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Game Scout: Packers at 49ers

The SportsXchange

San Francisco 49ers (12-4) at Green Bay Packers (8-7-1)

Sunday, 4:40 p.m. ET, at Lambeau Field, Green Bay, Wisc. - TV: FOX

*TV announcers: Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, Pam Oliver

*Keys to the game: 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick is 2-0 against the Packers, but those games were in California. How Kaepernick and the 49ers handle below-zero temperatures in unfamiliar territory will be a major factor Sunday. Kaepernick got plenty of postseason seasoning in January 2013, when he had a 181-yard rushing game against the Packers and carried the 49ers to the Super Bowl. Keeping the ball in Kaepernick's hands without changing the offense works in the 49ers' favor. Green Bay allowed 2,000 yards rushing and 4.6 yards per carry in the regular season, and coach Jim Harbaugh understands the power-running concepts will play in any weather, provided the score allows him to stick with it. If the Packers can't stop the pass, as was the case in a Week 1 blowout in San Francisco, they could be on the ropes early. Kaepernick completed 27 of 39 passes for a career-high 412 yards and three touchdowns in the September win.

There were only a few gasp-worthy moments for QB Aaron Rodgers against the Chicago Bears' pass rush last week. That's about to change. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio leaves his cornerbacks in man coverage to bring more bodies after the quarterback, and none of his key pass rushers will pull up if given a clean run at Rodgers. Rookie RB Eddie Lacy adds a weapon to the Packers arsenal, and there will be more spots in which to utilize speedy WR Randall Cobb in the backfield in his second game back from an Oct. 13 leg injury. If Rodgers has time to set his feet and scan the field, he can cover up many shortcomings of his own defense.

*Matchup to watch - 49ers WR Michael Crabtree and TE Vernon Davis vs. Packers secondary - In his San Francisco debut, veteran wideout Anquan Boldin burned Green Bay's short-handed and porous secondary for 13 catches for 208 yards and a touchdown in 17 targets in the 49ers' season-opening win nearly four months ago. Boldin could be as dangerous in the rematch, but Crabtree didn't play in Week 1 while recovering from a torn Achilles. He complemented the lethal running exploits of quarterback Colin Kaepernick and halfback Frank Gore in the 49ers' rout of the Packers in the playoffs a year ago with nine receptions for 119 yards and two touchdowns.

Fellow playmaker Davis has been a thorn in Green Bay's side the last several meetings, exemplified by his six catches for 98 yards and two touchdowns in the opener this season. Davis led all tight ends in the regular season with an average of 16.3 yards per catch and ranked second among the position group with 13 touchdown receptions. If Green Bay relies on its dime defense to counter the 49ers' spread attack, that could mean a lot of rookie nickel back Micah Hyde and underwhelming veteran cornerback Jarrett Bush matching up with Crabtree and Davis coming out of the slot.

*Player spotlight - 49ers CB Eric Wright: With Carlos Rogers (hamstring) slowed and possibly ill-equipped to keep his muscles loose in the arctic conditions, Wright would draw the slot assignment and the Packers' most explosive playmaker, Cobb. Green Bay would bang that drum for four quarters if the 49ers don't change coverage schemes to prevent it.

*Fast facts: The Packers have two or more takeaways in five consecutive games, the longest streak for Green Bay since 2002 (nine games). ... Boldin ranked first in the NFL in third-down receiving yards (529) and receptions (33) during the regular season.

WHO WILL WIN AND WHY

Cold or downright frigid, finding a way to move the chains without coughing up the hardened, slippery pigskin puts the focus on the kicking game and field position. Green Bay surrendered five return touchdowns in 2013, and with OLB Clay Matthews (thumb) out, doesn't have the horses to corral Colin Kaepernick.

*Our pick: 49ers 23-18
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