The San Francisco 49ers’ win over the New England Patriots Sunday in Foxborough proved two things: Jim Harbaugh made a great decision to keep Colin Kaepernick as starting quarterback, and that the Niners are a proven Super Bowl-caliber team.
Both of those teams would serve as a tough matchup, as the Vikings proved in their Week 3 victory over an uncharacteristically terrible 49ers team.
The Vikings wouldn't get by the Packers in the Wild-Card round, though. And the Packers could be the team that gets in the way of San Francisco’s Super Bowl chances. Here are a few reasons:
Sour taste from Week 1 loss
The Packers are undoubtedly ready for a shot to avenge their loss to the 49ers in their Week 1 showdown at Lambeau Field. Even though Aaron Rodgers rallied in the fourth quarter, the Packers never stood a chance and allowed San Francisco to have control of the game’s momentum. Alex Smith only missed six of his 20 throws in the game while Frank Gore rushed for 112 yards, making the Packers’ defense look silly.
The first game of the regular season is a lot different than a game in the playoffs, though. The Packs had a rocky 2-3 start but have won eight of their last nine games. Aaron Rodgers is still one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL and is as efficient as ever with his league-leading 104.1 QB rating.
Packers defense continues to blossom
A healthy and hungry Clay Matthews will lead an even hungrier Packers defense. It ranks ninth in the league allowing only 20.9 points per game and has been a great complement to a good offense. Matthews dominated in the Packs’ win Sunday against conference rival Chicago Bears with five solo tackles and two sacks. Charles Woodson is still waiting for medical clearance to return from a broken collarbone, but it is a good possibility he will be ready by the playoffs. C.J. Wilson and Sam Shields are also other defensive players who could be back in time for the playoffs, which would be an even bigger headache for the Niners offense.
Kaepernick’s explosive playmaking abilities and poise under pressure has worked to the 49ers’ advantage, and will be a new challenge for the Packers defense. However, that puts an even bigger target on Kaepernick. Alex Smith was sacked four times in the first game, which would serve as motivation for Green Bay’s defense to try to match that number.
Packers have a history of crushing 49ers in postseason
If the 49ers were to play the Packers in this year’s playoffs, they would also be battling a third opponent: history.
San Francisco has kindly given Green Bay its number, with its 1-4 record against the Packers in the postseason.
Every 49ers fan remembers when Steve Young stumbled to throw the game-winning touchdown pass to Terrell Owens in the 1998 Wild-Card playoffs. Dubbed "The Catch II," it was a great moment—and was also the only time San Francisco beat Green Bay in the playoffs. And it happened after the Packers knocked them out of the playoffs three years in a row. San Francisco would lose to Green Bay again in the wild-card round of the 2001 playoffs.
Fortunately for the 49ers, they are considered the team to beat in the league and would be just as dangerous for the Packers. Both squads have improved since their first matchup, and a rematch in the postseason would no doubt increase the intensity level.
Even though it is likely the 49ers would clinch the NFC West, a No. 2 seed and first-round bye is all but guaranteed. And—surprise, surprise—the Packers are in the hunt for that spot, too.