The teams: The Green Bay Packers (12-5) vs. the San Francisco 49ers (11-4-1) in an NFC Divisional Playoff game.
The time: 7 p.m. CST Saturday.
The place: Candlestick Park, San Francisco.
The TV coverage: FOX – WITI (Ch. 6 in Milwaukee), WMSN (Ch. 47in Madison) and WLUK (Ch. 11 in Green Bay).
The announcers: Joe Buck and Troy Aikman in booth and Pam Oliver and Erin Andrews on the sideline.
The coaches: Green Bay's Mike McCarthy is 80-41 (including 6-3 in the postseason) in his seventh season as the Packers' coach and as an NFL head coach. The 49ers’ Jim Harbaugh is 25-8-1 in his second year as the 49ers’ coach and as an NFL head coach.
The series: The Packers lead the all-time regular-season series 30-26-1 and also own a 4-1 advantage in postseason play. The 49ers are 16-11-1 all-time in San Francisco against the Packers, but Green Bay has won 13 of the past 15 meetings, including playoffs. The 49ers scored a 30-22 victory at Lambeau Field on Sept. 9. This marks the teams’ first playoff meeting since a 25-15 Packers victory at Lambeau Field in the 2001 NFC Wild Card round, and the teams’ first playoff meeting since Terrell Owens reeled in the game-winning touchdown in a 30-27 Wild Card victory in the 1998 NFC playoffs.
The rankings: The Packers’ offense finished the 2012 regular season ranked No. 13 overall, including No. 20 in rushing and No. 9 in passing. Their 11th-ranked defense finished No. 17 against the run and No. 11 against the pass. The 49ers’ 11th-ranked offense finished No. 4 in rushing and No. 23 in passing. Their third-ranked defense was No. 4 against the run and No. 4 against the pass.
The playoff road: The Packers beat NFC North rival Minnesota 24-10 last Saturday at Lambeau Field in an NFC Wild Card game. The 49ers, as the No. 2 seed, had a bye.
The stakes: The winners advance to the NFC Championship Game on Jan. 20 to face the winner of Sunday’s game between the No. 5-seeded Seattle Seahawks and top-seeded Atlanta Falcons. If the Falcons win on Sunday, the Packers-49ers winner would travel to Atlanta. If the Seahawks win, the Packers-49ers winner would host the NFC title game as the highest remaining seed.
The line: The 49ers are favored by 3 points.
The injury report:
Out – DE Jerel Worthy (knee), WR Jarrett Boykin (ankle).
Probable – WR Randall Cobb (illness), WR Jordy Nelson (ankle), RB James Starks (knee), TE Jermichael Finley (hamstring), OLB Clay Matthews (knee), OLB Dezman Moses (hamstring).
Probable – CB Tarell Brown (shoulder), S Dashon Goldson (shoulder), LB Clark Haggans (shoulder), RB Bruce Miller (shoulder), LB Aldon Smith (shoulder), DT Justin Smith (elbow/triceps), DT Will Tukuafu (neck), LB Navorro Bowman (shoulder), TE Garrett Celek (foot), LB Tavares Gooden (ribs), G Mike Iupati (shoulder), CB Carlos Rogers (knee), LB Patrick Willis (shoulder).
THE BREAKDOWN: FIVE THINGS TO WATCH
Protection racket: Given the praise he had for Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio must have a lot of confidence in his guys. If he didn’t, there’d be no reason to even bother playing the game, given Fangio’s scouting report on the reigning NFL MVP.
“He’s awful tough to defend,” Fangio began before lavishing on the praise. “After watching him a lot in the offseason once we knew that (Green Bay) was our first game and now going back to that, he reminds me of [former Miami Dolphins QB] Dan Marino in the pocket with his quick, accurate release. And he reminds me of [former 49ers QB] Steve Young out of the pocket. And that’s a hell of a tough combination to defend. And we’ve got to do a good job in our rush lanes of not letting him get out too much. We’ve got to do a good job of plastering in coverage that if he does run around we don’t lose our guys. And try to limit the big plays that he can make on the move. I don’t have a great answer for you. We’ve just got to try and not let it happen.”
The best way to prevent that: Pressure. And not just pressure, but pressure with only four rushers. While Young’s observation earlier in the week that the key to beating Rodgers was generating pressure with four was hardly revolutionary, it was absolutely true. Just ask Rodgers.
“Without a doubt. If you can cover with seven and pressure with four that’s the most difficult situation, and it’s not just for me. That’s for any quarterback that plays,” Rodgers said during his weekly radio show on 540 ESPN and ESPNWisconsin.com on Thursday. “There’s just not a lot of holes out on the defense. When you’re able to drop seven guys off and play with vision to the football – which, most teams that are able to do that are going to have at least three or four guys with vision to the football – the holes in the secondary become a lot smaller.
“Now, when you can move the pocket, extend those plays, the holes begin to open up a little bit. But if you have time to go through your progressions against a four-man rush, you can make some plays. ‘There’s going to be someone open,’ we always say, and it might just be a check down, but those check downs are body blow, and those body blows add up after a while. But if you are getting pressure with four and I don’t have any time to get to my check down then it’s going to be a long day.”
Even with Rodgers’ ability to move within and outside of the pocket, the Packers’ offensive line will have to play well. While Justin Smith and Aldon Smith get most of the accolades (deservedly so) and will be huge challenges for left guard T.J. Lang and left tackle Marshall Newhouse, undrafted rookie free-agent right tackle Don Barclay and right guard Josh Sitton will have their own challenge with the less-publicized pair of Ray McDonald and Ahmad Brooks, who Rodgers said “are both very talented players. More people talk about the ‘Smith’ side, but they’re equaled out by a very talented group on the other side as well.”