The Green Bay Packers and San Francisco 49ers meet in the playoffs once again in Sunday afternoon’s NFC wild card game at Lambeau Field.
Since 1995 the two storied franchises have met six previous times in the playoffs, with the Packers holding a 4-2 overall record, and a 2-0 home advantage. However, the 49ers (12-4) currently maintain bragging rights after blasting Green Bay, 45-31, in the divisional round last season en route to the Super Bowl.
Strangely, such a rivalry with two of the league’s most decorated franchises nearly faced a television blackout, but according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter on Friday, a group of Packers’ corporate partners bought up the remaining tickets for a sellout.
The Packers (8-7-1) earned a fourth-straight playoff berth, and third consecutive opening-round home game, by capturing the NFC North in last week’s 33-28 victory over rival Chicago.
Green Bay welcomed back quarterback Aaron Rodgers from a collarbone injury that sidelined him for seven games, and the former MVP chipped off some rust before wiping away an eight-point fourth-quarter deficit with consecutive touchdown drives.
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Rodgers completed 25-of-39 passes for 318 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. Receiver Jordy Nelson saved his best game for last, catching 10 passes for 161 yards, while Randall Cobb returned from a broken leg injury to catch a 48-yard touchdown pass in Green Bay's final drive to send the Packers to the postseason.
The ground game was effective, as well. Named second-team All-Pro on Friday, rookie running back Eddie Lacy gained 66 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries, and James Starks contributed 88 yards on the ground.
Entering Sunday’s matchup as the NFL’s third-ranked offense despite Rodgers missing nearly half the season, Green Bay looked particularly strong in the fourth quarter. The offense clicked when it needed to against Chicago, and provided some much-needed momentum entering the playoffs.
Despite a better record and a current six game winning streak, the 49ers will defend their NFC crown on the road and are looking to make back-to-back Super Bowl appearances for the first time since 1989.
San Francisco missed out on their third straight NFC West title and possibly a first-round bye after falling a game shy of Seattle, but own a 6-2 road record this season.
While limiting several starters in anticipation for the playoffs, the 49ers forced two turnovers and gave up 482 total yards in last week’s narrow 23-20 victory over Arizona. In a wild fourth quarter, San Francisco needed field goals of 56 yards and 40 yards from kicker Phil Dawson in the final two minutes of play to hold off the Cardinals.
The vaunted San Francisco secondary gave up 399 yards passing to Arizona, despite their seventh overall ranking. But the rush defense held up by surrendering only 83 yards on the ground.
Quarterback Colin Kaepernick continued his solid play in the second half of the season with 310 yards passing and two touchdowns, one apiece for receiver Anquan Boldin and tight end Vernon Davis.
After some struggles early in the season Kaepernick has excelled during the winning streak, eclipsing a 100.0 passer rating five times and tossing only one interception.
San Francisco limited all-time franchise leading rusher Frank Gore to just 13 carries, and Boldin cashed in with nine receptions for 149 yards.
Gore (knee) fully participated in practice on Wednesday and Thursday, and so did linebacker Navorro Bowman (wrist), but cornerback Carlos Rogers (hamstring) was held out for a second straight day, according to the team’s official site.
Bowman was the only 49er named to the All-Pro first-team. Davis was named a second-team All-Pro, along with tackle Joe Staley, defensive tackle Justin Smith, and linebacker Ahmad Brooks.
The Packers are already thin at linebacker with Clay Matthews out for the rest of the season following a second thumb surgery. The club held back Nick Perry (foot) on Wednesday, but elevated him to a limited participant on Thursday.
First-string inside linebacker and third leading tackler Brad Jones (ankle) has been limited all week. Lacy has also been limited with an ankle injury and is listed as questionable, but is still likely to play based on the team’s official injury report.
Betting Odds: San Francisco favored by 3
Over/Under: 47 points
Time: Sunday, 4:40 p.m. ET
Prediction: Green Bay 33, San Francisco 27