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Green Bay Packers vs San Francisco 49ers -  Previewing the 2020 NFC Championship Game

Green Bay Packers v San Francisco 49ers
ANALYST
Modified 01 Apr 2020, 17:29 IST
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The lead-up

The Packers entered 2019 with their first back-to-back losing seasons in the current format of the NFC North. Despite throwing 25 touchdowns compared to just two picks in 2018, people started to doubt Aaron Rodgers as one of the premier quarterbacks in the game and the relationship between him and their new first-time head coach Matt LaFleur was heavily discussed as well. Green Bay kicked off the 100th NFL season with a classic rivalry against the Bears and made a statement right away with their retooled defense in a 10-3 victory over the then-reigning division champs.

After a 3-0 start, the Eagles came into Lambeau Field and quickly changed a lot of people’s views changed after they gave up 34 points in a loss. The Pack did recover with four straight wins, but then suffered two defeats over the next three games – both on the West Coast and including a 37-8 demolition by the 49ers. They would close out the season with five straight wins, including the other three NFC North teams, but were mainly looked at as one of the worst 13-3 teams in recent memory – which actually has some truth to it since their point differential of +63 is the lowest for any team with that kind of record.

Having to climb back from a 17-3 halftime deficit to the David Blough-led Lions in week 17 didn’t help that matter either. However, thanks to tie-breakers over the Saints, they got a bye week and came out strong against the Seahawks in the Divisional Round. The pass rush made life hard for Russell Wilson and after Seattle started making a run in the second half, Rodgers closed out the game with two big third-down conversions (even if the second one brought some controversy with it).

Coming into the season after four straight years below .500, the 49ers were buried behind the Rams and Seahawks in terms of odds for being the next NFC West champs and while I actually had them winning the division in my preseason predictions, I didn’t even think they would go 13-3 and earn the number one seed in the conference. San Francisco came out of the gates smoking hot, starting the year off 8-0 and if it wasn’t for a couple of unlucky bounces of the ball and a missed field goal in overtime, they would not have suffered their first loss against the Seahawks either.

Two weeks later they put that whooping on their opponents for the Championship Round and even the following game at Baltimore against what was then viewed as the class of the league, it took a long field goal with time running out to beat this team. After an epic 48-46 shootout win at New Orleans, injuries started piling up for this squad in the Bay. The defense without a few starters allowed an average of 27 points over the final three weeks of regular-season action, which led to a loss against Atlanta on the last play of the game and a tackle that put the Seahawks just a couple of inches short of taking the NFC West from the Niners. Nobody benefitted from that extra week of rest more than San Francisco, as they managed to bring back Dee Ford, Kwon Alexander and Jaquiski Tartt on defense, which led to immediate success, as they managed to hold the Vikings, who were just coming off an upset win over the Saints, to only ten points and they easily advanced to the NFC title game.

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Published 17 Jan 2020, 17:24 IST
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