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Packers, Aaron Rodgers should get chilly conditions they crave on Saturday night

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Packers' Aaron Rodgers has perfected the art of not getting too warm on heated benches or too cold on the field after years of playing at Lambeau Field.

GREEN BAY — Aaron Rodgers’ overall take on cold-weather football is simple.

“The colder, the better,” the Green Bay Packers quarterback said earlier this season.

While that’s true, Rodgers does have a more nuanced view of what conditions are best for him and his team — and most troubling for incoming opponents — as the Packers get ready for Saturday night’s NFC divisional playoff game against the San Francisco 49ers at Lambeau Field.

The National Weather Service office in Green Bay is predicting a chance of snow during the day with a high near 21 degrees, but for Saturday night, it’ll be mostly cloudy with a low around 6 — although the temperature for the 7:15 p.m. kickoff should be around 15 degrees.

Rodgers remembers the last time the 49ers came to town for a playoff game, following the 2013 season. The kickoff temperature was 5 degrees, with a northwest wind at 10 mph making the wind chill minus-10.

Rodgers rated it as the third-coldest game he’s ever been part of — the second-coldest being a late-December prime-time loss at Chicago in his first year as the starter in 2008, when the kickoff temperature at Soldier Field was 2 degrees with a wind chill of minus-13; and the coldest being the 2007 NFC Championship Game loss to the New York Giants, when he was the backup to Brett Favre and the Packers lost at home with a minus-1 degree game-time temperature and a wind chill of minus-23.

The Packers lost that 2013 NFC wild card game 23-20 to the 49ers when Phil Dawson booted a 33-yard field goal as time expired to snap a 20-20 tie. A year after getting blown out by Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers in San Francisco, Rodgers was 17 of 26 for 177 yards with one touchdown, no interceptions and four sacks (97.8 rating) in that loss.

“That was bitter cold, for sure, on that day,” Rodgers said. “For the most part, the colder it is, the slower the rush (is) and the offense can have an advantage, especially on a field that could be slick based on the elements and the homefield advantage that we have with our crowd.

“Being at home and not having to travel is a big deal. It’s all those things. The weather is a part of it. The crowd is obviously a big part of it. The footing is a part of it. If you can handle the elements like we’ve handled it for the most part over the years, I think it gives us an advantage.”

It could be an even greater advantage given the nearly zero experience 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo has in cold weather. According to ESPN Stats & Information, 101 quarterbacks have started at least one game since 2014 in which the temperature at kickoff was 40 degrees or below, and over that same period, 122 quarterbacks have thrown at least one pass in such conditions. But Garoppolo isn’t among them.

Despite growing up in suburban Chicago, playing college football at Eastern Illinois and doing his NFL apprenticeship with the New England Patriots as the backup to Tom Brady, Garoppolo has never played in the conditions he’ll face on Saturday night. Making matters more challenging? Garoppolo is dealing with a thumb injury on his throwing hand.

“It’s going to be cold. I played in a night game in the playoffs at Lambeau before,” former 49ers six-time Pro Bowl offensive tackle Joe Staley said on NBC Sports Bay Area on Sunday night. “I remember being on the field and literally not feeling my fingers. And every time I hit anybody, I was like, ‘Ah! Ah! It stings.’ That’s going to be something (the 49ers) are going to have to deal with in this game.”

While the Packers aren’t immune to the elements, offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett pointed to the amount of experience the players on his side of the ball have with cold weather — beyond just Rodgers. Wide receivers Davante Adams and Randall Cobb, running back Aaron Jones, and offensive linemen David Bakhtiari, Lucas Patrick and Billy Turner all have played plenty of games in less-than-ideal temperatures.

“We're lucky because we have a veteran group that has been here for so long and guys that have played (in the cold),” Hackett said. “I mean you look at Aaron, he's been in so many cold games. Davante, he's been in a bunch of cold games. As you kind of get a feel for how the guys are handling it, that's where you'll be able to kind of fluctuate what you're going to be doing (from a play-calling perspective).

“I think some other things kind of affect (an offense) a little more — like wind and rain and snow and things like that. It's just about how much you can handle how cold it's going to be. And I think we've got guys that can handle it and actually embrace it.”

Rodgers’ the-colder-the-better talk notwithstanding, even he acknowledged that his job becomes significantly harder once temps fall into single digits, which could be the case on Saturday night.

“It’s about keeping your head and your hands warm when the weather dips below 10,” Rodgers said. “I think the sweet spot where (the cold) is not as big of a deal is probably between 32 and 10. When it gets below 10, then the ball definitely becomes a little bit slicker. But we’ve had a lot of success over the years throwing it in this type of environment.

“It’s about keeping your hands warm and your head warm, and then not just sitting on that heated bench for too long because the difference between being super-warm on the bench and being cold on the field is a little drastic.”

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