49ers' opening act tough to follow

Eric Goska, Press-Gazette Media Correspondent

Editor's note: This column originally was published Jan. 4, 2014.

The winner of Sunday's game between the Packers and 49ers likely will become evident by halftime.

If the game unfolds as the season has for San Francisco, the team with the lead at that point likely will advance to the next round of the playoffs.

Green Bay hosts San Francisco at Lambeau Field in the final wild-card game of the weekend. The formidable 49ers, a team that ended the Packers' season a year ago in the divisional round of the playoffs, look to become just the second team (the Cowboys of 1993-95) to bounce Green Bay from the postseason in consecutive years.

Make no mistake; this is the Packers' biggest challenge to date. They will face a loaded offense and a defense ranked among the top five in yards and points allowed.

Should they trail at halftime, their afternoon might well be over.

San Francisco hasn't scored the most points in the first half of games this season (Denver 288). It hasn't allowed the fewest (Carolina 110).

But the gap (+101) between what it scores (218) and what it allows (117) is second to none. Only the Chiefs (+100) and Broncos (+96) have similar differentials.

Those who score early while preventing others from doing the same usually make the playoffs. Since 2002, the year in which the league aligned into eight divisions, 84 of the 98 teams that outscored their opponents by 50 or more points in the first half of games (85.7 percent) made the playoffs. Teams with differentials of 100 or greater have been a lock (18 of 18).

The Patriots are a good example. Bill Belichick's aggregation has been plus-100 four times over the past 12 years. In that time, the team has made 10 playoff appearances.

For the 49ers, this is the first time since 1997 that they are above 100. During the 1990s, they had a run of six straight plus-100 seasons (1992-97), making the playoffs each time.

The 49ers have held halftime leads 11 times this season. Their record in those games is 10-1.

Just one team, the Panthers, came back from a halftime deficit against San Francisco. Down 9-7 in Week 10, Carolina held its host to 45 second-half yards while forcing two turnovers to win 10-9.

Even so, it required a 53-yard, fourth-quarter field goal from Graham Gano for the Panthers to win.

San Francisco has trailed at the half four times and is 1-3 in those games. It registered its only comeback against the Falcons, winning 34-24 after trailing 10-3 at the break.

Statistically, San Francisco tends to be more productive in the first half. The 49ers have gained more yards there (2,676) than in the second half (2,504). Their defense has been tighter as opponents have managed 2,360 and 2,711, respectively.

Similarly, the team's best offensive weapons have been more effective early rather than late. The first-half/second-half splits on Colin Kaepernick's passer rating (96.3/85.9), Frank Gore's rushing yardage and average per carry (588/540, 4.2/4.0) and the catches and yardage of Anquan Boldin (47/38, 687/492) and Vernon Davis (33/19, 536/314) bear this out.

Furthermore, Gore, Boldin and Davis have scored more TDs in the first half of games (17 combined) than in the second (12).

Also important is the team's turnover differential. Overall, San Francisco (plus-12) is tied with the Eagles for the second-best mark in the NFC.

But much of that disparity can be traced to the opening 30 minutes of games. There, the 49ers have forced 15 turnovers while committing five (plus-10). They are only plus-2 after intermission.

San Francisco has been a fast starter this season. If Green Bay hopes to end its three-game losing skid against the 49ers, it can't afford to dawdle.

In addition to ending Green Bay's season last year, the 49ers also beat the Packers to open the 2012 and 2013 seasons. Mike McCarthy's teams never led at halftime in any of those games, coming closest by forging a 14-14 tie in a 34-28 loss in Week 1 this season.

Playoff series

Overall: Green Bay leads 4-2.

At Lambeau Field: Packers lead 2-0.

Starting QBs

Packers: Aaron Rodgers (5-3 overall; 0-1 vs. San Francisco).

49ers: Colin Kaepernick (2-1; 1-0 vs. Green Bay).

Once a 49er, now a Packer

Quarterback Scott Tolzien was on San Francisco's roster (2011-12), and wide receiver Chris Harper was with the 49ers for the first six games this season.

Once a Packer, now a 49er

There are no former Packers on the 49ers' roster.