The Green Bay Packers play host to the San Francisco 49ers at Lambeau Field on Sunday (4:25ET) in one of week 1’s most hyped matchups. The game will be telecasted on national television in the feature game on FOX, so there will be plenty of cash being wagered in this one. It appeared during the regular season last year that the Packers were on their way to winning back-to-back Super Bowls, the first time since the 2004 Patriots accomplished that feat. However, it was actually the San Francisco 49ers, led by former number 1 pick Alex Smith, who ended up going further. The 49ers were a botched punt return away from making it to the Super Bowl, but returner Kyle Williams had difficulty controlling the football on two separate occasions. It ultimately sealed the 49ers fate, as the New York Giants went on to represent the NFC against the New England Patriots.
Aaron Rodgers and the Packers offense steamrolled defenses all season long, finishing the season at 15-1. Their only loss coming in week 15 against the Kansas City Chiefs. The Packers had no problems dismantling defenses with Aaron Rodgers slinging the ball around. The offense put up 307.8 yards per game (3rd) through the air, only trailing the New England Patriots and New Orleans Saints. They also led the NFL in passing touchdowns at 51; ten touchdowns ahead of the Lions at 41. The Packers made it work with a lackluster running game because of Rodgers, but they went out and acquired Cedric Benson to try and beef that aspect of their game up. Teams will undoubtedly need to keep an eye on Benson, as he still has the ability to put solid games together. With the Bengals, Benson rushed for 1000-plus yards the past three seasons. Defenses will continue to zero in on Aaron Rodgers, so Benson should find some running room in this offense. Receiving wise, the Packers will have their usual suspects back. Donald Driver will be back for his fourteenth season with the Packers, along with number 1 receiver Greg Jennings, his seventh tour of duty in Green Bay. One player to pay attention to this season is sophomore slot-receiver Randall Cobb. He showed flashes of greatness last year, but I think a lack of experience was holding him back. It would not be a surprise to see him have a big season with a year under his belt. The Packers saw their offensive line get a much needed upgrade in the offseason, acquiring pro-bowl center Jeff Saturday from the Colts. Saturday is nearing the end of his career, but is amongst the best centers in the league.
The offense was obviously not the problem in Green Bay, as you can see. However, the defense was surprisingly a train wreck in 2011. Heading into 2011 many pundits had the Packers ranked as the best in the NFL, but perhaps, dead last would have been a more accurate prediction. Green Bay did in fact finish 32nd in terms of total defense, surrendering 411.6 yards a game, just a smudge worst than the Patriots at 411.1. Considering the talent on their defense with the likes of Charles Woodson, Clay Matthews, and B.J. Raji, one would think things wouldn’t look so gloomy. So, it wasn’t a shock when the Packers focused primarily on defense in the draft. Particularly defensive end Jerel Worthy and outside linebacker Nick Perry should make an immediate impact for the Pack.
I think the Packers defense will get a moderate test in week 1 against the 49ers. In the offseason the 49ers did nothing but get better than a year ago. In a move that has gone quietly under the radar, the 49ers acquired free agent Mario Manningham from the New York Giants; the same Manningham that made the miraculous catch in the Super Bowl along the sidelines. Eli Manning would have certainly liked to have Manningham Wednesday night against the Cowboys, a game in which the Giants never looked completely comfortable offensively. The Niners’ also snatched up veteran Randy Moss to try and give the team a vertical threat down the field. After a solid 2011 campaign and playoffs, there are no more excuses for Alex Smith. He has a top-10 running back in Frank Gore, top-5 tight end in Vernon Davis, and the best receiving core he has said since he has been in San Francisco. Not to mention, Smith will finally have the opportunity to work with an offensive coordinator he has developed a rapport with. After all, Smith has worked with seven different coordinators in San Francisco. His current coordinator, Greg Roman, will be entering his second year with the 49ers.
While the offense is steadily improving, it is the defense that holds this team together. They are big, fast, and physical. From up front on the defensive line, to the corners and secondary, they are a ferocious bunch that makes life tough for opposing offenses. As a whole, the unit finished 4th in terms of total team defense. Against the run is where they really shined, allowing only 77.2 yards per game in 2011 (1st). This is a defense packed with a plethora of talent. Patrick Willis and NaVorro combined to quite possible be the best inside linebacker duo in the NFL; Justin Smith and Ray McDonald were both fantastic at defensive end; and rookie Aldon Smith inside on the line was a beast, sacking quarterbacks 14 times. Although there was uncertainty the 49ers were going to resign standout cornerback Carlos Rogers, he will in fact be back for them in 2012, keeping all eleven starters from last season intact.
49ers vs. Packers Spread, Line and Betting Odds:
San Francisco 49ers +5 (-110)
@Green Bay Packers -5 (-110)
Over 47 (-105)
Under 47 (-115)
Betting odds taken from bovada.lv
49ers vs. Packers Pick:
This will be a fun game to watch, with the best in the NFL going head-to-head in week 1. It would be no surprise if this is a preview of the NFC Championship in a few months. It’s going to be one of the NFL’s most high octane offenses against the stingiest defense the league has to offer. Perhaps the 49ers defense doesn’t have the same reputation as the Ravens for instance, but they are still a unit that has surpassed them in talent. We all saw what happened to the Packers in the playoffs when they struggled to protect the pass rush against the Giants, Rodgers and company got exposed. There’s no doubting this is one potent passing attack, but I believe it can be trumped against physical, fast defenses. I think this will be a tight contest through, a kind of game that may very well come down to a last second field goal.
The line originally opened at -7 at most shops, and has steadily dropped to -5 this past week. It appears the books have been getting around split money on both sides, but the line has continued to dip. I’m going to side with the better defense and books on this one, give me the Niners’ +5 in a matchup that could be the game of the week.
PICK = 49ers +5