One of the bigger (and more underrated) factors in Saturday night's tilt between the Packers and 49ers is the return of San Francisco defensive end Justin Smith, who suffered a partially-torn triceps muscle on December 16.
Good news for Niners fans, then, as Smith is officially listed as probable and has been apparently cleared to go by Jim Harbaugh.
When the Niners lost Smith in the regular season, things went downhill quickly. Aldon Smith, their pass-rushing specialist, didn't manage a sack in the final 10 or so quarters without his fellow Smith on the line to help distract offensive linemen.
And over that stretch, the Niners defense gave up a very uncharacteristic 86 points. Needless to say, then, getting Smith back is paramount to San Francisco's success.
According to Matt Maiocco of CSN Bay Area, Smith's been given the "green light" to play against Green Bay.
That's all well and good, but it won't mean much if Smith's not effective. Everyone's expected the veteran to play in some pain, the question is how much damage he can do to the Packers offensive line while playing with the injury.
If the answer is "a lot" then the 49ers stand a good chance of advancing to the NFC Championship Game. If the answer "not much," it's hard not to like Green Bay, even with the game on the road.