There is no shortage of hype surrounding Saturday Night’s NFC Divisional playoff game at Candlestick between the Green Bay Packers and the San Francisco 49ers. The breakdowns and the analysis of this game seems never ending. Yet the only analysis you need is this – if the Packers are to escape with a win, it will be because Aaron Rodgers is special.
Period. End of discussion.
If Rodgers is elite on Saturday, nothing else will matter. If he plays the way he did two years ago in the divisional round on a Saturday night on the road in Atlanta, then regardless of what the 49ers do, it will be the Packers heading to the 2013 NFC Championship game.
The situation the Packers will walk into Saturday night is eerily similar to the one they walked into in Atlanta during their Super Bowl run following the 2010 season.
Green Bay entered the game as the underdog and ended it as the Super Bowl favorite, thanks to a masterful performance by Rodgers, who completed 31-of-36 passes for 366 yards and three touchdowns, as well as a rushing touchdown in the 48-21 route of the Falcons.
Now I’m not saying Rodgers will need a repeat of that performance to beat San Francisco but seeing as he is the best player in the National Football League, a legendary performance is required.
We can talk about how important it is for Green Bay to stop the run or win the turnover battle. How it needs strong play from it’s offensive line and secondary, or how Colin Kaepernick will play in his first ever playoff game as a starting quarterback or the health of 49ers defensive end Justin Smith, but none of those are as important as the play of Rodgers.
In seven career playoff starts, generally speaking when Rodgers plays well the Packers win. In five victories, he has accounted for 12 total touchdowns and thrown just two interceptions (both in the 2011 NFC Championship Game against Chicago), while averaging 273 passing yards per game. In two career playoff losses, he has averaged 343 passing yards per game while accounting for seven total touchdowns and four turnovers.
With Rodgers, the turnovers are key.
In playoff games in which Rodgers did not turn the ball over, the Packers are 4-0. Yet in the three playoff games he has started and turned the ball over Packers are just 1-2. Thus, if the 2011 MVP is at his best and avoids turnovers, then expect Green Bay to walk away with a win.
The 49ers may have more star power than the Packers, (with seven Pro Bowl selections this year compared to just three for Green Bay), a more physical defense, a better running game and home-field advantage, but the Packers still have the best player on the field in Rodgers and that still counts for something.
So in the end, it will all come down to Rodgers, the former Cal quarterback, who so desperately dreamed of one day becoming a 49er and trust me he would not have it any other way.