8:20 PM EST, NBC – Line: 49ers -3.5, Over/Under: 49.5
A classic rivalry is rekindled as the Green Bay Packers look to keep it rolling following their victory on Monday Night, as they travel to the west coast to battle the unbeaten San Francisco 49ers from Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California. Five years ago, the Packers (1-1, T-1st in NFC North) were sitting at a disappointing 4-6 heading into their Bye Week, prompting their (Franchise Quarterback) Aaron Rodgers (67.3%, 388 YDS, 5.92 NY/A, 4 TD, 2 INT, 46.2 QBR) to spell it out for for their critics, who were intent on proclaiming that the sky was indeed falling in Northeastern Wisconsin: R-E-L-A-X were his words, as Green Bay would go on to win their final six games of the regular season en route to advancing all the way to the NFC Championship Game. Well, heading into last Monday Night’s tilt with the Lions, Rodgers refrained from repeating himself following a disastrous Season Opener against the Saints (38-3), instead allowing his play to do the talking as he and his teammates would rally to what turned out to be a rather comfortable 35-17 victory at Lambeau Field. Things started slowly for (Head Coach) Matt LaFleur’s side, who would trade scores with Detroit throughout much of the first half before trailing 17-14 at Halftime. However, the second half would be dominated by the hosts, who outscored the visiting side 21-0, with the much-maligned Defense forcing two turnovers and another pair on fourth down, while Rodgers and (Pro-Bowl Tailback) Aaron Jones (30 TCH, 137 YDS, 4.6 Y/T, 4 TD) were all too happy to make their division rivals suffer yet again. After amassing just twenty-two yards from scrimmage in Week One, Jones exploded for 114 yards on twenty-three touches and matched a career-high with four touchdowns. Establishing the ground game was always going to be an emphasis of LaFleur’s after his charges managed the fewest rushing attempts (15) and yards (43) of any team in the league on opening weekend, and though their ninety-six yards wasn’t necessarily prolific by any means, the thirty-one carries it took to get there was a clear sign of their intent. As for Rodgers, the reigning 2020 MVP bounced back nicely from what could only be described as an uncharacteristic performance against the Saints (15-of-28, 133 YDS, 2 INT), by completing a surgeon-like 22-of-27 passes for 255 yards and four touchdowns. Third down is where the nine-time Pro-Bowler really got his hands dirty, eviscerating the Lions on 16-of-17 passing for 206 yards and all four of his scores in said situations. Furthermore, on his final touchdown toss he passed (Hall of Famer) John Elway for tenth (51,633 YDS) on the all-time passing yards list, adding yet another notch on the three-time MVP’s belt. It was also a solid showing from a Defense that struggled mightily in the opener, yielding a ridiculous five touchdown passes to (mistake-prone) Jameis Winston, who only needed 148 passing yards to achieve that total, the fewest in NFL history associated with that many touchdowns. Though Detroit had their way with them in the first half, (new Defensive Coordinator) Joe Barry’s troops shut them out after intermission, yielding a respectable 344 total yards and turning (Lions’ Quarterback) Jared Goff over twice along the way. Tonight’s matchup with the 49ers should prove to be quite the test for this unit, for they’ve had plenty of trouble matching San Francisco’s physicality over the past decade; in their last ten meetings the Niners have won six of them (including each of their three postseason encounters), with the Packers’ Defense yielding an average of 29.3 points on 420.7 total yards, including a whopping 193.8 on the ground. There is no doubt that they have played the role of foil to Rodgers over the course of his illustrious career as well for a variety of reasons; of course, the Chico, California native was spurned by his hometown team on Draft Day (San Fran selected Alex Smith No. One Overall instead), and has thus gone 5-6 against them in eleven career meetings, completing 67.6% of his passes for an average of 281.5 yards on 7.15 net yards per attempt with twenty-three touchdowns in comparison to just five interceptions, while suffering thirty-one sacks and seven fumbles (two lost). Furthermore, no team has eliminated him from the Playoffs more frequently, ending the Packers’ run on three different occasions since 2012. Ironically, there is a new wrinkle in this rivalry, for (depending on who you believe) Rodgers was in talks of being traded to the Niners shortly before the 2021 NFL Draft; years of simmering tensions between club and Quarterback came to a raging boil in the Spring, as the 37-year old publicly requested a trade, with the Packers ultimately refusing his request, and San Francisco opting to move up in the Draft to select Trey Lance third overall (more on that shortly). Indeed, it appears that the relationship between Green Bay and Rodgers is beyond repair, and though he wasn’t moved this Summer, reports indicate that he could be allowed to leave the only franchise that he’s ever played for following this season, with a potential out in his current contact that would otherwise run for another two years.
