Sunday is approaching, and that means the San Francisco 49ers will soon take the field against the Green Bay Packers in colder-than-ice Lambeau Field. The temperature is supposed to be incredibly cold, with a high in the neighborhood of -10 degrees Fahrenheit. When Justin Smith will likely wear sleeves, you know it is cold.
The Packers have Aaron Rodgers and Randall Cobb back offensively. Needless to say, these two players are tremendous additions to a talented offense. Without Rodgers, this offense sputtered and moved more slowly than the Camry I just wrecked — or Peyton Manning running; pick the analogy you prefer. Even if Rodgers is still a bit rusty sunday, this offense will be dangerous. With Eddie Lacy running the ball, despite his hurt ankle, the offense has another dimension. On the other side of the ball, the Packers’ already hole-ridden defense got a big blow with the loss of Clay Matthews, who was about all the defense had left going for it.
As for the 49ers, the return of Michael Crabtree has already been huge. Colin Kaepernick looks like he knows how to throw the ball again with Crabtree out there. Vernon Davis‘ eye issue should appear to be nothing much this game. Losing Mario Manningham paved the way for Quinton Patton to show that maybe he should have been playing more all along. Bruce Miller‘s loss has been managed well so far. Defensively, the 49ers may be hurting in the secondary, with Carlos Rodgers and Eric Wright, his potential replacement, both up in the air for gameday.
Yes, it will be freezing. As Greg Roman suggested, however, the field conditions will be the big difference. As Lambeau has heated turf, the field should be more than good enough to play on. Somewhat unusually, the frigid conditions would appear to favor the run-heavy 49ers over the Packers. Yes, Lacy can run the ball, but he pulled himself out of their game last week due to fear of losing control the ball with a cold forearm. Lacy, it must be remembered, is from the deep, deep, warm south. So is Frank Gore, but Gore has been a professional long enough to learn what it takes to hold onto the ball, even if not in precisely these conditions. With better change of pace backs, the 49ers will also be able to give Gore more spells and keep everyone fresh than the twosome of Lacy and James Starks. Rodgers comes from the Bay Area, Kaepernick from Wisconsin — and the Bay Area. Kaepernick played in some cold-weather games while at Nevada and should not be too badly affected, relative to Rodgers, in this weather. Furthermore, the 49ers defense can stop the run. The Packers defense really struggles with that. The 49ers injured secondary could be getting a boost from the weather too.
Kaepernick has a way of playing his best games against the Packers, with two of his best game — if not his two best games — coming last season in the playoffs and week one of this year. Packers DC Dom Capers has been struggling, and not just against Kaepernick, but all season. We cannot forget Anquan Boldin‘s arrival in San Francisco with the second 200-yard receiving game of his career. The 49ers have won all three matchups agains the Packers under Jim Harbaugh, with the last two having Kaepernick under center. This will be the last time these teams play until at least next postseason, as the 49ers and Packers ended second and first in their divisions respectively.
The 49ers have the better team. This has been shown all season. They also have the healthier team and the team that seems better suited for the cold weather, oddly enough. Aaron Rodgers and the Packers do not lie down for anyone, however, and will do their best to pull out a win. I expect the first quarter to be pretty slow as teams get used to the conditions. I think the 49ers, with a mix of a big pass play or two and a healthy dose of read-option, in addition to a lot of Frank Gore, will eventually take over this game before Rodgers decides to make it somewhat interesting late. All that said, give me the 49ers over the Packers 34-24.