In a rematch of the NFC Championship from a season ago, the San Francisco 49ers return to Levi’s Stadium to take on the Green Bay Packers. This will mark the fourth contest between the two organizations since the start of the 2018 season with the 49ers holding a 2-1 edge in those matchups, the lone 49ers loss coming at Lambeau Field on Monday Night Football.
Both teams come into this week reeling a bit. The 49ers are looking to get back on track after a 37-27 loss last week in Seattle, while the Packers have lost two of their past three including a loss at home on Sunday to the Minnesota Vikings. In addition, the 49ers and Packers will be without three players apiece due to positive Covid-19 tests and close contacts.
With that as a backdrop, let’s take a look at 5 burning questions to which the answers will be key to the outcome later tonight.
1. Which team will be able to overcome Covid-19 issues? – In true 2020 style, both the Packers and 49ers come into this game with issues related to Covid-19. Green Bay will be without the services of running backs A.J. Dillon and Jamaal Williams along with linebacker Kamal Martin. San Francisco will be without wide receiver Kendrick Bourne who received a positive test yesterday along with left tackle Trent Williams and Brandon Aiyuk who have been ruled out due to close contact with Bourne.
2. Will Nick Mullens be able to duplicate his last performance on Thursday Night Football? – The last time Nick Mullens started on Thursday Nigh Football also happened to be his first ever NFL start. Mullens tore apart the Oakland Raiders defense in that game, completing over 72 percent of his pass attempts for 262 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions. The 49ers will likely need another performance similar to that for the 49ers to take down the Packers.
Mullens has shown the ability to put up big numbers. In nine of his ten previous starts he has gone for over 220 yards and thrown for at least one touchdown.
3. Can the 49ers defense keep Aaron Rodgers in check? – Rodgers is going to make some plays, that is a given when you factor in the limited pass rush that San Francisco brings into this game and the fact that Green Bay is down three running backs. The matchups on the outside are much more favorable this go around than they were when Rodgers lit the 49ers secondary up in 2018 for over 400 yards. Jason Verrett will fill the top cover role that Richard Sherman handled in 2018, and Emmanuel Moseley is a big upgrade over Greg Mabin.
I reference that 2018 game here, because the 49ers of 2020 without Nick Bosa and Deforest Buckner are much more like the team that nearly pulled off the upset at Lambeau.
4. Will JaMycal Hasty and Jerick McKinnon be able to carry the load? – Hasty and McKinnon are the only two healthy halfbacks that will be available to the 49ers. Hasty received the most carries of his career so far last week in Seattle, 12, and responded by averaging only 2.4 yards per carry. The 49ers saw similar returns from McKinnon earlier this season when he was given more than 10 carries in a game. These two will need to pick it up for the 49ers to be able to grind some yards out on the ground against a vulnerable Green Bay run defense and questions in the passing game with Aiyuk and Bourne out.
5. Will the 49ers offense be able to overcome the loss of George Kittle? – For the second time this season the 49ers have needed to sit George Kittle. Kittle missed the two games in New York due to an injury he suffered against Arizona in the opening game of the season. With Kittle on the shelf for at least the next eight weeks, the 49ers will turn to Ross Dwelley as the starting tight end. Look for the 49ers to also line fullback Kyle Juszczyk in a tight end role at times, along with rookie Charlie Woerner. Dwelley is a smooth route runner who has shown the ability to fill in nicely for Kittle over the past two seasons and set a career high with 49 yards on 4 receptions the last time that both he and Mullens started for the 49ers in Week 3 against the New York Giants.
Prediction Time: 49ers 30 Packers 28