight end Vernon Davis has been completely unable to click with Kaepernick thus far, catching balls for only 61 yards and no touchdowns in the past six games. “I’ll just wait for my opportunities. I’m sure they will come,” Davis said. “I said the same thing last year, even though I didn’t get the ball as much as I wanted last year, I said my opportunities will come. And maybe I’ll get them this week.”

As if this game needed another element added to it, both teams could be in serious trouble if it comes down to kicking. The 49ers brought in free agent kicker Billy Cundiff during their off week to compete with incumbent starter David Akers, a move you almost never see in the NFL. Mason Crosby, the Packers kicker, was even shakier a few weeks ago, with real buzz that he was going to be cut from the Packers’ roster completely. However, he has rounded back into shape in recent weeks, though the doubts about him remain. By any estimation, this game will likely come down to a score less than a touchdown, so the condition of the placekickers may play a crucial role in the match’s final outcome.

As good as both of these teams are, I absolutely love the Packers at +3 here. Aaron Rodgers, a man who very publically holds grudges, will bring the heat against the team that passed him up, and his wildly dangerous group of receivers is as healthy as they’ve been all season. For the 49ers, they must hope that defense tackle Justin Smith is healthy. He ties up several offensive lineman at a time and clears the lane for Aldon Smith to rush the passer; without him in the lineup, Aldon Smith is merely average. I love the Packer to win this one.

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