By Sam McPherson

The San Francisco 49ers are staring into the abyss right now, and they can’t like what they see waiting for them at Levi’s Stadium on Sunday: The Green Bay Packers. After veteran quarterbacks Ben Roethlisberger and Carson Palmer dismantled the San Francisco defense the last two weeks, it can’t help at all to know that Aaron Rodgers probably is salivating at the chance to dissect the 49ers in Week 4. Rodgers is a QB known for holding grudges, and he owes San Francisco something fierce after playoff defeats to the 49ers in 2012 and 2013.

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The Packers come to town with a 3-0 record, which includes a home win over the Seattle Seahawks—another grudge/payback game for Rodgers and Green Bay. San Francisco desperately needs to improve on offense and defense if the team wants a chance to hand the Packers their first loss in 2015.

Season Record

Green Bay is undefeated with wins over the Chicago Bears on the road, the Seattle Seahawks at home and the Kansas City Chiefs on Monday Night Football at home. The win over the Seahawks was especially big, of course, because Seattle knocked the Packers out of the playoffs last season in dramatic fashion, and Green Bay needed to prove something to the league and to itself. Consider that done.

The Packers have been one of the best teams in the NFL since Rodgers became the starting QB in 2008. The former Cal quarterback is 73-33 as a starter, and Green Bay has been to the postseason six straight seasons now. For comparison, the last time the 49ers could claim a six-year postseason streak was in 1998.

Green Bay on Offense

Aaron Rodgers arguably is the best QB in the NFL. Just 31 years old, he’s already won a Super Bowl while completing 66 percent of his career passing attempts for 231 TDs and just 57 interceptions. He is by far the all-time leader in lowest interception percentage (1.6), and Rodgers doesn’t often make mistakes. He’s better than Roethlisberger and Palmer, and he has comparable tools around him as well.

Even with wide receiver Jordy Nelson out for the year, Rodgers has Randall Cobb, Davonte Adams and James Jones to throw to outside, while handing the ball off to Eddie Lacy and James Starks in the backfield. Lacy has been a little injured this year, but he’s still dangerous. The only thing this offense truly lacks is an elite tight end, but Rodgers can make even an average player look good at that position.

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Green Bay on Defense

The usual suspects still man the defense for the Packers: Safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, linebacker Clay Matthews and pass rusher Julius Peppers are all waiting for Colin Kaepernick to throw the ball after the 49ers QB’s last-week effort against the Arizona defense. Through two games (stats not available yet for Monday night’s win over Kansas City), Clinton-Dix leads the Green Bay defense in tackles, Matthews has a 42-yard INT return already, and Peppers leads the Pack in sacks.

Linebacker Nate Palmer (third on team in tackles), cornerback Sam Shields (fourth in tackles) and defensive tackle B.J. Raji augment the Green Bay defense with hard, tough and disciplined play. The group as a whole isn’t a dominant unit: The Packers have given up 68 points in three games this season so far, although a team that scores so much on offense is bound to give up some garbage-time scores. The 49ers have some weapons, of course, on offense, but they haven’t played very well yet this season as a whole. San Francisco will have to exploit every opportunity they get against Green Bay’s defense.

Green Bay Players to Watch

This game is going to be all about Rodgers. He is the maestro, and he probably still remembers that the 49ers drafted Alex Smith instead of him with the top pick in the 2005 draft. Rodgers beat San Francisco the first two times he faced them (2009, 2010), but the 49ers have won four straight against the Packers now—including the two playoff games and two games at Lambeau Field. Trust us on this one: Rodgers wants this win, badly, and he will be on a mission in this game.

The other Packer to watch is Matthews: He’s had entanglements with Kaepernick in the past, and like Rodgers, you can bet he wants some payback now that the 49ers are a little down. Matthews probably will watch the Pittsburgh and Arizona game tapes over and over again to make sure he is ready for anything the 49ers throw at the Green Bay defense this weekend.

Outlook

Considering the last two games, it’s hard to imagine any other scenario than the Packers rolling up the score on the defenseless 49ers. Even giving San Francisco the benefit of the doubt for playing at home and possibly replicating their Week 1 emotional intensity levels, this is still Green Bay and not Minnesota. Best case scenario: Kaepernick runs wild on the Packers defense and is able to hit some deep throws to Smith while setting up scoring runs for Hyde. But the 49ers can’t win a shootout against Green Bay, not with their defense. The Packers will win by double digits, if not three touchdowns, making it three ugly losses in a row for the 49ers.

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Sam McPherson is a freelance writer covering baseball, football, basketball, golf, hockey and fantasy sports for CBS, AXS and Examiner. He also is an Ironman triathlete and certified triathlon coach.