This week’s NFL Divisional Round playoff game between the San Francisco 49ers and Green Bay Packers is the true test on whether Jim Harbaugh’s decision to change quarterbacks – to go permanently with Colin Kaepernick over Alex Smith – was the right one or not.
Smith, the original first string quarterback of the Niners this year, already proved last season he can guide his team past the Divisional Round of the playoffs. Smith and the 49ers lost in the Conference Championship in overtime to the New York Giants after securing a thrilling win against the New Orleans Saints.
This weekend won’t be any kind of walk in Candlestick Park for Kaepernick and his offense. The Packers on defense are at their healthiest high point of all year. It will be a knockdown, drag-out type of game.
The question is whether the pressure will get to Kaepernick. Will he make that one fatal mistake young quarterbacks are known to make when the heat is turned up and there’s everything to lose?
To his credit, Kaepernick hasn’t been making key errors so far. He has just three interceptions, with 10 touchdowns, on the season. But undoubtedly this game on Sunday is bigger than any other game in his career.
Many questions abound:
- What if Kaepernick can’t handle the pressure?
- Where does Alex Smith go from here?
- Should Harbaugh have kept things the way they were? And will his coaching reputation suffer any damage should the 49ers lose with Kaepernick struggling?
- What if Smith had come back after the concussion and Kaepernick continued as the hybrid Wildcat-type quarterback with the element of surprise playing on an occasional down?
Possibly, with Kapernick under wraps of sorts, his value wouldn’t have gone through the roof the way it has now and maybe the Niners could have kept both quarterbacks next season and beyond.
It’s all conjecture at this point, and it ends up as worthless if Kaepernick shines while the Niners overcome the Packers to advance. But it would seem this is the one team with the bye that is ripe to be beaten. And almost every season since byes were given out, at least one of the bye teams has lost.
Prediction: Packers 21, Niners 14
Other Division round predictions:
- Atlanta 31, Seattle 17
- Denver 27, Baltimore 17
- New England 28, Houston 20
Howard Alperin is Managing Editor of AmericanizeSoccer.com