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PLAYOFFS
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           === Packers try to turn the tables in rematch with Niners ===
 
 By Michael Rushton, Contributing NFL Editor
 
 (Sports Network) - Had the Green Bay Packers notched a home victory over the
 San Francisco 49ers back in Week 1, this Saturday's divisional-round matchup
 could very well be taking place at historic Lambeau Field.
 
 Instead, it will be the Niners looking to duplicate their season-opening
 victory and advance to the NFC Championship Game for a second straight season
 as the two division winners battle at Candlestick Park.
 
 After reaching the playoffs for the first time in nine years a season ago, the
 second-seeded 49ers bested the New Orleans Saints before dropping a 20-17
 overtime decision to the eventual-champion New York Giants at home in the NFC
 Championship Game.
 
 Looking to build off that season, the Niners opened up the 2012 campaign with
 an exciting 30-22 victory at Green Bay on Sept. 9, snapping an eight-game
 slide to the Packers that included the playoffs.
 
 San Francisco got three field goals from David Akers in the victory, including
 an NFL record-tying 63-yard boot and quarterback Alex Smith threw two
 touchdown passes as the Niners ended the Packers' 13-game regular-season home
 winning streak.
 
 The Niners also left the Packers pretty impressed.
 
 "We knew going into Week 1 they were a very good team. They were in the NFC
 Championship Game last year, so it was no surprise to use when we played them
 the type of football team they are," Green Bay head coach Mike McCarthy said
 this week. "And it's no surprise to me that we're sitting here as the No. 2
 and No. 3 seed teams in the NFC that we're playing this weekend."
 
 The 49ers earned their seeding by winning the NFC West for a second straight
 season on the strength of a 11-4-1 record. They won four of their first five,
 three of their final four and were 6-1-1 at home on the campaign.
 
 San Francisco's Jim Harbaugh became just the eighth head coach since 1970 to
 win the division in each of his first two seasons and second in team history,
 joining George Seifert.
 
 That won't mean much to Harbaugh if he can't advance his club any further in
 the postseason and he hopes that the experience gained last season, as well as
 the addition of a veteran like Randy Moss, can give his team an edge this time
 around.
 
 "Yeah, there are definitely more of our players that have been through the
 playoffs and can personally share with the first or second-year players who
 haven't been through the playoffs, what that experience was like to them,"
 noted the coach. "They can personalize it from conversation to conversation.
 And I hope and think that our young guys are taking advantage of that."
 
 Harbaugh would love to start building a postseason resume similar to that of
 McCarthy and the Packers, one that includes a Super Bowl title to cap the 2010
 season.
 
 The Packers own the NFL's top playoff winning percentage at .638 (30-17) and
 are the lone NFC team to make it to the divisional round in each of the last
 three seasons. They have also won 14 of their last 19 road games since the
 start of the 2010 postseason.
 
 And neither coach is reading too much into the Week 1 decision. Though it will
 likely be reviewed by both clubs, neither Harbaugh or McCarthy expects this
 meeting to be played the same way.
 
 "The first game is definitely something we'll use as far as our game planning
 and go back and look at the matchups and so forth, but they're a different
 team too. Everybody is. We're a different team than we were four or five weeks
 ago," said McCarthy, who served as offensive coordinator for the 49ers for one
 season in 2005.
 
 Green Bay is coming off its second straight NFC North title -- it won the
 Super Bowl as a sixth seed two seasons ago -- and added another playoff
 victory to its tome last weekend with a 24-10 triumph over the Minnesota
 Vikings.
 
 The Packers avenged a Week 17 loss to the Vikings -- another defeat that cost
 them a bye and home-field advantage in this round -- and held MVP candidate
 Adrian Peterson to only 99 rushing yards on 22 carries.
 
 The 10 points allowed were the fewest by Green Bay in a playoff game since a
 23-10 win over San Francisco on Jan. 11, 1998 in the NFC championship Game.
 
 The Packers, in fact, are 4-1 all-time versus the 49ers in the playoffs and
 are meeting for the first time since the wild-card round on Jan. 13, 2002, a
 home win for the Packers.
 
 Green Bay is visiting San Francisco for the first time since 2006 and in the
 postseason for the first time since Jan. 3, 1999, the Niners' lone playoff win
 over the Packers.
 
 
 WHAT TO WATCH FOR
 
 One area that will certainly be different than the first matchup is San
 Francisco's quarterback situation, which will see Colin Kaepernick under
 center as opposed to Smith.
 
 Smith lost his starting job to his backup following a concussion and
 Kaepernick took advantage of his opportunity by going 5-2 as a starter,
 winning all three games at home. He threw 10 touchdown passes to three
 interceptions this season and also ran for another five scores in addition to
 415 yards.
 
 His ability to make plays with his legs is something the Packers will have to
 keep an eye on, though they did a decent job of preventing mobile Vikings
 quarterback Joe Webb from making any big plays last weekend and McCarthy
 doesn't want his defense to change its style too much just because of the
 matchup.
 
 "They've had an extra week to prepare, so there will be some new wrinkles as
 there always is. But at the end of the day, we've established our brand of
 football and that's what we're taking to San Francisco to win," he said.
 
 That is something that Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers does well. His 105.4
 postseason quarterback rating is the highest in NFL history and he led the
 league in passer rating for a second straight season.
 
