Can Jim Harbaugh (right) maintain his perfect record against Packers head coach Mike McCarthy? (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
It’s going to be freezing for Sunday’s 49ers-Packers NFC wild-card playoff game in Green Bay Sunday. Temperatures are projected to be between 4 and 8 degrees for the 1:40 p.m. (PST) kickoff. And, no doubt, the weather will play some role in the game.
But 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh doesn’t want to hear about it.
Harbaugh, who as a college player at Michigan and an NFL quarterback in Chicago and Indianapolis has experienced cold and snow, is tired of hearing about how cold it’s going to be, and what kind of impact the weather might have on his warm-weather team from California.
When it was suggested this week that the Niners might have some difficulty playing well this Sunday, Harbaugh dismissed the notion, noted the San Francisco Chronicle’s Eric Branch.
“Is it?” said Harbaugh. “I mean, do you have some study on that?”
And, no doubt, the 49ers’ third-year head coach is right. Cold hands, rock-hard footballs or freezing winds may cause some mistakes Sunday, but the playoff matchup will more likely be determined by these five factors:
1 – The Packers run defense: If Green Bay can stop the 49ers from running the ball, it would be the single most important thing the Packers can do to change the complexion of the game. If San Francisco can run the ball consistently on the Packers’ porous run defense, Green Bay has very little chance of winning.
2 – Colin Kaepernick. There’s little doubt Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers will put up big numbers Sunday, even in bad conditions. He’s done it many times before. But how will 49ers’ QB Kaepernick fare in his first NFL playoff game in the dead of winter? In guiding his team to six straight wins and a 12-4 record, he's at times been brilliant. Can Kaepernick keep playing his hot hand?
3 – Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman. The Packers like to run the ball with rookie Eddie Lacy. The 5-foot-11, 230-pounder from the University of Alabama rushed for 1,178 yards and 11 TDs in 15 games this season, and if he can pick up yards against the 49ers defense, he’ll take the pressure off Rodgers. Inside linebackers Willis and Bowman, however, have been outstanding against the run. Can they do it again?
4 – 49ers secondary. It’s been torched the past two weeks and now faces Rodgers and a corps of outstanding, big-play receivers. There will be no way to stop the Packers from picking up big chunks and scoring a few TDs. But San Francisco’s defensive backs will need to make some big plays in third-and-longs.
5 – Score TDs, not field goals. With the Packers capable of scoring points – and the weather possibly making long field goals much more difficult – it will be important for the 49ers to convert drives into touchdowns, not three-pointers. Sustaining drives, controlling the clock and converting red-zone opportunities for seven points, especially early in the game to set a tone, will be key for Harbaugh’s team.
Since Harbaugh became head coach in San Francisco, the 49ers are 3-0 vs. Green Bay. They beat the Packers 30-22 at Lambeau Field in September of 2012, then blitzed them in last season’s playoffs, 45-31. Then they won this season opener, 34-28.
Oddsmakers have made the 49ers 2½- to 3-point favorites Sunday, but Harbaugh doesn’t believe his 3-0 record vs. Mike McCarthy’s team means a thing.
Said Harbaugh: “I can’t find an advantage for either team right now.”