Sunday’s playoff matchup between the 49ers and Packers features quarterbacks Colin Kaepernick and Aaron Rodgers, running backs Frank Gore and Eddie Lacy and standout wide receivers in Anquan Boldin and Jordy Nelson.
But the star of Sunday’s show could be the weather.
The Weather Channel now projects a high of 4 degrees for the game. Temperatures could drop to zero or below. As of now, snow isn’t in the picture, but that could change. No matter what, the Niners will be playing in weather they haven’t experienced all season – or, in some cases, their entire lives.
“Winter is coming,” said Rodgers. “It’s here. It’s here in Green Bay. It’s definitely going to have an effect on the game.”
Rodgers, who’s played many games in the cold and snow at Lambeau Field, said the game could come down to “who can execute in the cold weather.”
“It does some different things to the football,” he said.
Particularly to quarterbacks, receivers and kickers. The football turns into a hardened missile, which can be tough to throw and catch.
Though the 49ers players describe their team as one built for cold weather – with a physical running game and strong defense – it’s hard to know how the Californians will play in single-digit temperatures until game day.
Since Jim Harbaugh became head coach, the team hasn’t played a game in which the temperature at kickoff was below 34 degrees, reports Cam Inman of the Bay Area News Group. That was in New England in December of 2012, a game the 49ers won.
Kaepernick, who played at Nevada in Reno, once played a game in Boise, Idaho, when the temperature was in the 20s. He led Nevada to a win over Boise State that day and said players just have to not think about the weather.
“You just have to block it out,” he told Inman.
The Packers are 4-2 in their last six playoff games with temperatures below freezing, according to the Green Bay Press Gazette. Plus, they can move their practices into the cold to get acclimated.
“It’s not easy,” said the Packers’ Nelson of playing in extreme cold. “I think we’re just a little more adapted to it. Being out in it the last few weeks, practicing in it twice a week, especially this week, if not three times a week. It’s hard, especially with how cold they’re saying it could get. I mean, that’s not enjoyable for anyone. But we are kind of accustomed to it. … I don’t think it’s going to help us too much, but it won’t hurt us, I guess.”
One NFL personnel man asked to pick the winner of Sunday’s game told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Bob McGinn that the 49ers are actually a better cold-weather team than the Packers, even though they’ve never played in freezing Lambeau.
“The 49ers are built like a cold-weather team,” he said. “As a matter of fact, they’re built better than the cold-weather team. The coach is a cold-weather guy. They run the ball. They play great defense and special teams. Anquan Boldin is a cold-weather body. This is a big, physical team, and so it (the weather) is really playing right to San Francisco.”
So far, oddsmakers agree. The 49ers are anywhere from a 2½- to 3-point favorite in the game that kicks off at 1:40 p.m. (Bay Area time).