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Cheese Curds, 1/14: Stakes don’t get higher than LaFleur-Shanahan reunion, v2.0

Sunday’s game will be the ultimate test for the two former colleagues and good friends.

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NFL: Green Bay Packers at San Francisco 49ers Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

It took Kyle Shanahan three years to turn the San Francisco 49ers into a winning team. After the franchise lost double-digit games in each of his first two years, they finished 2019 with a 13-3 record, claiming the top seed in the NFC Playoffs.

His former protege, Matt LaFleur, matched that record in his rookie season as an NFL head coach, leading the Green Bay Packers to the two seed. Now, the two friends and former colleagues meet one another in the NFC Championship Game on Sunday, putting that friendship to the test and setting up a battle between two teams with similar offensive philosophies.

That the 49ers took longer to get traction under their new head coach than the Packers did is not reflective of the two men’s coaching abilities, of course. Injuries ravaged the 49ers last season, and the roster needed a serious rebuild when he arrived before the 2017 campaign. The Packers, meanwhile, got a rejuvenated defense thanks to some huge free agent additions, helping to drive this team to a seven-win improvement over last season.

Sunday’s game will be the second meeting between these two teams this season, and the first is one that the Packers would love to forget. However, there is plenty to learn from that meeting, even as the game got away from Green Bay quickly. Here’s a look at the coaches and some of the early thoughts on the upcoming matchup in today’s Cheese Curds.

Packers credit Matt LaFleur and his changes for a successful season | Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel (subscription)
Now with more than a year on the job, LaFleur has fully won over his team with his transparency and energy. 14 wins in his rookie season shows what a tremendous job he has done, and hopefully that number will increase to 16 in a few weeks.

Matt LaFleur will ‘look at everything’ from first Packers-49ers game |
Meanwhile, LaFleur has his eyes set on the 49ers and everything that goes along with another trip to California, the state where the Packers played their two worst games of the season. A healthy roster will help, and if Green Bay doesn't dig itself an early hole, Sunday's game should go very differently from the first meeting between the two teams.

Kyle Shanahan tells his 49ers their regular-season win over Packers 'holds zero relevance' this week | ESPN
Meanwhile, Shanahan is taking the right approach for his team, knowing that a regular season matchup means little to nothing when the postseason rolls around. Hopefully the Packers will start out the game the same way they did in the 2014 NFC Championship, but with a much better fourth quarter.

Packers’ trio produces 25 pressures on Russell Wilson in playoff win | Packers Wire
The stars on the line came up massive for the Packers' defense this weekend, getting pressure on Russell Wilson on almost every drop-back. They'll need a similar performance against Jimmy Garoppolo on Sunday.

‘Just grateful for the opportunity and loving what I do’: For Aaron Rodgers, Packers’ playoff run is a ‘special feeling’ – The Athletic (subscription)
On Monday, Rodgers and his teammates weighed in on Sunday's victory in the team's home finale, addressing everything from individual plays (like the late third-down pass to Davante Adams) to the feeling of winning the year's last game at Lambeau Field.

Browns announce Stefanski, to interview Paton as GM -
There looks to be some brain drain out of Minnesota this week. The Browns were jokingly thought of as Green Bay East the last few years, but now it looks like they might be pulling in a number of members of the Vikings' organization.

Driver slapped with nearly $240 ticket for driving with 'unsecured load' of snow on his van | CBC News
This is a first — I've never before heard of someone ticketed for having too much snow on the roof of their car.