NFL Divisional Playoffs - Jan. 12-13

Ravens vs Broncos | Texans vs Patriots | Packers vs 49ers | Seahawks vs Falcons

No. 3 Green Bay Packers (11-5) at No. 2 San Francisco 49ers (11-4-1)

Saturday, January 12 - 8pm et/5pm pt on CTV

Rodgers returns to native Northern California leading Packers against 49ers

SAN FRANCISCO (AP)-- The anxiety-filled green room and draft day seem so long ago now to Aaron Rodgers.

Still, on this weekend, any lingering feelings of frustration about how far he dropped will be directed right at the team that passed him up with the No. 1 pick nearly eight years ago.

Rodgers brings the high-scoring Green Bay Packers (12-5) to Candlestick Park on Saturday to face No. 2 seed San Francisco (11-4-1) in prime time for a place in the NFC championship game. He'll take the field in the very venue where he became a regular fan as a boy rooting for Hall of Famers Jerry Rice and Steve Young.

Watch the game on CTV and tonight at 8pm et/5pm pt.

Rodgers, who appeared in a preseason game at Candlestick in 2008, will play his first meaningful game at the stadium at last, as an eighth-year pro. He will look to avenge a 30-22 season-opening home loss to the 49ers.

"It will be fun. I went to a few baseball games there growing up, and saw a game there when I was in college," Rodgers said. "Stadium's got a lot of tradition. Looks like we're kind of fortunate with the weather right now. Still wonder what that's going to be like.

"But it will be a night game, it will be loud, it will be a great environment and it should be a good show for the fans."

Rodgers is putting on quite a show, all right.

He returns to Northern California, where he became a college star for California across San Francisco Bay in Berkeley, with a healthy cast of receivers and the swagger of a Super Bowl champion.

When Rodgers dropped to No. 24 in the 2005 draft after Alex Smith went No. 1, he was asked about his disappointment. He so matter-of-factly said, "not as disappointed as the 49ers will be that they didn't draft me."

Now, everybody in the Bay Area and beyond will be watching his every move again.

Previous Matchups
Sep. 9, 2012 SF 30 @ GB 22
Dec. 5, 2010 SF 16 @ GB 34
Nov. 22, 2009 SF 24 @ GB 30

He already upset some friends he couldn't accommodate with tickets. Family first, with everybody else making the 4-hour trek from his hometown of Chico left to fend for themselves.

Most important, of course, is getting Green Bay one step closer to another Super Bowl. Last season's chance at a repeat championship came to a screeching halt at the hands of the Giants in this very round at Lambeau Field.

The Giants came to San Francisco the next week and won the NFC title game, 20-17 in overtime.

Just as the Niners moved on from that heartbreaking loss and used it as a motivational push each day this season, the same goes for Rodgers after being slighted by his beloved San Francisco on draft day.

"It's been a long time since the green room," Rodgers said. "I have a lot of good memories growing up watching Steve Young and Joe Montana on TV and the Super Bowl wins and being a 49ers fan. That was a team I enjoyed watching and dreamt about playing for. I'm eight years removed here, and obviously I'm really happy with the situation I'm in."

A lot has changed in that time for San Francisco, too.

The QB the 49ers picked ahead of Rodgers -- Smith -- spent the season's second half on the bench as coach Jim Harbaugh promoted second-year pro Colin Kaepernick. He will make his playoff debut Saturday.

In an odd twist, Kaepernick was born in Milwaukee and adopted before moving to California at age 4. Yes, he began as a toddler Cheesehead, then changed allegiances "when I got drafted," Kaepernick said.

He has never met Rodgers. He still knows plenty.

Even San Francisco's opportunistic, ball-hawking defence realizes just how hard it will be to rattle Rodgers or get him off his game. He hasn't thrown an interception in five straight games and 177 passes. His receiving corps is intact again at last, each of the big four of Greg Jennings, Randall Cobb, Jordy Nelson and James Jones capable of game-breaking catches and career performances.

Jennings has 19 receptions for 226 yards and three touchdowns over the last three games.

The 49ers will need big performances from Aldon Smith and Justin Smith, the defensive pass-rushing menace expected back after he missed the final two regular-season games with a partially torn left triceps. Not to mention their talented seconardy.

Beating some of the NFL's top quarterbacks hasn't proven too much for San Francisco so far. Aside from the win against Rodgers in the opener, the Niners beat Drew Brees in New Orleans and shocked Tom Brady in New England.

"We've played some of the best quarterbacks this year and have done well," linebacker Patrick Willis said. "This Saturday is going to call for our best. We can't afford to not play our best football, play our best defence. There's no tomorrow, there's no next week."

Poll the players and coaches around the 49ers and everybody believes Kaepernick is perfectly ready for his biggest game yet.