Meanwhile, after a season in which they were decimated by injuries, the 49ers (2-0, T-1st in NFC West) are looking to get back to the form that they enjoyed two years ago when they bludgeoned their way to Super Bowl LV. Coming into this season the biggest storyline was what San Francisco was trying to accomplish at Quarterback, with (Head Coach) Kyle Shanahan and (General Manager) John Lynch exhausting every option at their disposal in an attempt to upgrade the position. Of course, that was bad news for (the incumbent starter) Jimmy Garoppolo (70.9%, 503 YDS, 8.84 NY/A, 2 TD, 0 INT, 61.5 QBR), who was one of the many injury casualties of 2020, missing all but six games with lingering sprains to both his ankle and MCL. Then again, that’s been the theme with the 29-year old during his stay with the franchise; after arriving via trade midway through the 2017 campaign, Garoppolo has gone on to make just thirty-two starts with the Niners, with half of them coming in 2019 in which he led them to their first NFC Championship in seven years. However, when he’s healthy, he’s performed efficiently in completing 67.7% of his passes for an average of 238.0 yards on 7.33 net yards per attempt with forty-eight touchdowns in comparison to twenty-six interceptions en route to amassing a stellar 24-8 record. And at the end of the day, that’s the rub with this guy, for he simply hasn’t been available enough in missing twenty-three games, and when you’re paying him over $26 million you can see where the issues arise. That’s why Shanahan and Lynch were so interested in acquiring Rodgers this Spring, not to mention other Quarterbacks whom the former has worked with in the past (I.E. Matt Ryan and Kirk Cousins), and ultimately why the franchise moved up seven spots in the 2021 NFL Draft and selected Trey Lance (100.0%, 5 YDS, 5.00 N/Y, 1 TD, 0 INT, 7.5 QBR) at No. Three Overall. Simply put, this was quite the turn of events for the 49ers, who moved mountains to pick the 21-year old out of (FCS powerhouse) North Dakota State, who due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic saw the field just ONCE last season. Sure, a decade ago you could get away with selecting a Quarterback this high and stashing him on your roster so he can develop for a few years, but in today’s National Football League this would spark a bonafide controversy at the sport’s most important position, one that would last throughout the Summer and Preseason, and by all accounts into the Regular Season as well. Both Garoppolo and Lance would see plenty of reps with the first string throughout the Preseason, with Shanahan remaining coy as to who would in fact be the starter heading into the Season Opener, even indicating that he may alternate between both Quarterbacks throughout the affair. As it turned out, the more experienced of the two would get the starting nod, though there were a number of packages instituted for the rookie, including one employed immediately in San Francisco’s first trip into the red zone; coming in at the Lions’ 5-yard line, Lance took the snap and calmly tossed the football towards the right sideline, with (Receiver) Trent Sherfield (3 REC, 32 YDS, 10.7 Y/R, 1 TD) scoring the touchdown. While that’s been the only pass that Lance has thrown thus far, you can bet that he’ll see more action as he becomes more comfortable within his surroundings, and Shanahan becomes more confident his command of the Offense. In the meantime, Garoppolo is indeed playing for his next contract, whomever will be offering it to him; though his current deal runs through to 2022, he can be released with little expense ($1.4 million) following this season. To his credit, the former Patriot has performed well thus far in 2021, completing an efficient 70.9% of his attempts for an average of 251.5 yards on a career-high 8.84 net yards per attempt, managing the game while the rushing attack does it’s job. After their bizarre 41-33 victory over the Lions, in which Detroit scored a remarkable sixteen points inside of the final two minutes to make the outcome look more respectable, San Francisco hit the road once more for what turned out to be a much more tightly-contested affair in Philadelphia, where they would move to 2-0 via a 17-11 win in the City of Brotherly Love. This one was a war in the trenches with both teams intent on establishing the run and snuffing it out, and in the end it would be the visitors who were the most successful. Apart from a 91-yard bomb from their own 3-yard line, the hosts struggled to get much going, as the 49ers dominated time of possession (34:54) on the strength of 117 rushing yards on thirty-eight attempts. Garoppolo completed an efficient 22-of-30 passes for just 189 yards and a score, but would also factor into the ground game with another touchdown early in the Fourth Quarter widen the lead. With (Tailback) Raheem Mostert (2 CAR, 20 YDS, 10.0 Y/A, 0 TD) placed on Injured Reserve with a torn ACL, the unheralded tandem of Elijah Mitchell (36 CAR, 146 YDS, 4.1 Y/A, 1 TD) and Jamycal Hasty (6 CAR, 41 YDS, 6.8 Y/A, 1 TD) accounted for forty-two and thirty-eight yards respectively, while (third-year Receiver) Deebo Samuel (15 REC, 282 YDS, 18.8 Y/R, 1 TD) was responsible for nearly half of his team’s yardage through the air (6 REC, 93 YDS). Defensively, it was nice to see the healthy return of (Edge-Rusher) Nick Bosa (7 TKL, 4 TFL, 4 QBH, 3.0 SK, 1 FF), who after missing most of last season with a torn ACL of his own, made the afternoon a miserable one for Jalen Hurts, sacking the young passer twice and forcing a fumble. San Francisco is 7-3 in Home Openers dating back to 2011, and with a win tonight will be off to what would be just their second 3-0 start since 1998.