Ten games down, six to go.
The Green Bay Packers face their most formidable challenge of the 2019 season, and it couldn’t come at a better time.
On the road. West Coast (remember the Chargers fiasco). Against the 9-1 San Francisco 49ers.
The 8-2 Packers—rested and healthy—come off their bye week to make the long flight west in a battle of NFC heavyweights on a primetime stage.
“This is what it’s all about,” said Mike Ditka, former Chicago Bears head coach. “We’ll see who is the better team Sunday night. This is going to be a good game, a good match up. I know the Packers bombed their last time on the West Coast against the Chargers.
“As a former coach, I always liked sticking to the normal routine of traveling. But going out a day early shouldn’t really matter. This is professional football. You should be ready to play on Sunday when the whistle blows. I’m sure Aaron Rodgers and the Packers will be ready to play on this trip.”
There’s a lot at stake: a top seed in the NFC for one. For Green Bay, it’s staying in front of the hard-charging Minnesota Vikings, who have kept pace with the Packers and remain just one game back in the NFC North race.
“No one is running away with that division,” Ditka said. “It will be a close one and probably come down to the final week of the season.”
While Green Bay comes off a bye week, San Francisco has played three games in 13 days. And the 49ers enter a brutal three-game stretch against opponents with a 24-6 combined record, while the Packers have four of their final six games on the road.
The 49ers offense features one of NFL’s best rushing attacks with Tevin Coleman and Matt Breida and average 149 yards rushing per game as a team. Stopping the run has been an issue all season for the Green Bay defense, which will focus on that against the 49eers to put the game in the hands of quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo.
The 49ers may be bolstered with the return of perhaps their most important offensive cog, tight end George Kittle from a knee/ankle injury.
Kittle is a formidable threat as a receiver, leading the team with 46 receptions for 451 yards and two touchdowns, but is also a crucial blocking element for the run game. It will come down to a game-time decision if he’s able to play.
The coaching staffs of both teams are familiar with each other, as LaFleur has worked with 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan and defensive coordinator Robert Saleh as they rose through the NFL coaching ranks.
LaFleur is pleased with his team—off to Green Bay’s best start since the 2011 season—and their mindset coming out of the bye week.
“Not only physically healthy, everyone has their dings here and there, but more stepping away from it (football),” LaFleur said. “We didn’t want them (during) their time away from here thinking about football. . . I thought it came at a perfect time for us with the stretch of games left in front of us.”
NFL Week 12 Picks
San Francisco’s defensive front will test Rodgers and Green Bay’s running backs. The team that wins the battle in the trenches wins this war of NFC powers. The bye week and extra prep and rest pay dividends for Packers on this West Coast trip.
Packers 30, 49ers 27