GREEN BAY, Wis. -- When the Green Bay Packers played the San Francisco 49ers in the playoffs two years ago, one of the biggest storylines was the coaching connection -- almost a brotherhood -- between Matt LaFleur and Kyle Shanahan.
It was LaFleur, the first-year Packers coach, against one of his mentors and close friends.
The last time we saw Matt LaFleur and Kyle Shanahan together.— Rob Demovsky (@RobDemovsky) January 17, 2022
The Handshake, round 2 next weekend at Lambeau. pic.twitter.com/hEDZvDRtEh
Two years later, with the two teams set to meet in Saturday night's NFC divisional-round playoff game at Lambeau Field (8:15 p.m. ET, Fox), they’re the story again.
But for a much different reason.
Cue the video of the postgame handshake from the Packers’ last-second win over the 49ers in Week 3.
Even before “The Handshake,” there was talk of bad blood between the two stemming from the 49ers’ run at Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers last offseason. While both downplayed it before and after the game, few came away convinced that all was peachy between the two. It will no doubt be a topic of conversation all week.
The coaching relationship isn’t the only thing that has changed about this matchup.
The Week 3 game – which the Packers won with two Rodgers-to-Davante Adams completions and a 51-yard Mason Crosby walk-off field goal all in the final 37 seconds and without a timeout – was the start of the ugliest stretch of the season for the 49ers. It was the beginning of a three-game losing streak and five losses in six games.
But San Francisco is 8-2 in its last 10 games, including Sunday’s 23-16 upset of the third-seeded Dallas Cowboys on the road in the wild-card round.
The two biggest differences in the 49ers since the Packers saw them on Sept. 26 are their quarterback, Jimmy Garoppolo, and their running game.
Packers cornerback Jaire Alexander intercepted Garoppolo in Week 3, one of eight games this season in which he threw at least one interception. Garoppolo was 2-6 in those games and 7-0 in games without one. He was much more efficient in the second half of the season. From Week 10 until the end of the regular season, Garoppolo ranked seventh in the NFL in Total QBR and second in yards per pass attempt.
The Packers also didn’t have to face 49ers leading rusher Elijah Mitchell, who missed the game because of a shoulder injury. The 49ers ran for only 67 yards on 21 carries. Mitchell, who led the 49ers in rushing with 963 yards in 11 games and tied for 12th in the NFL with a 4.7-yard average carry, rushed for 96 yards and a touchdown against the Cowboys on Sunday. While the Packers ranked 11th in the NFL in rushing defense (109.1 yards per game), they were 30th in rushing yards allowed per carry (giving up 4.7 yards a rush).
This will be the fifth meeting between LaFleur and Shanahan since the start of the 2019 season. The previous four, including playoffs, were all at the 49ers'. LaFleur lost both in the 2019 season – 37-8 in the regular season and 37-20 in the NFC Championship Game – but won in 2020 (34-17) and in the Week 3 game this season (30-28).
There’s also the weather element. The weekend forecast for Saturday is a high of 21 and a low of 3 degrees. The previous four meetings in Northern California had kickoff temperatures of 69, 78, 58 and 63 degrees.