You know the weather forecast for Green Bay is bad when Wisconsinites don’t want to go out in it and judging by the ticket sales for Sunday evening’s game at Lambeau they’re not overly keen. Yesterday Bleacher Report quoted the temperature as “18 below” (here http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1908497-it-might-be-histroically-cold-for-packers-playoff-game-in-green-bay ) or -27 degrees for those of us who work in Celsius and that’s without any wind chill factored in. The famous “Ice Bowl” was played in temperatures of -48 Fahrenheit (-44 Celsius) in Lambeau back in 1967, so this could potentially be the second coldest game ever played in the NFL.
But as I know even less about extreme weather conditions than do about the NFL let’s stick to the football shall we? On paper the 49ers should be the favourites for this game and are with the bookmakers, although other than the very real possibility of the game being stopped due to Polar Bears on the field it is neigh on impossible to predict an outcome.
During the regular season the 49ers finished with a win – loss record of 12-4 which would have seen them top any division in the NFC other than their own. Their success was largely down to their solid defence and their strong running game, on average they only conceded 17 points per game and were ranked as the 7th best pass defence in terms of yards allowed through the air and the 3rd best run defence and they had the 6th best red zone defence in the NFC conceding touchdowns on just 53.66% of opponents visits.
The Packers have missed several of their key players at different parts of the season and the return last week of 2 of their offensive stars Randall Cobb and Quarterback Aaron Rodgers propelled them into the post season with a last gasp 48 yard touchdown pass from Rodgers to Cobb. Another Packer who has missed time through injury this season is the rookie running back Eddy Lacy, he has played 15 games this season although he carried only once in week 2 against the Redskins and missed the following week. In the Packers previous meeting with the 49ers at Candlestick Park in week 1 Lacy recorded just 41 yards from 14 carries and lost his only fumble of the season although he did score a touchdown and catch his longest pass of the regular season. Lacy has been battling an ankle injury for a large portion of the season and his health could be vital to the Packers chances of progressing in the post season. Lacy’s back up James Starks and Fullback John Kuhn are both veterans of previous Packers playoff campaigns, guiding them to a Super Bowl victory in 2010 and they have both scored rushing touchdowns this season so the Packers reluctance to only use them when Lacy is struggling physically is slightly perplexing.
There is a big difference between the 2 team’s turnover differential this season with the 49ers managing an impressive +12 on the season compared to the Packers -3 although this statistic is quite skewed as they have thrown 16 interceptions this season and Aaron Rodgers is only responsible for 6 of those. Strangely one of the factors that could decide the outcome of this game is the way in which both teams distribute carries in their running game, the 49ers have 4 healthy running backs that have carried the ball this season, while the Packers have 3 and Kahlil Bell who is yet to register a carry for them. They have also used Free Safety M.D Jennings on a run play which gained 6 yards. Such gadget plays and creativity from the sidelines may also be integral in a game where throwing the ball with pin point accuracy or for any sort of significant gain seems almost inconceivable. It will definitely be easier to play defence than to consistently produce high octane offensive plays with any sort of fluency and as the 49ers defence finished ranked higher in all facets of play they should have the edge, but if the cliché “those conditions are a great leveller” has every been more apt it can only have been once, in 1967!