NFL Divisional Round preview: Who will come out on top in Saturday's games?
By Paul Higham Twitter: @SkySportsPaulH. Last Updated: 11/01/13 11:31pm
Aaron Rodgers: The key for Green Bay victory
Aaron Rodgers will be the key man as Green Bay take on the San Francisco 49ers for the place in the NFC Championship game.
Rodgers and the Packers were well beaten in the first week of the season by the 49ers at Lambeau Field, and revenge will be in the air for Mike McCarthy's men, who will also feel robbed of home advantage by the replacement referees earlier in the season.
Here we pick out the key areas that will decide the game on Saturday.
Green Bay Packers @ San Francisco 49ers
On Sky Sports
- January 1, 1970 1:00am
But for that 'touchdown' in Seattle the Packers would be the home team in this one, but it may not even matter given the performance of their superstar quarterback Aaron Rodgers on the road this season. Rodgers has three play-off wins on the road to his name already, and is only the owner of the highest post-season passer rating in NFL history. This season he threw 22 TDs and just three interceptions in away games - second only to Tom Brady's numbers in the Super Bowl era. Rodgers' ball security throughout his career has been exemplary, so playing in front of the Candlestick faithful will not be as much of a problem for him - especially given the wideout weapons at his disposal.
Jim Harbaugh's decision to ditch QB Alex Smith in favour of the inexperienced but far more explosive Colin Kaepernick will really be proved masterstroke or huge mistake after Saturday's game. Smith came so close to guiding them to a Super Bowl last year, but Harbaugh saw more upsides in Kaepernick and he now has to handle the pressure of his first play-off game. He certainly has shown a great arm, good ball security, and a powerful running style which all adds up to a superb weapon under centre - and he has helped Michael Crabtree in particular to start showing his old college form. The Packers will come after him hard though, and he will need to hold his nerve to keep his team in the game.
Both teams have big names back on defence, with San Francisco having defensive lineman Justin Smith returning from a triceps injury. The Niners defence has struggled badly without him, with their total sacks way down, but if he is even close to his best he will look to bring back bad memories for the Packers as he helped to dominate them in a first week win this season. Green Bay meanwhile look a different team with linebacker Clay Matthews and defensive back Charles Woodson both back in business - and after they kept Adrian Peterson in check last week they will look to subdue the dangerous Frank Gore and force Kaepernick to make the big plays on his own.
Harris could be the great story of the play-offs, as the 24-year-old could go from car salesman to Super Bowl winner if he continues his impressive impact on the Green Bay running game. The Packers have struggled for some time to find a regular ground game to free-up Rodgers a bit more on play action, and this season was no different. Harris has stepped up though and although by no means a record breaker, he and returning veteran Ryan Grant have done just enough to keep defences honest, and that's all Rodgers and his wideouts need to pick teams apart.
This really is too close to call, but we have to try and pick a winner and I'll go for Green Bay to sneak it in a high-scoring tussle - for one reason and one reason only, Aaron Rodgers. The 49ers have a Super Bowl-ready team, but with Justin Smith possibly not at his best and Kaepernick lacking in experience, the Packers and their potent passing attack and veterans can emerge from a tough scrap by the Bay.