Now that the 49ers are in the playoffs for a third straight season, it’s time for a reality check:
The Green Bay Packers, with healthy quarterback Aaron Rodgers, are a very dangerous team.
Oddsmakers have made the Niners 2½-point favorites for Sunday’s 1:40 p.m. NFC wild-card game – the only road team favored in the first round. San Francisco, after all, is on a six-game winning streak, has won 11 of its past 13, finished 12-4 and has beaten Green Bay in three consecutive meetings, including Game 1 of this season and in the playoffs last season.
But given Rodgers’ health – he returned from a broken collarbone to throw for 318 yards in a win over the Bears this Sunday to clinch the NFC North title – and the 49ers’ recent difficulties against opposing quarterbacks, the 49ers could find themselves one-and-done if they can’t contain Rodgers & Co.
Consider: Over the past two games, in victories over the Cardinals and Falcons, quarterbacks Carson Palmer and Matt Ryan have put up big passing numbers against the 49ers defense. In Sunday’s 23-20 49ers win, Palmer completed 28-of-49 throws for 407 yards, two TDs and nearly led the Cards to a comeback victory. The week before, Ryan completed 37-of-48 for 348 yards and two TDs and led a second-half surge that nearly upended the Niners in their final game at Candlestick Park.
Now, too, the status of 49ers cornerback Carlos Rogers is in doubt after he left Sunday’s game against Arizona with an apparent hamstring strain. If he’s unable to go against the Packers, that would be a severe blow for the Niners.
In Game 1 of this season, San Francisco was able to beat Green Bay 34-28, but the 49ers couldn’t shut down the Packers’ passing game. Rodgers threw for 333 yards that day and connected with wideouts Jordy Nelson (seven catches, 130 yards) and Randall Cobb (seven catches, 108 yards) throughout the game.
The Packers finished just 8-7-1 this season, but had to play without Rodgers for nearly eight games, five of them losses.
Now with their offense back on track, the Packers are eager for another shot at the 49ers, who bounced them out of the playoffs last season, 45-31. In that playoff game, quarterback Colin Kaepernick ran for 181 yards; in the 2013 season opener, Kaepernick threw for 412 yards and three TDs.
“They can bring what they’re going to bring, but we’re going to bring what we’re going to bring,” Packers linebacker Mike Neal told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel late Sunday, when the matchup was determined. “They’re a good team. But we kind of owe them one. … Hopefully we can get a win in our house.”