Ahhh...here we are. The start of a new season. Sure we had that appetizer Wednesday night, but Sunday things really get rolling. And of course, the Packers don't really ease out of the gate: San Francisco was one of the league's best team's last year and haven't lost much coming into this year, returning all eleven defensive starters. It's certainly not going to be easy for Green Bay to pick up where they left off on offense, but if anyone can do it, it's Aaron Rodgers.
Last Time The Packers and 49ers last met on December 5, 2010 at Lambeau Field, a game attended by yours truly. The Packers broke out their throwbacks and took down San Fran 34-16.
The Packers Green Bay won 15 games last year, largely on the strength of Aaron Rodgers' right arm. Unfortunately, a nearly undefeated season came to a screeching halt in the playoffs and blah blah blah. You've heard this before. Green Bay was real good last year until they weren't. What about this year?
Well, Ted Thompson spent his first six draft picks this spring on defensive players, saying "it just worked out that way" and convincing absolutely nobody that he hadn't planned to do that. We all know the Packers were horrendous on defense last year, and the quickest way to get started fixing it was drafting a bunch of guys who are supposedly good at playing defense, including linebacker Nick Perry. Now here comes a series of ifs: if Nick Perry can give a boost to the pass rush and if Tramon Williams can return to his 2010 form and if a couple rookies step up and if Charles Woodson proves to be as effective at safety in the base defense as at cornerback, then the Packers may have a pretty respectable unit on the defensive side of the ball. But if they can't...well, we may see another season of Aaron Rodgers' prime wasted by a poor effort on defense. Thems the breaks!
The 49ers Last year's San Francisco squad was a remarkably efficient team, under the leadership of former number one overall pick (and Mike McCarthy disciple!) Alex Smith. The Utah product had a remarkably good year, throwing just five interceptions on his way to a career high 90.7 passer rating. The 49ers went 13-3 in Jim Harbaugh's first year as head coach, earning the NFC's number two seed in the playoffs. They had an incredibly memorable shootout with New Orleans in the divisional round and lost a tough one to the Giants in the NFC Championship. With all of last year's defense returning and several new guys coming on board for an already good offense, the 49ers could be in good position for a deep playoff run this year. They'll certainly be the prohibitive favorites in their own, relatively weak, division.
The Players Aaron Rodgers needs to be sharp for the Packers to win. (Go ahead and pencil that in for every game this season.)
But seriously, he does. Last year's 49er team forced 38 turnovers, tied for first with Green Bay. For the Packers to avoid starting out 0-1, Rodgers can't turn the ball over. If last year is any precedent, he won't, but the first team offense was hardly overwhelming in the preseason.
For the 49ers, defensive lineman Justin Smith could be the man to watch, especially if he's working against left tackle Marshall Newhouse. Newhouse can tend to be a bit up and down, and he'll get a tough test right off the bat facing off with the Pro Bowler Smith.
The Pick GREEN BAY - 27 San Francisco - 24
I can hardly pick against Green Bay in my first preview article, but I do honestly believe they'll win. I think if they get out early and take Frank Gore out of the game, they could come out on top by more than three points, but assuming that San Francisco keeps Rodgers under wraps, this one comes down to the wire.
The Rest of the Picks (home team in ALL CAPS) GIANTS over Cowboys (Did this pick back on Wednesday, and it really worked out well. Thanks, Kevin Ogletree!) BEARS over Colts Eagles over BROWNS LIONS over Rams TEXANS over Dolphins VIKINGS over Jaguars SAINTS over Redskins Jets over BILLS Patriots over TITANS Seahawks over CARDINALS Panthers over BUCCANEERS BRONCOS over Steelers Falcons over CHIEFS RAVENS over Bengals Chargers over RAIDERS
Season Record: 0-1
One More Thing Randy Moss makes his 49ers debut Sunday. I'm quite intrigued to see what the former Viking/Raider/Patriot/Viking/Titan can do. He's 35 and has been out of football for a year, but he's always had a knack for being a pain in the butt for the Packers.