GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The 49ers, by virtue of a sixth straight win Sunday, are the NFL's hottest team entering the playoffs. Their first destination: frigid Green Bay.

Their ideal final destination: a second straight Super Bowl, this time in the not-so-tropical locale of East Rutherford, N.J.

Sunday's 23-20, last-second win over the Arizona Cardinals will be a distant memory once the fifth-seeded 49ers (12-4) step onto Lambeau Field next Sunday.

As they launch their NFC title defense, one question stands out: Can Colin Kaepernick repeat last year's playoff-opening torment of the Packers, this time on their turf, er, tundra?

"We have to win," Kaepernick said. "We've got to go to their place this time, and we need to get this win."

The Packers (8-7-1) won Sunday in last-minute fashion, too, and their reward for a 33-28 win at Chicago was the NFC North title and No. 4 seed.

That set up a rematch of last season's 49ers playoff opener, which they won 45-31 at home, largely behind Kaepernick's dual-threat talents. He passed for 263 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 181 yards and two touchdowns.

Kaepernick enters this postseason on a roll after clutch completions to Anquan Boldin and Quinton Patton set up Phil Dawson's 40-yard, game-winning field goal as time expired Sunday.

"We strung it out to the end, which we shouldn't have, but we came up with the win," said Kaepernick (21 of 34, 310 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions).

A No. 2 seed the past two postseasons, the 49ers won't be returning to Candlestick Park unless they can host the New Orleans Saints in an unprecedented NFC Championship game pitting Nos. 5 and 6 seeds.

"We know where we're headed. This is only for the tough," 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said. "We've been through some tough ballgames, and we know it will be more of the same coming."

The 49ers opened the past two regular seasons by beating the Packers, 34-28 this year at Candlestick and 30-22 in 2012 at Green Bay.

Linebacker NaVorro Bowman, who sealed that 2012 win at Lambeau with an interception, isn't concerned about what likely will be the first kickoff in freezing conditions in their three seasons under Harbaugh. (Sunday's forecast is a high of 18 degrees with a wind-chill factor of 6.)

"It's a Super Bowl on the line. Coldness goes out the window," Bowman said. "You want to be great, you want to be remembered, and these are the games you get remembered in, no matter the temperature or situation."

Bowman has had quite the season to remember. Sunday's latest exploits included a first-quarter interception, a third-quarter forced fumble that he recovered, a team-high 10 tackles and the 49ers' only sack.

That sack came one snap before the Cardinals tied the score at 17, with Andre Roberts making a 34-yard touchdown catch against Tramaine Brock with 3:20 remaining.

The 49ers responded with a 56-yard field goal by Dawson with 1:45 left, only to see the Cardinals pull even on Jay Feely's 43-yard field goal with 29 seconds remaining.

That left enough time for the 49ers' winning drive, starting with an 18-yard completion to Boldin. It capped Boldin's massive production (nine catches, 149 yards, one touchdown) in his first game here since the Cardinals traded him in 2010 to Baltimore.

After a timeout and then a baffling delay-of-game penalty, the 49ers soared into field-goal range with Patton making an acrobatic, 29-yard reception at the Cardinals 22. That proved plenty close enough for Dawson, who earlier missed a 24-yard field-goal attempt to snap his franchise-record streak of 27 consecutive successful attempts.

Rather than dwell on their near-collapse -- their offense's missed opportunities inside the 10, their defense yielding 407 passing yards -- the 49ers smiled at the prospect of returning to the playoffs, and of returning to Green Bay.

"We're prepared," Bowman said. "Going out to Green Bay, we've done it before, so we're looking forward to it."

For more on the 49ers, see Cam Inman's Hot Read blog at blogs.mercurynews.com/49ers. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/CamInman.