As the San Francisco 49ers began preparations for their 2018 prime-time debut Monday night against the Green Bay Packers, NBC made a very pointed statement about the Jimmy Garoppolo-less team:
You are not worthy.
NBC exercised its option to "flex" the 49ers out of their Week 7 Sunday Night Football matchup with the vastly popular Los Angeles Rams, opting for Cincinnati at Kansas City.
No formal reason is given for network changes, but the logic seems simple.
How can a team missing its top quarterback (Garoppolo) and running back (Jerick McKinnon) possibly be competitive with one of the league's top teams?
Interestingly, NFL.com had rated the 49ers-Rams game as the No. 1 matchup of the entire hand-picked, Sunday night schedule in a preseason opinion piece.
Who's to argue? Even when the 49ers were on their way to a 0-9 start last season, they played the Rams to a 41-39 thriller in Week 3 in a Thursday night matchup that ranked among the NFL's most entertaining games of the season.
And that's the thing about the 49ers. They have made the playoffs just three times since 2002, yet retain a nine-game winning streak on Monday Night Football, all the while adding to their NFL-record 48 wins under the traditional weeknight spotlight.
A report surfaced last week, before the "flex" announcement, that NBC was putting pressure on the 49ers to make a roster move or two to improve its name exposure at quarterback and running back.
Head coach Kyle Shanahan nearly blew his stack when asked about that possibility.
"It's very comical," he blurted. "I wish we could worry about that stuff and help people out. That's definitely the last of our worries. If you guys judge us on ratings and they gave us a trophy at the end of the year -- a Super Bowl trophy for ratings -- then I would maybe think that way."
Neither ESPN or Fox/NFL Network is able to flex out of its Monday or Thursday night matchups. So the 49ers, who were scheduled for five prime-time games this season, will retain at least three of them: Monday at Green Bay, Week 9 vs. the Oakland Raiders (Thursday) and Week 10 against the New York Giants (Monday).
NBC will get a second opportunity to slap the 49ers in the face when they are scheduled to visit Seattle for a Sunday-nighter in Week 13.
Shanahan hopes the 49ers make the most of Monday's prime-time opportunity at Green Bay.
"You like to say that every game is the same, so you don't want to make too big a deal of that stuff, but I think it's a bonus," he admitted. "Yeah, we're going through some stuff. But we get a chance to go play Monday night in Green Bay, which is as cool of a place to play.
"I'd much rather prefer to play in front of our own fans and play at home. But if we're not going to, I want to go to a fun place to play. Yeah, you've got to handle the noise and that always comes with tough stadiums like that. But you get that out of the way. It's a great opportunity for our entire team. It's a great opportunity for young guys also. It's stuff you grow up watching and we get a chance to go there and we're the ones who get to play. Everyone gets to watch us. So that's something you enjoy, not something that you worry about."
SERIES HISTORY: 60th regular-season meeting. Packers lead series, 31-27-1. The clubs have not met since Week 4 of 2015, when Green Bay won 17-3 at San Francisco. Two of the teams' last four meetings have been in playoff games, including the 49ers' 23-20 win at Green Bay in the 2013 NFC wild-card game. The Packers hold a 4-3 overall edge in playoff head-to-heads.