After fate (and shaky hands on special teams) crushed the dreams of 49er fans right around this time last year, we find ourselves in a familiar position. The Niners are one win away from returning to the NFC Championship game—a game that was so cruelly snatched away by Eli Manning's Giants last year—and the brink of a sixth Super Bowl appearance.
Naturally, Chico-born, Cal-educated Aaron Rodgers, stands in the way. He will lead the red-hot Packers into Candlestick Park tomorrow for a rematch of Week 1, a game the 49ers won handily in Green Bay behind then-starting QB Alex Smith (remember him?). Tomorrow, it will be Colin Kaepernick making his first career postseason start. And there’s no better place to begin our list of reasons why 49ers fans should be worried than with the second-year quarterback himself:
1. Inexperience vs. Greatness
Nobody is doubting Kaepernick’s playmaking abilities, but arguing that he will be the best quarterback on the field tomorrow is futile. Rodgers has an MVP and a Super Bowl ring under his belt. Will his playoff prowess sink the Niners? Or will Kaepernick be able to keep a level head and lead the 49ers to the next round?
2. Green Bay Is on Fire
Yes, they lost the regular season finale to division-rival Minnesota in Week 17. They also smashed that same team, led by MVP favorite Adrian Peterson, one week ago in the first round of the playoffs. Before that, they had won nine out of 10 games.
3. The 49ers are NOT on Fire
It’s no secret that teams are better off going into an elimination tournament with momentum. Unfortunately, the 49ers’ lackluster victory over Arizona in Week 17 after an embarrassing loss in Seattle the week before, does not qualify as momentum.
4. Off-Weeks Suck
The players' bodies probably appreciated the bye last week, but down time is not always an advantage during the playoff sprint. Even though the 49ers had extra time to heal up, practice, and mentally prepare for the Packers, first-round byes have killed teams in the past. Game-day rhythm is not to be messed with.
5. The David Akers Questions
After bringing in veteran kicker Billy Cundiff to compete with Akers for the starting job at kicker, coach Jim Harbaugh elected yesterday to stick with the slumping lefty. Akers could end up with a game-winning kick on his plate. The way he’s been going lately, though, that's the last scenario anyone in Niner Nation should be hoping for.
Then again, let's not go overboard with the pessimism. The Niners are the number-two seed in the NFC for a reason. Actually, five of them:
1. The Kaepernick-to-Crabtree Connection
The first word to describe said chemistry lately is “unstoppable.” Defenses can’t seem to cover Crabtree, and when he gets the ball they have even more trouble tackling him. A big game from him could mean victory for the Niners.
2. The Defenseless Packers
Let’s just say the Green Bay defense isn’t exactly air-tight. They have a few playmakers, but struggle to keep points off the board overall. If this game comes down to the defenses, I’m putting my money on San Francisco.
3. Invigorated D-Line
Justin Smith is reportedly returning for this game. Aldon Smith should be out of his late-season, exhaustion-fueled sack slump. And that could spell big-time trouble for the Packers. If the 49ers’ pass rush is back to full strength and Rodgers can’t get comfortable in the pocket, the 49ers are going to force the very average Green Bay running game to beat them.
4. Extra Rest
Believe it or not, this aspect of the matchup actually applies to both lists. The extra rest could definitely ruin the 49ers’ rhythm, but it could reinvigorate their tired legs even more. Restored health could make all the difference against the Packers.
5. Home Sweet Home
No team is safe in any stadium, any day, any year, against any team, because anything can happen in football. But in the playoffs, the atmosphere at the ‘Stick will be electric, and heavily in the 49ers’ favor.
Let us know what you think by following and tweeting @sanfranmag – will the 49ers take care of business tomorrow?