For the third year in a row, my friend (who was unfortunately born into the pre-existing condition of 49ers fandom) Mark and I are exchanging emails as the NFL playoffs kickoff. In 2011 it was in anticipation of a 49ers at Packers match-up that never transpired. In 2012 it was ahead of a game I knew the Packers would lose. In 2013…….
Dear happy and soon-to-be-sad Shyam,
On Sunday night, you sent the following text:
“Thought game would be a pick ’em. Instead it is sf – 2.5. Vegas loves ur team. Not a good sign for me.”
First, let me say, didn’t I call this two weeks ago? Niners coming to Lambeau for a playoff game. Couldn’t ask for a better way to close out the season than the same way it started. Better yet, time for us to talk some smack! Perfection.
Second, take a moment to enjoy from where the Packers came. Given up for dead with Rodgers gimpy collarbone. Coming back, only to be given up for dead again. And Rodgers finally comes back in week 17 to lead an improbable victory and division title? That’s like the most gut-wrenching-est fairy tale season ever. But you’re in like (Matt) Flynn, and that’s all that matters when we get to the playoffs. Time to play some craps.
Third, you have to look at past history to understand the betting line. Although that 8-7-1 division title gives you a home game in the first round of the playoffs, you’ve got the 12-4 49ers coming for a visit and recent results haven’t been too favorable for the greenies. I’ll put it like this: Kap owns you pretty hard, with his legs… or his arm. Sure, you looked great against the likes of the no-D 8-8 Bears and the other dregs in your division (
(Aside: When is the NFL going to start rewarding strong “wild card” teams with a home game over a weak division winner?)
That said, there are concerns in ninertown. The defense hasn’t been as stout the last few weeks; it seems to be turning into the porous version from last year’s playoffs. Sadly, Kap isn’t superhuman (Editor’s comment: Mark may or may not have sent the pasted photo here as an image file and said it reveals otherwise), and their offense is still a huge question mark. (Exhibit A: first quarter in Arizona versus rest of game.) And the Lambeau advantage shouldn’t be underestimated. I recall thinking the Saints would pound the Seahawks a couple playoffs ago, back in the NFC Worst days, only to see them lose in Seattle. It’s back to that crapshoot where anything can happen, so I wouldn’t advise the Niners to take the Packers for granted, despite recent history. I like the Niners’ chances, of course, but this is no way a gimmie. No playoff game is a gimmie.
The 49ers *should* win this game… and the right to play in Seattle the following week, at which point I will secretly hope the Niners win while proclaiming they have no chance.
Watch this and then this and then this ….. I have watched live sports for 30 years and I have not felt a moment quite like that one. It’s taken me over 24 hours to gather myself and draft a coherent response. Seriously. If you had movie producers pitch you a tale where the star quarterback comes back from a nine week layoff and throws a game winning touchdown on 4th and eight in his arch-rival’s home turf to a teammate who was playing his first game in 12 weeks, you would ask them to come back with something remotely believable. So forgive me for my state of disbelief and euphoria after a Sunday like no other and in a season like no other.
So I am enjoying this moment and I am extremely bullish going forward. I think the 49ers are the better team and you know how I worship at the altar of Jim Harbaugh quite religiously and shamelessly. I can see why Vegas has your guys as 3 point favorites. Yet unlike the last three times when I had a sinking feeling going into the game, I am very bullish right now. Here are the reasons why –
A) This is the first time in the Jim Harbaugh era that the 49ers are playing the Packers with just a week between games. On all three prior occasions he had multiple weeks to get his team prepared. Jim Harbaugh with more than a week to prepare will get the better of most teams most of the time but with only a week I like the Packers’ chances to be closer to 50-50.
B) This game is at Lambeau in the frigid weather. I think it is cavalier to assume that the 49ers are a “physical” team and will adapt. I don’t know the last time players on this 49ers roster would have played in conditions like the ones they will encounter at Lambeau. Injury stats show the 49ers to be one of the healthiest organizations in the sport and I am sure Harbaugh will have the roster well prepped but if things get tight in the fourth quarter on Sunday, I don’t think the 49ers can quite keep up with the elements as well as the Packers can.
C) This is the second road game in a row for the 49ers and third game in 13 days. I am a huge believer in the impact of travel and lack of rest in the NFL. Finishing up in Arizona one Sunday at 4:30 PDT and to get ready for a game in the snow seven days later is hard. I think it plays a role.
D) The Packers passing game when it is on, is really hard-to-stop. A healthy Rodgers throwing to Jordy, Randall, James, Boykin and Quarless is going to be very hard to match up to however well your defensive line is playing. On familiar home turf in front of a deeply adoring, loud and clamoring crowd, the Packers passing game will stretch the coaching staff and secondary of the 49ers. The Niners defense is playing much worse than it did last year according to Football Outsiders. They were the second best defense in the league last year but are 13’Th best now.
Six days and six nights prior to the game, with the boner from Sunday’s game versus the Bears still very present and for the reasons listed above, I love my team’s chances. Jim Harbaugh will win more often versus the Packers than he will lose. He is the best coach in professional sports and if I had to pick one individual to run my team for the next three decades it would be him. But even the greatest lose football games and on any given Sunday anything can happen. Like this.
Go Pack, Go
P.S: I love that we both are confident our teams will win :). When did that last happen?