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Brothers will be on opposite sidelines when 49ers, Packers meet

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Brotherly love and close friendships will give the 49ers and Packers a much deeper connection when they meet Sunday than merely being two of the NFC’s best teams.

For starters, first-year Packers coach Matt LaFleur’s brother, Mike, is Kyle Shanahan’s passing game coordinator with the 49ers. Green Bay’s coach also calls Robert Saleh one of his best friends in the league, and credits the 49ers defensive coordinator for helping him first get an NFL job.

There’s also 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan, who was the offensive coordinator for then-Browns head coach Mike Pettine, the current Packers defensive coordinator.

Nonetheless, the Packers coach may still be a tad bitter about Shanahan and the 49ers not allowing his brother Mike — who is in the last year of his 49ers contract — to become his offensive coordinator in Green Bay. Mike LaFleur, though, doesn’t hold it against his boss Shanahan for preventing him to leave.

“Obviously, the stories are out there. For me, it was what it was,” Mike LaFleur said during training camp about not being able to join his brother in Green Bay. “I love it here. My wife loves it here. This organization is amazing. Zero awkwardness whatsoever.”

The 49ers assistant also won’t let Sunday’s showdown get between him and family this week — he and his wife will be hosting Matt LaFleur’s wife and kids leading up to the game. The Packers coach said he won’t avoid his brother, either.

“We just won’t talk about football. We’ll still talk,” Matt LaFleur told the Racine Journal Times. “Shoot, my wife and my kids are going to go out a couple days early and they’re going to be staying at their house. So hopefully she can do some recon for me.”

He was joking. We think.

Here’s a closer look at some factors to consider when the NFC powers meet:

Three reasons for 49ers to be optimistic

Packers sum better than parts? Green Bay is ranked just 28th in the league in total defense and its offense is a pedestrian 17th in the league. The Packers keep winning despite being outgained on the ground this season — 126.9 yards for their opponents to 102.1 for the Pack, their lowest average in eight years. They also are getting outgained through the air this season — 257.8 for opponents to their 253.9. The Packers’ opponents are also performing much better than Green Bay on third-down plays.

Defensive issues: The Packers came up with three big-time defensive plays to save games earlier this season, including ex-Bishop O’Dowd High star Kevin King’s game-clinching interception against the Vikings. However, the Packers have had troubles against the run their past three games, which just might be the tonic to solve the 49ers’ running troubles lately. The Packers, to their credit, have been able to limit the damage despite teams moving the ball against them. Green Bay allows 20.5 points per game, which ranks 12th in the league.

Lack of options for Rodgers: The only consistent weapon Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has in the passing game is Davante Adams, who has missed four games earlier this season with an ankle injury. The speedy former Fresno State star has a team-leading 39 catches for 537 yards, but even he hasn’t been able to live up to his past. Adams, who had 35 touchdown catches the last three years, has yet to catch a TD pass this season. The non-Adams options —- Allen Lazard, Geronimo Allison, Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Jake Kumerow — have only caught a little more than half of the passes Rodgers has thrown them the past four games.

Three reasons for 49ers to be pessimistic

The relentless ‘Smith Brothers’: While Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith aren’t actual brothers, they have acted like twin terrors toward opposing quarterbacks this season. The duo has the most combined sacks (18.5) of any other pair in the NFL this season. Preston has 10 sacks and Za’Darius has 8.5. The edge rushers have also combined for a whopping 95 quarterback pressures through 10 games. That’s quite a turnaround for a Packers team that got 43 QB pressures from its top duo last season. The Smiths, both of whom signed as free agents in the offseason (Za’Darius from Baltimore, Preston from Washington), are versatile enough that they each can line up pretty much anywhere on the defensive line.

Not easy keeping up with Jones: Running back Aaron Jones came into Sunday tied for the most touchdowns this season with 14. He’s also turned in two eye-popping games of 226 and 182 all-purpose yards, each are more than any Packers back in the past 10 seasons. Jones is usually at his best around the goal line as his 11 rushing touchdowns is tied with the Panthers’ Christian McCaffrey for the NFL lead. In fact, he’s scored a touchdown on 11 of his 22 rushing attempts in the red zone this season.

Offensive line gets it done: Like the 49ers, the Packers offensive line has allowed its quarterback to get sacked 17 times this season — a lower total than all but five teams this season. Green Bay also has perhaps the best rookie you’ve never heard of in guard Elgton Jenkins. The Pack’s left guard, a second-round pick from Mississippi State, has turned in a superb season as he’s yet to give up a sack or even a quarterback hit this season in 349 passing attempts by Rodgers. And, of all guards in the league who’ve played at least 500 snaps, he’s the only one who has yet to allow a QB hit or sack.

Probable difference-maker

Aaron Rodgers: The former Cal star is enjoying another solid season, despite not having top-notch help around him. Pro Football Focus ranks Rodgers second in the league with a passing grade of 85.2. Some feel as though Rodgers is a strong candidate to win another MVP award as his numbers (17 touchdown passes, two interceptions) are certainly special. Still, he hasn’t needed to be spectacular while helping Green Bay start out 8-2. Rodgers has only notched three plus-300-yard performances this year. And, if anyone wants verification that A-Rod’s still got it, just ask the Raiders. They watched him throw for 429 yards and five touchdowns in a 42-24 win over Oakland this season.

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