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Green Bay Packers-San Francisco 49ers a storied playoff rivalry

Steve Brownlee

This week’s Packers-49ers playoff rivalry goes back quite a ways, as I’m sure most of you with a least one or two gray hairs can attest.

In fact, I found several websites showing these teams have met seven previous times in the playoffs — in 1996, ’97, ’98, ’99, 2002, ’13 and ’14. These were all games played in January from the previous year’s regular season.

Green Bay has won four of them — the first three plus 2002, meaning San Francisco has won the last two.

How prolific is that in the annals of the league? Another website, mcubed.net, with its most recent update just before the start of this postseason, shows Packers-49ers is one of eight playoff matchups that has been played at least seven times.

Using information I cross-checked on a Wikipedia page, it looks like the mcubed site is only counting playoff games since the start of the Super Bowl era, which as any good Packers fan knows, began on Jan. 15, 1967, when Green Bay squashed Kansas City 35-10 in Los Angeles. As my coworker and friend Renee Prusi pointed out to me, it wasn’t called the Super Bowl at that time.

One of the other most frequent playoff matchups also involves the Packers — they’ve played the Cowboys eight times with a 4-4 split.

But of these eight matchups played at least seven times — the Rams and Cowboys have the most with nine meetings with the Rams winning five — only Green Bay-San Francisco had any chance of happening this season.

Both the Rams and Dallas missed the playoffs this season, with Dallas also making Green Bay-Dallas impossible this postseason.

The other frequent matchups are Denver-Pittsburgh (Broncos lead 5-3), San Fran-New York Giants (tied 4-4), Dallas-Minnesota (Dallas 4-3), Dallas-San Fran (Dallas 5-2) and Minnesota-Rams (Vikings 5-2).

There’s another matchup that’s happened six times (Pittsburgh-Oakland split 3-3), 10 more that have happened five times and another 20 that have met four times.

Green Bay also makes the list vs. Atlanta (tied 2-2).

A check of a Wikipedia site on the NFL playoffs that goes back the full century the league has been around also shows Green Bay and the Giants have played eight times with the Packers ahead 5-3. Five of those meetings — and four Green Bay wins — predate the first Super Bowl, having been played between 1938-62.

And last weekend’s Green Bay-Seattle game was the fourth in their playoff history, GB winning three.

I dug around looking at all of this history just because I was reminiscing about a story I wrote about the Jan. 11, 1998, Packers at 49ers playoff game, one of the few first-hand stories I’ve ever written about an NFL contest.

Why that one? That was the first one where the Packers played Steve Mariucci-coached San Francisco. Mariucci, of course, is a graduate of Northern Michigan University in Marquette and led the Wildcats to the 1975 NCAA Division II football championship.

I had gotten a tip about Mooch’s three sisters — Donna Ayotte, Cheryl Hosking and Sandy Mariucci — living in the Marquette area at the time, and I talked to them about how blood was thicker than water for an Iron Mountain-based family that grew up rooting for the Packers.

And yes, they were all rooting for their brother and the 49ers that particular weekend.

So onto Sunday’s games:

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AFC Championship, No. 6 Tennessee Titans (11-7) at No. 2 Kansas City Chiefs (13-4), 3 p.m., CBS — I have to say I’m really at a loss with this one.

First of all, I’d characterize this as a classic tortoise vs. hare matchup — the Titans with their running game centered around Derrick Henry and a stout defense is surely the tortoise, while the Chiefs with their flurry of atomic weapons, also known as Patrick Mahomes’ passes and KC’s fleet-of-foot receivers, along with an often questionable defense have to be the hare.

Then you can dredge up the ol’ “Offense wins games but defense wins championships” adage.

In both, the Tennessee side comes out on top. But can it be that simple? I tend to think when there’s contrasting philosophies, which team will be able to impose its will on the other?

Finally, these teams played in Week 10 with the Titans coming out on top in a Chiefs-like 35-32 score.

But KC’s defense and Tennessee’s offense have played better in the second half of the season. The Chiefs didn’t allow more than 17 points in the five games following their Titans loss, while Tennessee has gone its last 11 games scoring at least 20 points, something it failed to do in four of its first six games.

What makes me most nervous about picking Tennessee is that if they let down for even a five-minute stretch at any point in the game, KC may put up 28 points and erase what would be an otherwise solid performance.

But letdowns shouldn’t be a problem in a game with a Super Bowl berth on the line. So I’ll take the plunge and pick the Titans, 24-20.

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NFC Championship, No. 2 Green Bay Packers (14-3) at No. 1 San Francisco 49ers (14-3), 6:30 p.m. Fox — In another rematch of a regular-season game, the 49ers dominated 37-8 on Nov. 24 in what has been regarded as Packers QB Aaron Rodgers’ worst game of the season and possibly of his career.

And it was coming off the bye for Green Bay, but it’s also the last time the Packers lost a game. Two weeks before the bye, though, the Pack only scored 11 points vs. the snake-bit L.A. Chargers.

Here’s a wash — GB was 6-2 on the road in the regular season, while SF was 6-2 at home.

I’m looking for reasons to pick the underdog — the Packers — but I just keep running into San Fran’s defense. Then I look at a couple games where the 49ers “D” looked vulnerable late in the season — allowing 46 points to New Orleans and 31 to the Rams in December.

Making up for it was a superb performance allowing the Vikings just 10 points last week.

In the final analysis, I’m picking as much based on home field as anything else. 49ers, 27-24.

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Last week — 3-1, 75 percent. Playoff total — 5-3, 63 percent.

Steve Brownlee can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is sbrownlee@miningjournal.net.

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