Friday, January 3, 2014

San Francisco vs. Green Bay in the Postseason

The Packers pulled off an awesome comeback to win the NFC North, setting up a wild card game against the 49ers. This will be seventh postseason game between these two NFC powerhouse franchises. Counting the Pack as a Milwaukee team, which I do for these city playoff history articles, I'll also include three NBA playoff series.

Year Round San Francisco Green Bay Result
1995 Divisional 49ers Packers 27-17 Packers
1996 Divisional 49ers Packers 35-14 Packers
1997 NFC Championship 49ers Packers 23-10 Packers
1998 Wild Card 49ers Packers 30-27 49ers
2001 Wild Card 49ers Packers 25-15 Packers
2012 Divisional 49ers Packers 45-31 49ers
Year Round San Francisco Milwaukee Result
1971 West Semis Warriors Bucks 4-1 Bucks
1972 West Semis Warriors Bucks 4-1 Bucks
1973 West Semis Warriors Bucks 4-2 Warriors

This game is notable in that the game will be played at Lambeau Field despite the fact that San Francisco was three and a half games better than Green Bay during the regular season. This is the eighth time since 1990 that a wild card team is at least two games better than their opponent. As you can see, the "inferior" home team has won five times.

Wild Card Two Games Better Than Division Champ Host Team (since 1990)

Year Wild Card Rec Div Champ Rec Result
2003 Titans 12-4 Ravens 10-6 Titans 20-17
2005 Jaguars 12-4 Patriots 10-6 Patriots 28-3
2008 Colts 12-4 Chargers 8-8 Chargers 23-17 (OT)
2008 Falcons 11-5 Cardinals 9-7 Cardinals 30-24
2010 Ravens 12-4 Chiefs 10-6 Ravens 30-7
2010 Saints 11-5 Seahawks 7-9 Seahawks 41-36
2011 Steelers 12-4 Broncos 8-8 Broncos 29-23 (OT)
2013 49ers 12-4 Packers 8-7-1 ???

I think the team with the better record should get the home game. Don't penalize the 49ers for being in a strong division while rewarding teams that won a weak one.

San Francisco may be at a disadvantage with brutal temperatures in store at Lambeau this weekend. For most of the week it looked like it would be the fourth sub-zero game in NFL history, but Sunday's forecast improved and it will be about 5 degrees. The three below-zero games:

-13: Ice Bowl - 1967 NFL Championship Game (Dallas at Green Bay)
-9: Freezer Bowl - 1981 AFC Championship Game (San Diego at Cincinnati)
-1: The Day Tom Coughlin's Face Melted Off - 2007 NFC Championship Game (New York at Green Bay)

Anyway, here are the other Niners-Packers postseason games:

1995 Divisional Round

The Packers enjoyed a resurgence starting in 1992. In the first two seasons of their run, they beat the Lions in the wild card game before getting taken down in the divisional round by the Cowboys. On the other side of the NFC bracket this time, their second-round game was at the late Candlestick Park against the 49ers. Thanks in part to Steve Young and Jerry Rice, San Francisco led the league in points. Their defense was outstanding as well, allowing the second-fewest points in the NFL.

Green Bay's lengthy opening drive ended in a blocked field goal, but they took the lead on the next play when Adam Walker fumbled and Craig Newsome took it 31 yards to the house. Favre led touchdown drives on the next two Packers possessions, making it 21-0 before the hosts could blink. The Niners netted a field goal before halftime and scored to open the third quarter, but two Chris Jacke kicks gave Green Bay a three-score lead again. Despite a late San Francisco touchdown, the Packers cruised to a 27-17 victory.

Divisional round road teams were 7-33 in the 1990s, but this was the only road win in the NFC. The Pack was outgunned in the NFC title game in Dallas by the eventual champion Cowboys 38-27.

The 49ers were doomed by four turnovers, while Green Bay didn't turn it over at all. Since 1940, playoff teams that are +4 or better in turnover margin are 78-1. The one outlier was the famous Ghost to the Post game in 1977 when the Raiders beat the Colts in double overtime despite four Baltimore takeaways.

