It’s no exaggeration to say the Green Bay Packers face one of their most daunting challenges this weekend against the San Francisco 49ers.
The NFC race is crowded, with five teams possessing at least five wins. Two of these teams, the Seattle Seahawks and Minnesota Vikings, are right on the heels of their division leaders. A win Sunday night gives the winner a valuable a tie-breaker and with a race this close that could be the difference in playing at home or playing on the road, or even playing as a wild card.
The Battle for the First Seed in the NFC doesn’t roll off of the tongue, but for the 9-1 San Francisco 49ers and the 8-2 Green Bay Packers, that’s exactly what Sunday night’s game is. With a favorable schedule the rest of the way, this game is vital to the Packers’ postseason goals.
For the Packers’ part, the team has the luxury of facing the conference leader after a bye week and with an extremely healthy roster. As of Wednesday night, every player on the active roster, sans a few veterans with a rest day, practiced in some capacity. Having two weeks of soul-searching, preparation, and rest should have Green Bay as ready as they could possibly be, outside of having access to the Hyperbolic Time Chamber from Dragon Ball Z.
Alternatively, the 49ers are recovering from a tough two weeks, including an overtime loss to Seattle and multiple injuries. Noteworthy absences include Dee Ford, George Kittle, Emmanuel Sanders, and Joe Staley, Matt Breida, and Raheem Mostert. Missing two top runners is really bad for a Shanahan offense (which, obviously, Kyle Shanahan utilizes), and missing the best tight end in the league, a starting left tackle, and a #1 receiver is probably less than ideal.
We’ll see how the injury report shakes up throughout the week, but regardless, San Francisco’s offense matches up favorably against the Green Bay defense, which has struggled mightily against the run and in dealing with tight ends. Kittle can’t be replaced, but Shanahan is skilled at scheming his guys to create mismatches.
Luckily, the Packers had time to binge some 49ers tape, which in recent weeks showed how to succeed: make Jimmy Garappolo’s life hell. Jadeveon Clowney hazed Jimmy G in a dominant performance, while the Cardinals’ Chandler Jones brought the terror the following week. Without Staley, the offensive line is vulnerable. Expect the Smith Bros, arguably the best pass rushing tandem in the NFL, to follow suit.
Yes, the 49ers are a talented team with a savvy offensive mind at the helm. But you know what? So are the Green Bay Packers. Both Aarons are playing MVP level football, and Matt LaFleur thrived even without Davante Adams. Ideally, the team will employ the talented young players, like Allen Lazard and Jace Sternberger, into the mix. The team has weaknesses, but what team doesn’t?
According to Bleacher Report, the Packers are 3 point underdogs this Sunday. When teams are of similar talent, the home team is often favored by a field goal, which means on a neutral field, these teams should be about equal. This will be a tough game for the Green and Gold, and the implications for the NFC playoff race are massive, but Green Bay has more than a fighting chance.
Matt LaFleur’s first season is off to a beautiful start. This week is an intimidating test as he faces up with his friend and mentor (not to mention his brother). LaFleur rose above every challenge and criticism faced so far: let’s hope this week is another passed test.Matt Hendershott is a Packers fan and Miller High Life enthusiast from Northwest Ohio. He has a Master of Arts in Media and Communication from Bowling Green State University. You can follow him on Twitter @MattHendershott.