Packers vs. 49ers: 5 things to watch and a prediction

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For the fourth consecutive season, the Green Bay Packers (1-1) and San Francisco 49ers (2-0) will play in primetime during the regular season. Week 3 of the 2021 season brings the Packers to San Francisco – for the third straight year – to play the 49ers at Levi’s Stadium on Sunday Night Football.

Can the Packers shake off a shaky start to the season and make a big statement against an NFC contender on the road?

Here are five things to watch and a prediction for Sunday night:

Packers LT vs. Nick Bosa

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

This matchup will be the one to watch regardless of who is playing left tackle for the Packers. Elgton Jenkins is battling an ankle injury and might not play, but his most likely replacement – Billy Turner – is an experienced veteran who played six total games at left tackle last season. Nick Bosa, who has three sacks and eight total pressures during the first two weeks, will present a massive challenge for Jenkins or Turner. Will the Packers have to consistently provide help against Bosa? And can the left side hold up on obvious passing downs? Giving Aaron Rodgers clean pockets is the key to beating the 49ers on Sunday night.

Defensive front in the spotlight

Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

No one needs a refresher on what happened in the 2019 NFC title game, but something resembling a repeat is possible if the Packers don't bring their 'A' game up front on defense. Once again, the 49ers have a talented and experienced offensive line, and Kyle Shanahan might be the most creative playcaller and run-play designer in football. The Packers haven't played well enough along the defensive line, especially in the run game, and Shanahan knows it. Kenny Clark has been dominant at times but a one-man show isn't going to get it done on Sunday night. The Packers need to set the tone early and somehow make the 49ers one-dimensional. If the 49ers get the run game going and Shanahan has his full menu available on offense, it could get ugly fast for the Packers defense.

Slot game

(AP Photo/Mike Roemer)

The 49ers have a diverse set of players capable of playing in the slot, including Deebo Samuel, George Kittle, Mohamed Sanu, Kyle Juczczyk and Brandon Aiyuk. It will be interesting to see how the Packers respond to the 49ers' various formations and personnel. Kevin King is getting more run in the slot, and he could be a fine match against a player like Sanu. But the Packers have to be careful with matchups given the versatility of San Francisco's skill players, especially Kittle and Juczczyk, who present big problems in both the run game and passing game. The Packers can't get caught in the wrong personnel or big plays are possible. On the other side, K'Waun Williams is a feisty slot corner who can cover and play the run despite his size. During last year's meeting, the Packers got Davante Adams good matchups in the slot on a few occasions.

On the road

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The Packers are used to playing at Levi's Stadium, but Sunday night will create the convergence of two factors – Green Bay's first true road game since the NFC title game in San Francisco in January of 2020, and the 49ers home opener in 2021. How will the Packers handle the environment? Expect Levi's Stadium to be loud and chaotic from start to finish. Crowd noise wasn't a factor on the road last season, but it will be in play on Sunday night. The Packers need to avoid mistakes and play clean on offense – especially with two rookies along the offensive line and a question mark at left tackle – while also creating their own energy on defense. The trip to San Francisco is a big test for the whole operation.

Weak spot?

(AP Photo/Jed Jacobsohn)

The 49ers defense is strong up front, at linebacker and even safety, but the cornerback depth has been tested by injury. In Week 2, the 49ers started veteran Josh Norman and rookie Deommodore Lenoir on the perimeter at cornerback. If the Packers can keep Rodgers protected and also run the ball against 6-man and 7-man fronts, opportunities to attack the cornerbacks could be possible in this matchup. The 49ers don't have a player who can Davante Adams in man-to-man situations. And maybe this is the game Rodgers and Marquez Valdes-Scantling hook up for a big play or two.

Prediction: 49ers 34, Packers 31 (1-1)

The guess here is the Packers move the ball and score points against the 49ers defense, even with question marks at left tackle. The 49ers are giving up 5.0 yards per carry on the ground and don't have great talent at cornerback. There's just no confidence here in the Packers' ability to stop what the 49ers like to do on offense. Another blowout in this matchup is possible if the Packers aren't competitive along the line of scrimmage, but I'm expecting a back-and-forth battle with a lot of points. The prediction: Kyle Shanahan out-maneuvers Joe Barry one too many times and the Packers lose.

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