"It's a hard pill to swallow being 12-4 and not having any home games," San Francisco defensive lineman Ray McDonald said. "But we're in a tough division, so that happens sometimes."
Now the 49ers are hoping to establish a new precedent. This franchise has won five Super Bowls, and appeared in six. But none of those previous league or conference champions had to compete in the first round of the playoffs. All were division champs. This is the sixth 49ers squad to play a wild-card game; three of the previous five won their first postseason game, but each of those lost in the next round.
Barring a miracle -#8212; the Niners and the other wild-card entry, the New Orleans Saints, both advancing to the NFC championship game -#8212; Candlestick Park has hosted its last NFL contest, and the 49ers will be traveling through January.
Starting with the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field, which will be featured in all its icy splendor after a predicted Saturday snowfall. Niners head coach Jim Harbaugh aggressively avoided the subject of weather Wednesday. Strong safety Donte Whitner, who grew up in Cleveland, played collegiately at Ohio State and spent his first five NFL seasons in Buffalo, pointed out that many of his teammates are from the East Coast or Midwest, and that the 49ers, with their run-oriented offense and stout defense, are seemingly built for bad weather.
In case those advantages fail to materialize, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers offered some advice Wednesday: Drink a lot of chicken noodle soup leading up to the game.
Should they win Sunday, the 49ers will play at either Seattle or Carolina the following weekend. Those are tough assignments, no doubt, but Harbaugh's team should be buoyed by a historical shift.
In the first 27 years after NFL wild-card games were established in 1978, only three teams played in the opening round of the postseason and advanced to win the Super Bowl.
In the past eight years, five teams have done it. Three of them -#8212; the 2005 Steelers, 2007 Giants and 2010 Packers -#8212; won three road playoff games en route to the title.
"If you just look at the history, the short-term history of the last few years, you have teams that play on wild-card weekend making deep runs in the playoffs," said Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who led that 2010 charge and is back to pilot his team after missing most of eight games with a broken collarbone.
" ... It's all about giving yourself an opportunity to get in, and we did it as a 6 seed. Teams have done it. Giants have done it, Baltimore last year played on wild-card weekend. You just gotta get in, and you gotta get hot at the right time."