While Green Bay and San Francisco are both 14-3, the Packers are technically the hottest team in the NFC right now. They’ve won six in a row – including quality wins over the Seahawks and Vikings – and also own a win at Kansas City the last Sunday in October.The 49ers have actually dropped two of their past six, although one was at Baltimore, and the other was an ugly performance at home vs. the Falcons in Week 15.
However, that is pretty much the only edge the Packers can claim this season.
The three aforementioned wins for the Packers – plus a Week 2 win over Minnesota – are their only victories over winning teams this season.
The 49ers boast wins over the Rams (2), Seattle, an epic victory over the Saints in New Orleans, the Vikings and a 37-8 pounding of the Packers in San Francisco – the Packers’ last loss and a game they were never in.
Was the Pack’s last visit to the left coast just an outlier, or can 49ers fans start making plans for Miami right now? Let’s find out.
Packers offense vs. 49ers defense: Make no mistake, Aaron Rodgers is still one of the game’s best, and one of the few guys in the league capable of winning a game like this almost on his own.
But after Green Bay’s offense ran entirely through him the last 11 seasons, it now revolves around running back Aaron Jones, and it is not the juggernaut we have become used to.
Green Bay was just 18th in total offense this year, 17th throwing the ball, 12th protecting Rodgers from the rush, only 23rd on 3rd down, converting 35.96% and 15th in points scored (23.5 per game).
And as incredible as Jones was – 236-1, 084-16 rushing and Rodgers’ second-leading receiver with 49-474-3 – the Packers were only 15th running the football and 16th in average gain per carry.
Contrast that with the 49ers defense ranking 2nd in total defense, 1st against the pass, 3rd rushing the passer, 2nd getting off the field on 3rd down and 8th in points allowed.
The one issue San Francisco had on defense was a No. 17 ranking stopping the run, enough to give Jones and the Pack hope.
The biggest problem the 49ers pose is the best defensive front in football boasting five former first-round draft choices in Arik Armstead, DeForest Buckner, Solomon Thomas, Dee Ford and soon-to-be Defensive Rookie of the Year Nick Bosa.
Green Bay is very good at tackle with David Bakhtiari and Bryan Bulaga but pedestrian inside and was held to 198 yards of total offense last time in Santa Clara, when it went 1-of-15 on third down and Rodgers was sacked five times.
Davante Adams is a game breaker, but he’ll likely have Richard Sherman in his way most of the day and night.
49ers offense vs. Packers defense: San Francisco loves to pound you on the ground with the three-headed monster of Tevin Coleman, Raheem Mostert and Matt Breida, and if you put too many defenders in the box, the Niners toast defenses with Jimmy Garoppolo throwing to All Pro TE George Kittle, two-time Pro Bowl vet Emmanuel Sanders and breakout rookie star Deebo Samuel.
The 49er offense was 4th in total offense, 2nd running the ball, 13th passing it but 3rd in average gain per pass, 5th on 3rd down, converting 45% and 2nd in the league scoring (29.9 points per game).
Green Bay’s defense was 18th overall, just 23rd vs. the run – a very bad omen vs. the 49ers – 14th vs. the pass, 15th on 3rd down (38.1%) and 9th in points allowed (19.6).
The only good news here for the Packers is that the one thing they do really well – rush the passer, finishing 3rd in the league in sack percentage – is the one area where the San Fran offense struggles at times, ranking only 19th in sack percentage allowed.
The key matchup in this game for the Packers could be the “Smith Brothers,” Za’Darius and Preston, against offensive tackles Joe Staley and Mike McGlinchey, but it will only matter if the Packers porous run “D” can limit the 49ers on the ground.
Special Teams: The 49ers boast a clear edge covering punts and kickoffs, and on the season they’ve been far superior returning punts, with the two clubs pretty much even returning kickoffs.
Robbie Gould is still good as gold after a rough, injury-plagued start to the season, but Mason Crosby has been arguably the best kicker in the league this year, overcoming a ton of adversity and missing only two field goals and one extra point.
Mitch Wishnowsky averages 1.7 net yards more than Green Bay’s JK Scott.
Coaches: Both Kyle Shanahan and Matt LaFleur had NFL Coach of the Year-caliber seasons, and this is a classic matchup between the mentor, Shanahan, and the student, LaFleur.
But based on the outcome seven weeks ago and until LaFleur beats his old boss, the Niners rate a clear edge.