1996 Divisional Round

The '96 Packers were 13-3 and according to Football Outsiders' Defense-adjusted Value Over Average team efficiency ratings, they are among the top teams since 1989.

Team DVOA %
1991 Washington 56.9
2007 New England 52.9
2010 New England 44.6
1996 Green Bay 42.0
2013 Seattle 40.1
1995 San Francisco 40.0

Of the six teams to top 40 percent, only two won the Super Bowl, including these Packers (we'll see about the Seahawks). Their march to the championship began with a home stomping of the 49ers. It was rainy and windy at Lambeau Field, but that didn't stop Green Bay return man Desmond Howard, who opened the scoring with a 71-yard punt return. On the next 49ers punt, he carried it 46 yards to set up a short Packers touchdown drive. Steve Young was knocked out of the game early for the Niners with broken ribs.

Like the previous year, it was 21-0 in the second quarter before San Francisco could muster a score. Filling in for Young, Elvis Grbac led two touchdown drives to pull within seven points, but Green Bay reached the end zone twice to put the game away. The 49ers turned it over five times while the Pack only did it once, making this another of those 78 +4 turnover games mentioned above.

Green Bay moved past upstart Carolina in the next round before defeating the Patriots in Super Bowl XXXI.

1997 NFC Championship Game

They met for the third straight postseason, this time with a Super Bowl berth on the line. They were on a collision course in the NFC as both teams went 13-3. The offensive and defensive units for both teams ranked in the league's top five in scoring. The 49ers held the tiebreaker so the game was at Candlestick.

It was another rainy, sloppy game. The Packers won with the running of Dorsey Levens (114 yards and a touchdown) and Ryan Longwell's three field goals. Antonio Freeman only made four catches, but he racked up 107 yards and scored Green Bay's other touchdown. The visitors won the turnover battle again as the Pack held onto the ball all day while taking it away twice. Green Bay led 23-3 until Chuck Levy's 95-yard kickoff return touchdown with less than three minutes left made the 23-10 final closer than the game really was.

The defending champion Packers were back in the Super Bowl, but this time they were upset by John Elway and the Broncos 31-24.

1998 Wild Card Round

This was the fourth straight year in which the Niners and Packers squared off in the postseason. The only other teams to play in the playoffs four years in a row were the Steelers and Raiders, who met in five straight AFC postseasons from 1972-76.

Green Bay got the better of the 49ers in the first three meetings, but the fourth time was the charm for San Francisco and they did it in miraculous fashion.

The two teams traded scores throughout the first half and the Packers took a 17-10 lead into halftime. In the third quarter, a Brett Favre interception set up the tying touchdown before the Niners moved ahead on a field goal. Green Bay tied it up again in the fourth with a field goal only to have San Francisco retake the lead with a three-pointer of their own, setting up the fantastic finish.

Trailing 23-20, Favre took over at the Green Bay 11 with 4:19 to play. He led the Packers 89 yards down the field and tossed a go-ahead touchdown to Antonio Freeman with 1:56 left.

It was up to Steve Young to answer, needing 76 yards and a touchdown in 1:47. He hit J.J. Stokes with two passes to start the drive and soon had the 49ers past midfield. The drive should have ended when Jerry Rice fumbled and the Packers recovered. But the officials ruled that Rice was already down, and in the age without instant replay review the Niners kept the ball.

Young converted a 3rd-and-4 on the next snap. A couple of plays later, San Francisco had enough time for just one more play from the 25.

Young slips after taking the snap but recovers to fire a rocket into the hands of Terrell Owens. The young receiver had made several drops and lost a fumble earlier in the game, but he hung onto this one despite getting hit by two Packers. It was the eighth and final lead change of the afternoon as San Francisco won 30-27.

The 49ers finally got past Green Bay, but the party only lasted for one week because they fell to Atlanta in the divisional round, 20-18.

2001 Wild Card Round

Young and Rice were gone, but the 49ers were back in the playoffs anyway with Jeff Garcia at quarterback. The four-year streak of head-to-head playoff games was over, but three seasons later the Niners visited Lambeau in January again.

