The Green Bay Packers may be the most dangerous and least deserving playoff team in the NFC. While the Packers host the San Francisco 49ers in the weekend's last wild card game on Jan. 5, they are an 8-7-1 division champion hosting a 12-4 49ers team, with the added advantage of being more used to below freezing weather. The NFL's debatable seeding system has given Green Bay the extra edge -- but so has getting Aaron Rodgers back.
Because Rodgers has returned, the Packers are now no ordinary 8-7-1 team -- even if they had to convert three late fourth-downs to make the playoffs on Dec. 29 in Chicago. Because Rodgers has returned, the Packers could easily go from a mediocre regular season team to a postseason powerhouse, as they did in their 2010 Super Bowl run.
However, even with Rodgers, the Packers have had little luck against the 49ers lately. Green Bay has lost three times to San Francisco in the last 16 months, including a divisional playoff loss on the road last season. Yet thanks to winning the league's worst division while the 49ers narrowly lost the league's best, the Packers are hosting this rematch -- which makes a very big difference.
For one thing, Green Bay will challenge its own record of hosting the coldest game in NFL history. While the Packers-49ers wild card game may not be as cold as the 1967 Packers-Dallas Cowboys NFL championship "Ice Bowl" it could come close by the fourth quarter. This would seem to give Green Bay the advantage over warm weather San Francisco -- although temperatures under zero degrees didn't help the Packers win the 2007 NFC title over the New York Giants.
Should the Packers prevail, they would visit a much less experienced Carolina Panthers club in the next round. If Green Bay passes that test, it would either visit the Seattle Seahawks -- who should have lost to the Packers at home last season -- or get another improbable home playoff game against the New Orleans Saints.
After weeks of misery without Rodgers, things seem to be clearing up for the Packers at the right time. If getting the 49ers at Lambeau does indeed become a lucky break -- and an icy one -- then Green Bay might start feeling pretty warm and hot after all.