Green Bay Packers and San Francisco 49ers vie for NFC supremacy on Sunday night
Watch Green Bay Packers at San Francisco 49ers on Sunday Night Football on Sky Sports Action; kick-off is at 1.20am on Monday morning
By James Simpson - @JS_Football
Last Updated: 24/11/19 11:28pm
Green Bay and San Francisco meet in a game that could potentially decide home-field advantage through the NFC playoffs when the Packers visit Levi's Stadium on Sunday Night Football.
The 49ers (9-1) still have the conference's best record after their last-gasp win over Arizona last week, while the Packers (8-2) will keep their one-game lead over the Vikings in the NFC North with a victory.
And this could be a pivotal game for the entire league - over the last 13 seasons, there have only been five occasions in which teams with two or fewer losses have met this late in the year.
The winners of the last two games have gone on to win the Super Bowl (Denver in 2015 after beating New England and Seattle in 2013 after beating New Orleans).
Despite missing the playoffs last season, both of these teams are contenders at this point. However, these next six games will determine if the NFC playoff race will go through one of their home fields.
|Green Bay Packers||San Francisco 49ers|
|@ 49ers (9-1)||vs Packers (8-2)|
|@ Giants (2-8)||@ Ravens (8-2)|
|vs Redskins (1-9)||@ Saints (8-2)|
|vs Bears (4-6)||vs Falcons (3-7)|
|@ Vikings (8-3)||vs Rams (6-4)|
|@ Lions (3-6-1)||@ Seahawks (8-2)|
Old friends face off
The two head coaches facing off - Matt LaFleur and Kyle Shanahan - know each other well. They worked together in Houston, Washington and Atlanta, and both are in conversation for coach of the year.
After a 10-22 record over his first two seasons as San Francisco head coach, Shanahan has turned his team around in outstanding fashion. They finished last season with a 4-12 record, and began this one by winning eight straight games before their 27-24 overtime loss to Seattle.
With a win on Sunday, the 49ers would join the 2016 Dallas Cowboys as the only teams to win 10 of their first 11 games in a season after winning four or fewer games the previous year in NFL history.
In LaFleur's first season as the man in charge, the Packers look like they will return to the postseason after a two-year drought and are three wins away from their best record since 2014.
"I feel like we see it so much alike," LaFleur said. "That's a byproduct of working with somebody for so long and having a lot of conversations about it. I feel like he's taught me how to see the game."
LaFleur called 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh "one of my closest friends in life" while his brother, Mike, is the Niners' passing game coordinator. There is more on the line than just a spot at the top of the conference.
Perhaps due to their shared experiences, Shanahan and LaFleur are offensive-minded head coaches and their first focus is the running game.
The 49ers have the second-best rushing attack in the league with 149 yards per game (behind the Baltimore Ravens and their insane 203.1 YPG pace), led by home-run threats in Tevin Coleman and Matt Breida.
With Breida banged up and Coleman missing time at the start of the year, back-ups Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson Jr have made important contributions - Mostert is averaging 5.2 yards per carry while Wilson Jr has scored five total touchdowns, including the game-winner last week against the Cardinals.
Green Bay, meanwhile, don't have the impressive team stats over the course of the season, but they boast an impressive one-two punch of Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams.
Both players have averaged more than five yards per carry over the past six weeks and Jones' 14 total TDs are tied for the NFL lead (with Christian McCaffrey).
At quarterback, Aaron Rodgers and Jimmy Garoppolo differ mostly in their turnovers.
|Statistic||Aaron Rodgers||Jimmy Garoppolo|
Two-time league MVP Rodgers has been able to take care of the ball, throwing just two interceptions compared to 17 touchdowns. That puts his 102.7 passer rating in the top 10.
Garoppolo, however, has been picked the fourth-most times in the league (10) even though he has thrown one more TD than Rodgers. His 97.7 passer rating is not far off, but he's also fumbled seven times (compared to Rodgers' two).
Luckily for 'Jimmy G', he has strong support on the other side of the ball...
Niners boast dominant defense
The 49ers have the edge on defense.
They are tied for the league lead in sacks (39) with Arik Armstead (eight), Nick Bosa (seven), Dee Ford (6.5) and DeForest Buckner (five) giving the 49ers the only quartet of players with five-plus sacks.
That group fuels a defense that ranks second in defensive passer rating (72.3) and fourth in interceptions (11). As an overall group, they are second to only the New England Patriots in yards per game allowed (253.0) and points (15.5).
Rodgers recognises what he is up against, saying: "They've had a number of sacks, which is obviously helping not only their overall yardage but the back end as well, because the back end knows the ball's got to come out at a certain time."
"There are not any holes on this defense. It's solid from the front seven to the back end as well. They're playing really well together. It's going to be a really good test for us."
After a solid start to the year, the Packers have fallen off considerably on the defensive front - they rank in the bottom ten in passing, rushing and total yards allowed, and have slipped to the middle of the pack with 20.5 points per game allowed.
Watch the battle for NFC supremacy as the Green Bay Packers visit the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday Night Football on Sky Sports Action; kickoff is at 1.20am on Monday morning.