Both teams scored a touchdown in the first half, but thanks to a missed extra point the Packers trailed 7-6 at the break. Green Bay posted ten points in the third quarter, scoring a field goal on the opening drive and it took only four plays for them to go 81 yards for a TD on their next one.

Garcia led San Francisco down the field for a tying touchdown and two-point conversion with 12 minutes left. Favre answered with a go-ahead field goal drive, but it didn't look like that would suffice when the 49ers got the ball back. Garcia quickly took them into enemy territory, but his deep pass to Terrell Owens was tipped by Packers corner Mike McKenzie to teammate Tyrone Williams for a pick at the 7-yard line.

Taking over with five minutes left, Green Bay drove 93 yards for the icing touchdown and a 25-15 victory. It is one of only three 25-15 games in the NFL since at least 1940. The Packers advanced to the divisional round, but were smoked 45-17 by the Rams.

2012 Divisional Round

The Packers and 49ers renewed their rivalry last January and it was a primetime showcase for Colin Kaepernick.

He got off on the wrong foot in his first career playoff game. His second pass of the game was picked off by Sam Shields and taken back 52 yards for a touchdown.

Kaepernick bounced back on the next possession, tying the game with a 20-yard touchdown run.

He wound up in a shootout with Aaron Rodgers as five of the last six combined first-half drives resulted in scores. David Akers booted a field goal to end the second quarter that gave San Francisco a 24-21 lead. Halfway through the third, after the Pack tied the game again, Kaepernick broke out for his best run of the night.

The 56-yard burst was the longest by a quarterback in playoff history and it gave the 49ers the lead for good. Up 31-24, the hosts added two more touchdowns in a 45-31 win. Kaepernick ran for 181 yards in the game, the most-ever by a QB in a single game.

They reached the Super Bowl, where they trailed the Ravens by three. They had a 2nd-and-goal at the 5-yard line, but they chose to pass three times instead of trying to run it in with their star quarterback. Baltimore won 34-31, but at least San Francisco is back in the postseason this year.

The Warriors played the Bucks in the first round of the NBA playoffs in three consecutive years from 1971-73.

1971 West Semis

Expanison Milwaukee was only 27-55 in 1969 but by drafting Rookie of the Year Lew Alcindor (now known as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) they went 56-26 in 1970. The great Oscar Robertson joined the team in '71 to form one of the best tandems the league has ever seen. The Bucks went 66-16 (tenth-most wins in NBA history) and breezed through the postseason to win the championship.

Their first opponent during the title run was the San Francisco Warriors, led by big men Nate Thurmond and Jerry Lucas. The Bucks won the first three games by double digits, but the Warriors pulled out a two-point home win to avoid the sweep and send the series back to Madison. A scheduling conflict forced the Bucks' home games in this series to be played at the University of Wisconsin. It didn't matter where they played, the Bucks were too good. They won Game Five 136-86, to clinch the series with the fourth-biggest blowout in playoff history.

58 - 1956 West Semis Game 2: Lakers d. Hawks
58 - 2009 First Round Game 4: Nuggets d. Hornets
56 - 1973 West Finals Game 3: Lakers d. Warriors
50 - 1971 West Semis Game 5: Bucks d. Warriors

Milwaukee beat the Lakers in five games before sweeping the Bullets in the Finals.

1972 West Semis

The Bucks played the Warriors again in the West Semis a year later. Golden State (as they were now called) won the opener on the road, but Milwaukee won the next three games by an average of 20 points. Bob Dandridge scored 29 in the finale to lead the Bucks to another five-game series win. There would be no repeat for Milwaukee though. The Lakers beat them 4-2 in the West Finals.

1973 West Semis

The top-seeded Bucks played the Warriors again in '73 and when they led the series 2-1 it looked like it would be another cakewalk for Milwaukee. But this time Golden State had Rick Barry, who was signed from the ABA during the offseason. He scored 38 in a series-tying win before the Warriors eked out a road victory in Game Five to take control of the series. Back at home for the sixth game, Golden State won 100-86 to exact revenge on the team that knocked them out twice.

But the Lakers would win the West again, beating Golden State in five games in the West Finals.

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