Packers at 49ers preview: Predictions, 5 things to watch
TEAMS: Green Bay Packers (8-2) at San Francisco 49ers (9-1).
WHEN: 7:20 p.m. CT Sunday.
WHERE: Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, California.
TV: NBC with Al Michaels (play-by-play), Cris Collinsworth (analyst).
RADIO: AM-620 in Milwaukee, FM-101.1 in Green Bay; Packers Radio Network.
SERIES: Packers lead, 36-30-1.
LINE: 49ers by 3.
WEATHER: Clear, high of 68 degrees.
SURFACE: Tifway II Bermuda Grass.
COACHES: Green Bay’s Matt LaFleur (8-2) vs. San Francisco's Kyle Shanahan (19-23).
LIVE GAME BLOG: Join Tom Silverstein for analysis and lively conversation.
5 THINGS TO WATCH
1. KITTLE IN THE MIDDLE: The 49ers are saying the status of tight end George Kittle (knee/ankle) will be determined on game day. There is no one more important to their offense. He is at the center of almost everything they do. Despite being known as a pass catcher – he leads the team with 46 catches for 541 yards and two touchdowns – he is a vital part of their rushing attack. Without Kittle the past two weeks, the 49ers had their two worst rushing games of the season, 34 yards against Arizona and 87 against Seattle. “One thing that I respect so much about George Kittle is he’s a complete football player,” Packers coach Matt LaFleur told San Francisco media this past week. “I think he’s as good in the run game as he is in the pass game. And I think he’s arguably the best tight end in the game.”
2. SOUP’S ON: In his first game in a nearly a year, safety Ibraheim Campbell played 42 snaps and was productive against Carolina. He missed his first tackle and lost his man on a play-action fake that resulted in a Greg Olsen reception, but as the game wore on he played better. He finished with six tackles and a forced fumble playing as an inside linebacker in the nickel and a slot corner in the dime. Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine loves Campbell’s versatility and he turned to him after the Panthers started completing passes against the base defense. “We knew he was ready, we knew he was capable,” Pettine said of Campbell, who was playing his first game since tearing his ACL last year. “Now having another week of practice and doing what we’re doing, I think he’ll be a week better.”
3. PICKING THEIR SPOTS: If the Packers win, it will probably be because they have forced 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to throw an interception or two. Despite throwing for 18 touchdowns and completing 68.8% of his passes, Garoppolo has a passer rating of only 97.7 and the reason is his 10 interceptions. He has thrown an interception in all but two games. He has three interceptions in the last two games, including two in the loss to Seattle. The Packers have nine interceptions, which ranks seventh in the NFL, but most impressive is that four have been in their own end zone in the fourth quarter. “Definitely we've had too many of them, but what I like about Jimmy is he makes a lot of plays, too,” 49eres coach Kyle Shanahan said. “And he keeps coming. He's not scared to turn it over, because he's not scared to make the big play.”
4. SPREAD OFFENSE: Quarterback Aaron Rodgers has done a good job of using all his targets in the passing game. Of course, he was forced to use others during the four games receiver Davante Adams was sidelined with a turf toe injury, so the receiving numbers are not top heavy. Adams leads with 39 receptions, Aaron Jones has 35, Jimmy Graham 27, Jamaal Williams 25, Geronimo Allison 23, Marquez Valdes-Scantling 22 and Allen Lazard 18. Adams will get the most as the season goes on, but others must come through when their number is called. “It’s going to take guys buying into their roles and understanding that one week they might have a couple of big catches and 140 yards and a touchdown and the next week they might not be as a big a factor in the game,” Rodgers said. “That’s just the way the game plays out, the plan, the defense we’re playing against.”
5. BYE BYE: The Packers have played several teams coming off their bye weeks and now it’s their turn to see what they can do with an extra week of preparation. The 49ers are entering a brutal three-game stretch in which their opponents have a combined 24-6 record. The Packers face the 2-8 New York Giants, 1-9 Washington and 4-6 Chicago after the 49ers. LaFleur wanted his team to get healthy both of body and mind during the bye because they are entering a time of the season when they should be playing their best. “Not only physically healthy, everybody has their dings here and there, but more stepping away from it,” LaFleur said of the bye. “We didn’t want them (during) their time away from here thinking about football; just be able to get away. I thought it came at a perfect time for us with the stretch of games left in front of us, where we are, what lays in front of us.”
The Packers are the healthier team, had a week to rest and have a coach who would love to show his mentor how far he’s come. Who plays for the 49ers will matter a lot. Packers 27, 49ers 24
The Packers have had trouble stopping the run and covering good tight ends. The 49ers run the ball more than anyone in the league and have one the game’s best tight ends in George Kittle, who’s expected back from knee and ankle injuries. The guess is, that wins out over an uncommonly healthy Packers team coming off the bye. 49ers 27, Packers 21
The shootout between Matt LaFleur and Kyle Shanahan never materializes. Instead, this matchup will showcase two defenses capable of winning in January. The 49ers have the better defense, and they’re playing at home. Two advantages the Packers won’t be able to overcome. 49ers 23, Packers 19
This feels like head coaches Kyle Shanahan and Matt LaFleur will be ground-oriented, shortening the game offensively with each hoping the defense can give the offense an extra possession to make the difference. This game could go either way, but the 49ers will have just enough on offense to squeak out a victory. 49ers 24, Packers 23
The Packers have had two weeks to prepare for a team the staff is familiar with. They’re mostly healthy. But they’re going against a stellar defense and a slew of offensive weapons that have abused weak areas of the Packers’ defense all season long. 49ers 30, Packers 24
Turnovers could be decisive, with 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo throwing a costly pick while Aaron Rodgers directs a ball-control offense. Green Bay takes control of the race for the No. 1 seed. Packers 30, 49ers 27