"I don't think we're going to see any big eyes," offensive co-ordinator Greg Roman said.

This was the matchup everybody expected in last year's NFC championship game until New York came along and spoiled both teams' plans.

Back in September, San Francisco linebacker Ahmad Brooks said the win at Green Bay might be an "eye opener" and "maybe we'll see them again in the NFC championship."

He was only one week off.

Now, San Francisco wants to make sure it is still standing next week.

"We still feel we're just as good as we were last year," Willis said. "Hopefully this is a new season."

Same sentiments are coming from the Green Bay side. The Packers won three road games on the way to their championship two years ago, so why not keep a good thing going away from Lambeau Field?

And coach Mike McCarthy is counting on Green Bay being better equipped to pound the ball in the run game.

"We have to be," the coach said, "it's the playoffs."

Players To Watch
Charles Woodson - Defensive Back

The Packers defence looked much better against the win over the Vikings than they had in quite some time. A big reason for that was the return of Charles Woodson. Woodson not only helps the Packers out guarding against the pass, but also helps keep opposing running backs in check. This will be important again this week against Frank Gore and the 49ers.

Aldon Smith - Linebacker

Aldon Smith was a beast rushing quarterbacks for the 49ers this season and finished the year with 19.5 sacks. He has been shut out for three games in a row though and hasn't looked the same since Justin Smith went down with a triceps injury. With Justin expected to play this weekend, Aldon might just be primed to break out of his slump.

The Packers win if...

Green Bay lost to a strong 49ers ground game and efficient, mistake-free performance by Alex Smith in the first week of the regular season this year.

2012 Team Stats
Points GB 27.1
SF 24.8
Pass Yards GB 253.1
SF 206.1
Rush Yards GB 106.4
SF 155.7
Points Allowed GB 21.0
SF 17.1
Pass Yds Allowed GB 218.3
SF 200.2
Rush Yds Allowed GB 118.5
SF 94.2

The second time around, they should focus on limiting Frank Gore and San Francisco’s running attack because Smith has now been replaced by Colin Kaepernick. Yes, Kaepernick can create more offence than Smith but, considering he’ll be making his first post-season start, could also be prone to more mistakes.

The Packers’ defence will have success if they can force Kaepernick into making mistakes, something less likely to happen if Gore is constantly moving the chains.

On offence, Green Bay’s running attack could be even less of a factor against a strong San Fran D than it was in last week’s win. That means Aaron Rodgers will have to do even more, and in order for him to do so his offensive line will have to keep him upright against Aldon Smith and the relentless 49ers pass rush.

The 49ers win if...

The 49ers shouldn’t – and won’t – completely ignore Green Bay’s rushing attack, but it makes sense to focus more on Aaron Rodgers and the passing game than DuJuan Harris/Ryan Grant/John Kuhn. A game like this seems tailor made for a player like Aldon Smith (19.5 sacks in the regular season). If Smith can create consistent pressure on Rodgers, the Packers’ passing attack will have trouble resembling the juggernaut it’s been the past few years.

During Wild Card Weekend, Colin Kaepernick had the opportunity to watch and learn from four QBs making their first post-season starts – three rookies in Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin, and Russell Wilson, and the third-year Joe Webb, who went head-to-head against the very Packers Kaepernick faces this weekend.

A lot will be riding on the second-year man from Nevada, and against a veteran Packers’ secondary, he’ll have to use his legs and playmaking ability as much as his arm to keep the 49ers offence moving.

Michael Crabtree finally showed signs of breaking out in his fourth year in the league, especially late in the season. The former first-rounder needs to be reliable target for his young QB to lean on.

Team Leaders

Green Bay
Passing Aaron Rodgers 67.2% 4,295 Yds 39 TD 8 INT
Receiving Randall Cobb 80 Rec 954 Yds 11.9 8 TD
Rushing Alex Green 135 Att 464Yds 3.4 Avg 0 TD
Tackles Morgan Burnett 87 Solo 35 Ast 122 Tot 2 Sacks
Sacks Clay Matthews 13 Sacks 43 Tkl 1 FF 1 FR
Interceptions Casey Hayward 6 INT 81 Yds 13.5 Avg 0 TD

San Francisco
Passing Colin Kaepernick 62.4% 1,814 Yds 10 TD 3 INT
Receiving Michael Crabtree 85 Rec 1,105 Yds 13.0 9 TD
Rushing Frank Gore 258 Att 1,214 Yds 4.7 Avg 8 TD
Tackles NaVorro Bowman 93 Solo 51 Ast 144 Tot 2 Sacks
Sacks Aldon Smith 19.5 Sacks 66 Tkl 3 FF 0 FR
Interceptions Dashon Goldson 3 INT 21 Yds 7.0 Avg 0 TD


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