Line: 49ers by 3
WHERE: 3Com Park, San Francisco.
ANNOUNCERS: Pat Summerall and John Madden on TV; Joel Myers and Matt Millen on radio.
PLAYOFF IMPACT: The winner plays at Atlanta on Saturday.
KEY INJURIES: Packers _ TE Mark Chmura (calf), TE Tyrone Davis (hamstring), DE Vonnie Holliday, TE Jeff Thomason (calf) are questionable. 49ers _ RB Garrison Hearst (hamstring), TE Irv Smith (calf), LB Winfred Tubbs (pectoral) are questionable.
PACKERS NOTES: Green Bay reportedly is as healthy as it has been since September. The Packers want to extend their all-time best playoff record (22-9) by using RB Dorsey Levens early and often. Green Bay has won five straight against San Francisco, including three consecutive playoff games. Why? In three playoff games, the Pack has one turnover while S.F. has 11. Here's another reason: QB Brett Favre has a 114.0 rating with four TDs and no INTs. If the defense, ranked second against the run in the NFC, can stop Hearst, the Packers' playoff success will continue.
49ERS NOTES: Hearst's health is paramount to San Francisco's chances. He can help stem the Packers rush with a huge game. Hearst, who set a club record with 1,570 yards, had success against the Packers in November, but the team inexplicably went away from the run and lost 36-22. With Hearst at full strength, San Francisco has one of the best offenses in league history. Its 6,800 total yards were second only to the '84 Dolphins, who had 6,936, and it led the league in red zone TD percentage (33 TDs out of 51 possessions). The Niners are 6-1 in opening playoff games in the '90s and have won 17 straight at 3Com Park. WR Jerry Rice has a catch in 21 consecutive playoff games. The league record is Drew Pearson's 22.
HOOPER'S PICK: Packers 28, 49ers 24
Patriots (9-7) at Jaguars (11-5)
Line: Jaguars by 8 1/2
WHERE: Alltel Stadium, Jacksonville.
ANNOUNCERS: Greg Gumbel and Phil Simms on TV; Tony Roberts and Rick Walker on radio.
PLAYOFF IMPACT: If Jacksonville wins, it plays at the Jets Sunday. If the Patriots win, they are at Denver on Saturday.
KEY INJURIES: Patriots _ QB Drew Bledsoe (finger) is out. LB Todd Collins (pectoral), DE Chris Sullivan (knee) are questionable. Jaguars _ S Donovin Darius (hip) is doubtful. RB Tavian Banks (foot), C Quentin Neujahr (neck), T Leon Searcy (knee) are questionable.
PATRIOTS NOTES: They came out of last week's loss to the Jets swirling in controversy. Players criticized coach Pete Carroll's motivational skills and management reportedly is considering a change. Carroll hasn't been helped by injuries that decimated his original starting lineup. The biggest loss is Bledsoe, who will be replaced by Scott Zolak (14-for-31 against the Jets). On the positive side, the Pats are 3-0 lifetime against the Jags and have won three of their past four AFC playoff games.
JAGUARS NOTES: This is the first home playoff game, and the team hopes this crowd will be as large and loud as the group that filled Alltel on Monday night for the 21-3 victory against Pittsburgh. Despite a high ankle sprain that has kept him out of the past four games, QB Mark Brunell said he will play today. RB Fred Taylor (1,223 yards) will try to outperform friend and fellow rookie Robert Edwards. Jacksonville protects the ball well (its 20 giveaways are the second fewest in the AFC) but recognizes the Patriots will blitz early and often. The team has to stop Edwards or get stung by the play-action attack.
HOOPER'S PICK: Jaguars 27, Patriots 17