Ask any 49er and they'll tell you every game they play is a big game. Well, the one on Sunday is bigger. There are currently six teams clumped together for an NFC Wildcard spot and the 49ers and Packers are two of them. The Packers are favored in the game, but the 49ers should be better prepared and more fresh. I was on the radio in Sacramento this morning and the host drew a comparison to last year's game in Buffalo. The 49ers are hoping that turns out to be a good analogy. The game presents a lot on interesting matchups. Here are a few ...
- Cornerback Charles Woodson vs. quarterback Alex Smith - Woodson is listed as a cornerback, and the cagey veteran will be matched up on Michael Crabtree from time to time. But he's more of a jack of all trades for the Packers defense. The 49ers expect to see Woodson playing safety at times and rushing the passer from the edge. Woodson may be 33 years old, but he's still big, physical and fast. He has five interceptions on the season and is second to linebacker Nick Barnett in tackles. The first thing Smith needs to do as he lines up under center is figure out where No. 21 is lining up. The 49ers all watched the Packers beat the Cowboys on Sunday by forcing turnovers. Keeping mistakes to a minimum is the No. 1 goal heading into Green Bay.
- Outside linebacker Aaron Kampman vs. right tackle Adam Snyder. The Packers' conversion to a 3-4 defense meant a change for Kampman, one of the league's top sack masters in recent seasons. Whereas Kampman rushed from a three-point stance in Green Bay's 4-3 scheme, he's a stand-up outside linebacker in the 3-4. The Packers like to move Kampman all over the field, but he'll most commonly be rushing from the quarterback's right side. That will put him against Snyder, who struggled last week to contain Bears defensive end Adewale Ogunleye. The Packers also will try to overload the left side of their defensive line, meaning that Frank Gore will be asked to step forward and block the 260 - pound Kampman from time to time. Gore is an excellent blocker, but that is a mismatch the Packers will look to exploit.
- Young receivers vs. old cornerbacks - The 49ers' starting receivers, Crabtree and Josh Morgan, are 22 and 24 respectively. They'll be matched against cornerbacks, Woodson and Al Harris, who are 33 and 34. Look for the wily veterans to play a lot of press coverage in an attempt to disrupt the 49ers' passing game from the start. The 49ers like to draft big, physical receivers with the thought that they should be able to overpower their opponents at the line. The question is whether the youngsters can handle a couple of cagey veterans like Woodson and Harris at this stage of their careers. The 49ers are still waiting for Crabtree to catch a slant pass and take it the distance.
- Tight end Vernon Davis vs. linebacker Brandon Chillar - For years Davis has bragged that he's too fast to be covered by linebackers and too strong to be handled by defensive backs. This season he's living up to his words. Davis leads his team in touchdown catches, most of which have come on deep-over-the-middle passes in front of a linebacker. Chillar, meanwhile, is an excellent cover linebacker, especially against tight ends. But Chillar will be working with a disadvantage Sunday. A broken hand means he'll be playing with a plaster club - not so handy for engaging route runners and breaking up passes.
Meanwhile, don't forget to log in to our game-long chat Sunday morning at 9:45 a.m. I'll have the inactives, the weather report, the barometric pressure, the dew point, Singletary's pre-game meal, the meaning of life etc., etc, etc. Log onto www.sacbee.com/live.
-- Matt Barrows