Green Bay and San Francisco have a long history of heated battles dating back to the mid-90's. The Packers ended three of Steve Young's playoff runs during Brett Favre's MVP years. Jeff Garcia and Terrell Owens returned the favor with "The Catch, Part 2". Green Bay got revenge a few years later during the Sherman Era. And now, Colin Kaepernick and Friends have stolen the momentum of the recent rivalry with a trouncing of the Packers in the playoffs last year.
All off-season, Packers fans got to watch highlight after highlight of Kaepernick sprinting through the Packers' secondary. We got to hear about how the defense was undermanned and unprepared for the read-option. We saw another year of Aaron Rodgers' prime end with another disappointing defensive performance.
But now, hope springs anew. Fresh faces populate a defense geared up to stop Kaepernick, and Aaron Rodgers has new friends in the backfield that could take some of the weight off his shoulders. Will it be enough to keep up with the 49ers?
It's time to find out.
5 - Tackles by inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman the last time the Packers squared off with the 49ers. Patrick Willis may get the headlines San Francisco's tenacious 3-4 defense and he may be the best overall linebacker in the NFL, but Bowman can match him just about step for step. He's physically almost a carbon copy, too: he's 6'1", 230 lbs to Willis's 6'1", 242 lbs. Make sure you keep an eye on 53 just as much as 52.
4 - Touchdowns by Anquan Boldin during the Ravens' championship run last season, including one in Baltimore's win over San Francisco in the Super Bowl itself. But now, Boldin is lacing 'em up for the 49ers, having arrived via trade in March. Despite what Randy Moss fans may have believed about his fading athleticism, Boldin is the best, most physical receiving presence the 49ers have had since Terrell Owens in his prime. We'll talk more about him presently.
3 - Seasons since Johnny Jolly last played a meaningful game in the NFL. His comeback story has been remarkable, and the Packers will be banking on the big man from Texas A&M for solid contributions as a rotational player last this season.
2 - New starting tackles for the Packers, at least as compared to their opening day lineup last year. In 2012, it was Marshall Newhouse and Bryan Bulaga trying to tame the 49ers ferocious pass rush. This time, it's David Bakhtiari and Don Barclay. True, Barclay was at least passable as a starter down the stretch last year, but the Packers were stretched so thin up front there was really no other option. Being "the guy" is a totally different animal, and the Packers have hung their hat on the hope that both Barclay and Bakhtiari are up to it.
1 - Wins against playoff teams by the Packers in the last ten games of the 2012 regular season. I don't mean to disparage the Packers' 11-5 record from last year, but there's a chance (just a chance) they may have inflated it against some sub-par competition. Have they improved enough to do better against the big boys this year? We'll soon know for sure.
Last Time - 49ers: 45 Packers: 31 - January 12, 2013
The final score shows the 49ers put a royal whupping on the Packers, and to a certain extent that's exactly what they did. Colin Kaepernick did his read-option/crazy scrambling-thing to the tune of 181 yards and the Packers just simply couldn't keep up.
Or could they? Mason Crosby tied the game at 24-24 with 8:38 remaining in the third quarter, and to that point the Packers had basically matched the 49ers blow for blow. That includes two 80 yard touchdown drives against San Francisco's vaunted defense. Were it not for a Jeremy Ross fumble deep in Packers' territory and an absurd interception thrown by Aaron Rodgers, might we be telling a story today? Could it have been a different off-season narrative about the 49ers perfecting their read-option, even though it came up short against the Packers?
Just a thought.
Meet a 49er - Anquan Boldin - 6'1", 218 lbs - WR - 11th NFL Season
I mentioned in the countdown that Anquan Boldin was a big pick up for the 49ers. He may not be as fast or explosive as he once was, but he's exactly the kind of receiver that can make any offense better: a chain-moving, hard nosed, take no prisoners fighter. He overpowers defensive backs, outruns linebackers, and basically does whatever it takes to get open. And when he doesn't get open simply running a route, he makes himself open by seemingly just willing himself to the football. Take note of the 1:42 mark in this video for a perfect example.
The 49ers will win if...
...they maintain their identity as a power running team. As explosive as he can be as a runner, Colin Kaepernick is no Steve Young in the pocket. So far in his NFL career, he's been far from accurate: in five of his final six starts last year (including playoffs), Kaepernick completed less than 60 percent of his passes. The sole outlier was a 76% outing against the Falcons in the NFC Championship. He can throw accurate passes, but he has to show he can do it consistently. Keeping him from being forced to do it consistently might still be the 49ers best chance for success.
The Packers will win if...
...they can keep San Francisco's offensive production to a manageable figure. Last time around, the Packers surrendered 45 points and 579 yards, including 323 yards on the ground. They still finished within 14 points of the 49ers, and at least seven of the points in that margin came from a gimme possession that started deep in Packers territory. Green Bay has the offensive arsenal to get it done against the 49ers defense. They just need their defense to make sure a great offensive day doesn't go to waste. Part of that starts with stopping the 49ers' read-option attack. Read more about how they might do that here.
The Pick - 49ers: 28 Packers: 24
The Packers still need a little time to develop before they can say their defense is fully up to par. Starting off against a good team like San Francisco will help that development, but I don't think they're far enough along yet to shut the 49ers down.
The Rest (home team in ALL CAPS)
BRONCOS over Ravens Patriots over BILLS STEELERS over Titans Falcons over SAINTS Buccaneers over JETS Chiefs over JAGUARS Seahawks over PANTHERS Bengals over BEARS Dolphins over BROWNS Vikings over LIONS COLTS over Raiders RAMS over Cardinals Giants over COWBOYS Eagles over REDSKINS TEXANS over Chargers
Tweet of the Week
Greg Van Roten is tired, you guys.