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Will Packers-49ers serve as another rivalry renewal?

Plenty of intrigue in big NFC showdown

Packers QB Aaron Rodgers surveys the 49ers' defense in a 2018 victory over San Francisco
Packers QB Aaron Rodgers surveys the 49ers' defense in a 2018 victory over San Francisco

GREEN BAY – As usual, Aaron Rodgers had the line of the week.

"The way I look at it," Rodgers said of Sunday night's Packers-49ers clash of NFC titans, "we've got to beat them once at their place at some point. It would be nice to do it now."

The meaning behind Rodgers' words is not difficult to decipher. If the Packers lose this game, they could have to return to San Francisco and win in the postseason if they want to reach the Super Bowl. If Green Bay wins Sunday, it boosts the odds any potential January rematch would be at Lambeau Field.

The idea of these teams meeting again in the playoffs, wherever it may be, can't be ignored. Which means Sunday's game could serve as yet another renewal of a great NFC rivalry.

The first installment came in the mid-1990s, when over a span of four years (1995-98), the Packers and 49ers had a total of six meetings, including four in the postseason. Green Bay began a five-game winning streak in the '95 divisional-round, the-Pack-is-back upset victory over the defending Super Bowl champs at Candlestick Park, and the run ended with the last-second, Steve Young-to-Terrell Owens TD pass in the '98 wild-card round that knocked out the two-time defending NFC champions in the same stadium.

Then, earlier this decade, the 49ers had the decided edge, as the Packers began and ended both the 2012 and '13 seasons with Week 1 losses and postseason defeats to San Francisco.

It remains to be seen whether this begins another segment of the rivalry's memorable history. The storylines pitting longtime coaching friends (Matt LaFleur and Kyle Shanahan), as well as a Hall of Fame quarterback against a rising star (Aaron Rodgers and Jimmy Garoppolo), against one another could be around for a while. It certainly does add to the intrigue.

In the here and now, the crowd of NFC contenders is intriguing enough. The 49ers (9-1) and Packers (8-2) are just two of five teams in the conference with at least eight wins already, along with the Saints (8-2), Seahawks (8-2) and Vikings (8-3), the last of the group to finally reach its bye week.

This is also just the first of five games in which two of those five contenders will go head-to-head. The 49ers still have to play the Saints and Seahawks, while the Vikings also meet the Seahawks and Packers, before the end of the regular season. Packers-49ers is far from the only rematch possibility.

"It's tight at the top up there right now," veteran right tackle Bryan Bulaga said. "I can't really remember a time where it's been like this before. Every game matters. Wins are going to be important."

The Packers are in the best spot they could ask for heading into this showdown. They're coming off a long-awaited bye week that allowed for rest and recuperation, and while the 49ers appear to be getting a key player or two back from injury, the Packers are the healthier team.

In locker room interviews throughout the week, the Packers haven't tried to downplay the importance of this game. Which probably means there's been no downplaying of it in the meeting rooms with the coaches behind closed doors.

Nothing is clinched one way or another with Sunday night's result, and as outlined, there's plenty of sorting out still to do amongst the NFC's top teams.

But once again, Rodgers summed it up best.

"I think you're just in denial if you don't think about the implications of the 'dub' or an 'L' this week," he said, "and how it affects stuff down the line."

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