The Green Bay Packers are the underdog for only the third time this season, with the San Francisco 49ers listed as a 3-point favorite in Saturday’s NFC divisional playoff game at Candlestick Park.
The 49ers boast a better record, beat the Packers soundly at Lambeau Field during a Week 1 regular-season matchup and have the benefit of home-field advantage.
But despite what conventional wisdom and the oddsmakers suggest, it’s quite possible the Packers have the 49ers right where they want them.
It’s rare when the Packers can play the underdog card, and when they do, they tend to thrive.
“Yeah, our players like that,” said Packers coach Mike McCarthy. “I think they respond better when they’re disrespected. And I’m sure we’ll get some of that this week, too, because we weren’t successful in the first week. I think it brings a little more energy.”
It has some players recalling the Packers’ recent Super Bowl championship run.
“It’s kind of like 2010 all over again,” said receiver Greg Jennings. “That was the role we played — underdog — and we embraced it.”
The Packers entered the playoffs two years ago as an unsung No. 6 seed in the NFC and rolled all the way to the title.
The Packers’ matchup against the 49ers brings to mind their divisional playoff game two years ago at Atlanta. The Falcons had beaten the Packers during the regular season in 2010 and were favored in the postseason rematch, but the Packers responded with a resounding 48-21 victory at the Georgia Dome.
Can the Packers work their magic and pull off a similar upset in San Francisco?
They lost to the 49ers in the regular-season opener, 30-22. San Francisco held a commanding 23-7 lead early in the fourth quarter, and it took Randall Cobb’s 75-yard punt return for a touchdown to keep the Packers within striking distance.
When it was suggested this week that the 49ers dominated that game, San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh didn’t agree. “We won the game, but dominated?” Harbaugh said. “No, I wouldn’t categorize it as that.”
The Packers, meanwhile, consider that loss a distant memory.
“(The 49ers) came in and just played better than we did,” said Packers guard T.J. Lang. “That was a long time ago. We’re a different team now.”
Receiver James Jones added: “They beat us Week 1 fair and square. We had four quarters to get the job done, we didn’t. We got an extra four coming, so hopefully we get the job done this time.”
If the players are deriving any extra motivation from their underdog role, they aren’t letting on.
“Maybe some people do, me personally it doesn’t really matter much,” Lang said. “We’ve been the underdogs before and won. We’ve been the favored team before and lost. Things like that for me don’t really change the way I prepare for a game.”
The Packers were 31/2-point underdogs entering their Week 6 regular-season game at Houston and thrashed the Texans 42-24. On the other hand, they were 3-point underdogs against the New York Giants in late November and got pounded 38-10.
Several players in the locker room Wednesday said they have learned to ignore the oddsmakers and other pregame hype.
“On Saturday night, we’ve got to play,” Jones said. “It don’t matter what’s said in the papers or who’s favored.”
Jennings added: “Only one of us is going to make it out of there on Saturday night. The better team will win.”
The better team on the field that is, not on paper.
— firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @MikeVandermause.