MATCHUPS TO WATCH: PACKERS OFFENSE VS. 49ERS DEFENSE
Packers OTs Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher/T.J. Lang vs. 49ers OLBs Parys Haralson and Manny Lawson: As usual for the Packers, the play of their offensive tackles is key. What's different this week is the challenge isn't so much in pass protection. The good news for the Packers is Lawson (2.5 sacks) and Haralson (1.0 sack) aren't big-time pass rushers, but what they do exceedingly well is play the run. Just like the Packers' combination of Aaron Kampman and Clay Matthews III, Lawson and Haralson are superb at setting the edge and funneling the ball-carrier between the tackles. And with inside linebacker Patrick Willis waiting in the middle, that's a recipe for success. So, while the 49ers' outside backers don't get many accolades, they're a big reason why the 49ers boast the NFL's third-ranked run defense. Clifton never has been much more than an average run blocker, Tauscher will be playing only his second game in a year and the rookie Lang will be playing only his second game at right tackle. That looks like a big edge for the 49ers.
Packers WRs Donald Driver and Greg Jennings vs. 49ers cornerbacks Tarell Brown and Shawntae Spencer: Like most defenses, the 49ers play to stop the run first, but they know they must contain Green Bay's big-play wideouts on the edges to keep Green Bay's explosive offense in check. The 49ers have been inconsistent in pass coverage this season, but for the most part, Spencer had been strong in man coverage and Brown has been excellent on the strong-side corner since taking over earlier this month from Nate Clements, the high-priced defender who was getting toasted repeatedly earlier this year to the point the 49ers finally put his $80 million backside on the bench in favor of Brown, a third-year player getting his first shot at being a regular. Brown and Spencer have legitimate speed to turn and run with receivers, and they'll need it against Driver and Jennings, who are averaging a whopping 15.3 yards on their 79 combined receptions. How well they can stick with those wideouts down the field should be a telling factor in Sunday's outcome.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH: 49ERS OFFENSE VS. PACKERS DEFENSE
Davis will see plenty of Woodson.
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Jenkins slams into Smith.
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THE 49ERS WILL WIN IF ...
... they play error-free football, protect the football and sustain drives and work the clock to keep their offensive on the field. It's really that simple for the 49ers, who have a playoff-caliber defense that has not been helped out much by an inconsistent offense that has been in transition most of the season. But the 49ers do have some weapons offensively and they can put up points when and if everything is clicking. San Francisco has scored more than 21 points just once in its last five games, and if the 49ers can get above that total Sunday, it should give them the total they need to win.
THE PACKERS WILL WIN IF ...
The Packers must contain Frank Gore.
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THE 49ERS WILL LOSE IF ...
... they lose the takeaway/giveaway battle and fail to make life miserable for quarterback Aaron Rodgers and allow him time to get in a rhythm and allow the Green Bay offense to take control of the game. The 49ers must rattle Rodgers and put him on his back at least a few times while getting in his face on most every passing down. If the 49ers allow the Green Bay offense to dictate the tempo of the game, they are not going to come out of Green Bay with their first victory at Lambeau Field since 1990.
THE PACKERS WILL LOSE IF ...
... they rest on last week's laurels. The Packers posted two big wins last season. They followed the first with two consecutive losses and they followed the second with a season-killing five-game skid. This year, the Packers followed an emotional opening win over Chicago with a loss to Cincinnati. They can't afford to do that this week because the 49ers are playing for their season.
Craig Massei: The 49ers haven't put it all together in a game since Week 4, a time way back when they were all alone atop the NFC West and being touted as one of the rising darlings of the NFL season. It's a different situation now entirely as the Niners hit do-or-die stage, and something says that San Francisco finally is due to step it up and come through under dire circumstances after three consecutive near-misses on the road by a combined margin of 10 points against opponents that today have a combined record of 22-5.
49ERS 22, PACKERS 20
Bill Huber: Since losing to Cincinnati in Week 2, there's one thing the Packers have done consistently well this season, and that's stop the run. So, if Green Bay can take away standout halfback Frank Gore, the 49ers will have to count on mistake-prone quarterback Alex Smith. Offensively, Aaron Rodgers has thrown five interceptions at home in 13 games as the starter, so chances are the Packers won't beat themselves with turnovers.
PACKERS 20, 49ERS 10
Craig Massei is the editor in chief of SFIllustrated.com. Bill Huber is the publisher of PackerReport.com
Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.