 Rodgers spreads the ball out very well and McCarthy praised his ability to
 communicate with his offense despite opposing crowds cranking up the volume.
 
 "Aaron Rodgers is a great quarterback. You see what he does on the field,"
 said Kaepernick. "You see the performances he's been having, so you can't say
 enough about the guy. We're going to have to go out and put up points."
 
 In last Saturday's win over the Vikings, Rodgers tied an NFL postseason record
 by completing a pass to 10 different receivers and he has not thrown an
 interception in five straight games and 179 consecutive passing attempts.
 
 None of his targets last week went to veteran wide receiver Donald Driver, who
 found himself inactive and has become the odd-man out thanks to the presence
 of Greg Jennings, Randall Cobb (who had a 75-yard punt return for a score in
 Week 1), James Jones and Jordy Nelson.
 
 Nelson did not practice on Tuesday or Wednesday due to a nagging ankle issue
 and he was unable to play a full game last week versus the Vikings.
 
 Of interesting note, Rodgers grew up in Chico, CA and was drafted out of the
 University of California the same year that the Niners opted to take Smith
 first overall. Rodgers will be playing his first NFL game at Candlestick Park.
 
 Kaepernick, meanwhile, grew up a Packers fan having been born in Milwaukee. As
 a fourth grader attending elementary school in California, he wrote that he
 one day hoped to play for the Niners or Packers.
 
 The 49ers rode one of the league's top defenses throughout the regular season,
 finishing second at 17.1 points allowed per game and third in total defense
 with 294.4 yards per game. They finished fourth overall both against the run
 and pass, but did yield 303 passing yards to Rodgers in Week 1.
 
 San Francisco did pick off the former Super Bowl MVP once and sacked him three
 times, including one by linebacker Aldon Smith.
 
 "They're a very unique defense. They can get at you a lot of different ways,"
 Rodgers said of San Francisco.
 
 Smith led the NFC with a team-record 19.5 sacks and has recorded 10.5 sacks in
 his past five home games. He teams with leading-tackler NaVorro Bowman and the
 outstanding Patrick Willis -- all three Pro Bowlers -- to form one of the top
 linebacking groups in football.
 
 One key for the Niners is the expected return of Justin Smith, a high-motored
 defensive lineman who hasn't played since hurting his triceps in Week 15. He
 provides plenty of heart and energy to the defense.
 
 The Packers hope that their defense is in top form after ranking 11th in the
 regular season in scoring and total defense and also struggling in the Week 17
 loss at Minnesota.
 
 However, Green Bay yielded a respectable 324 yards to the Vikings and chunk of
 that came late with the game already decided.
 
 While Justin Smith's return is key for the Niners, safety Charles Woodson
 came back last weekend for the Packers after missing nine in a row because of
 a broken collarbone. He had six tackles and has recorded 38 interceptions
 since joining the Packers in 2006, including the playoffs.
 
 "It was great to have him out there. He's a fabulous football player,"
 McCarthy said of Woodson, who had 1 1/2 sacks and a forced fumble Week 1
 versus
 the Niners.
 
 Linebacker Clay Matthews has also dealt with injury this season, but had two
 sacks, four tackles and a forced fumble last weekend versus the Vikings.
 
 Another key area will be in the kicking department.
 
 Though Akers was solid in Week 1, he has missed seven of his last 17 field
 goal attempts, so the Niners signed Billy Cundiff this week. It is unknown who
 will handle the kicking duties this weekend.
 
 Cundiff, best known for missing a 32-yard field goal in the closing seconds of
 the AFC Championship Game last year while with the Ravens, was cut by the
 Washington Redskins back in October after making just 7-of-12 field goals.
 
 While Harbaugh opted to bring in some insurance, McCarthy has stuck with Mason
 Crosby all season despite his struggles.
 
 Crosby missed 12 of his 33 field goal tries this season and went just 2-for-9
 from 50 yards or further. He did make his lone try versus the Vikings last
 weekend, but it was only from 20 yards out.
 
 
 OVERALL ANALYSIS
 
 Week 1's matchup between these two clubs was thought to be a possible NFC
 Championship preview, but that anticipated encounter will come one week early.
 
 This has the potential to be a very close matchup, with the edge going to
 whoever comes out on top: Rodgers or the Niners' defense.
 
 Smart money could be on Rodgers, who has posted a passer rating of 110 or
 better in four of his seven career postseason starts. That means the guy comes
 to play in big spots and he has plenty of weapons at his disposal.
 
 "I just try to be focused. I touch the ball every play and guys are counting
 on me to play well. I take that to heart and I know my role as a quarterback
 and a leader and I try to go out and play well for my guys." said Rodgers, who
 has helped Green Bay average 30.7 points per game over its last six.
 
 Harbaugh has talked about Kaepernick's growth on the field, but there is no
 doubt that this Saturday will be the biggest test of his young NFL career.
 
 "Just being in the situations he's been in. The way he's handled himself in
 those situations, at this point we could say just about everything that a
 quarterback could face," Harbaugh said of Kaepernick. "And he's done well. So,
 I'm not saying it's dramatic improvement in any one area because I think he
 was good to start with. But, there's been good improvement across the board."
 
 The 49ers' defense is good enough to keep Rodgers in check, but it is just so
 hard to keep a good quarterback down.
 
 Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Packers 23, 49ers 20
 
 
 01/10 17:04:23 ET