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From Mysterious Futures to Divisional Playoffs for Rodgers, Garoppolo

Aaron Rodgers and Jimmy Garoppolo will take center stage when the Packers host the 49ers in Saturday's NFC divisional playoff game.

GREEN BAY, Wis. – Jimmy Garoppolo isn’t Aaron Rodgers. But the quarterbacks who will be starting on Saturday night in hopes of keeping their Super Bowl dreams alive share one thing in common.

Career uncertainty.

In 2020, with the Packers coming off a trip to the NFC Championship Game, general manager Brian Gutekunst traded up in the first round to draft quarterback Jordan Love.

In 2021, with the 49ers a year removed from beating the Packers in that title game and playing in the Super Bowl, general manager John Lynch traded three first-round picks to move up from No. 12 to No. 3 to pick quarterback Trey Lance.

Rodgers might have been upset about Gutekunst’s decision to select a player who wouldn’t help get a championship contender over the top, but he’s taken his anger out on the rest of the league. Last year, he led the Packers to a 13-3 record and the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs by finishing No. 1 in passer rating and winning his third MVP. This year, it’s been a near-repeat: 13-4, No. 1 seed, No. 1 passer rating, likely fourth MVP.

Given his dominant performance and Love’s struggles in two major opportunities for playing time, Rodgers perhaps has changed the franchise’s long-term direction back in his favor.

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“I think football mortality is something that we all think about, and we all think about how many opportunities we’re going to be afforded moving forward and each one is special,” Rodgers said after Tuesday’s practice. “Each season is different and unique in its own way, as has this one been. There’s four teams left on the NFC side. We’re one of them. We get to host playoff games. This is a special opportunity.”

In San Francisco, Garoppolo has held off Lance and led the surging 49ers into the divisional round. Other than the Week 16 game that Garoppolo missed due to injury, Lance has played five snaps the past dozen games. He didn’t get off the bench in the wild-card win at Dallas. It’s possible Niners coach Kyle Shanahan has a Lance package tucked away to spring on the Packers, but this is Garoppolo’s offense.

And for good reason. Since being acquired from New England in 2017, the 49ers are 34-15 with Garoppolo and 8-28 without him. There could hardly be a starker illustration of what he means than those records. While he really struggled to put away Dallas on Sunday, he finished ninth in the NFL with a 98.8 passer rating and second with 8.64 yards per attempt. When he’s accurate and puts playmakers Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk and George Kittle in position to gain yards after the catch, the 49ers’ attack is borderline elite.

“Jimmy’s been unbelievable this year,” Niners coach Kyle Shanahan told Albert Breer of The MMQB after the game. "And I really think when Jimmy’s been healthy and he’s played, he’s playing how he always has, which is more like a top quarterback. I think people are a little unfair with him. … When he throws a pick, it doesn’t change him. He’s going to still be the same, and that’s why I always have the confidence to keep going back with him and just try to call what’s right.”

Before the Packers and Niners met in Week 3, Garoppolo said there was a “good possibility” he’d pick Rodgers’ brain about how to handle a situation in which the team presumably drafted his successor when it gave up three first-round picks and a third-round choice to move from No. 12 to No. 3 in April’s draft.

“Obviously, it’s worked out pretty well for him,” Garoppolo said of Rodgers. “The guy’s been ballin’. … This league’s a crazy thing. We’ve all got our own story and just got to make the best of your situation.”