Sunday, September 09, 2012

Let the season begin! Packers vs. 49ers and season preview

Finally. It's finally here. Rejoice! Rejoice! The Green Bay Packers 2012 season kicks off this afternoon. Oh, happy happy joy joy!

As all good Packer fans know, the Pack plays the San Francisco 49ers at Lambeau Field, with kickoff at roughly 3:25 CT. Today’s game is a matchup of the highest-scoring offense in the league in 2011 (Green Bay, 35.0 ppg) against the No. 2 scoring defense (San Francisco, 14.3 ppg) from last season. Something's gonna give, as the saying goes.

The Niners were one of the surprise teams last season, going 13-3, with some even going so far as to project them going to the Super Bowl this season. Those people, however, regardless of the outcome of today's game, are delusional.

A look at the Niners
Let's be honest, however. This is a good football team. It has a great defense, and that, rather than its offense, is what will take them to the promised land if they are indeed to get there this season. They have a maniac defensive tackle in Justin Smith, who will give LT Marshall Newhouse and LG T.J. Lang a handful all day long. If they don't slow him down, it could be a long day for QB Aaron Rodgers. See this article for more on Smith.

Ditto for handling the Niners' linebackers, which are arguably among the best in the NFL right now (don't just take my word for it...see this article for more). ROLB Aldon Smith starts this season after registering 14 sacks as a rookie who played fewer than half the snaps on defensive. He's a pass rusher and the Packers will have to find a way to handle him at the line, as well. The biggest challenge among the Niners' linebackers, however, will be inside/middle linebacker Patrick Willis. He's fast, can play the run like a beast and can drop into coverage, as well. A key match up today will be the Packers' tight ends on Willis. Jermichael Finley needs a big day against Willis to help keep the chains moving, whether through his receiving or helping open up running lanes or crossing routes for other Packer weapons to exploit.

The Niners' defensive backs are better moving forward than backward, which means that if Aaron Rogers is able to run his patented bootlegs with long downfield passes there are chances for real success. If the Pack's O-line can handle the two Smiths, and the Pack can run its four (and maybe five!) wide receiver sets, the 49ers will have their hands full figuring out who to cover. The Packers just have too many weapons in their receiving corp for defenders to stay with all day long; something will give, and when it does Rodgers will find the opening.

The Packers at a glance
As most everyone knows, the Packers' defense was its Achilles Heal last season. That's why there was a real emphasis in the draft on upgrading the defense. The Packers have added to their defensive line and linebacking corps, and some second-year players in the secondary are ready to make their mark. San Francisco has good receivers of their own and one of the keys to the game today will be how much pressure the Packers can put on QB Alex Smith. (What is it with all these Smiths on the 49ers? Did they get a deal on Smith jerseys???) We'd like to see the Pack shut down and shut up WR Randy Moss, who joined the Niners this off season. WR Michael Crabtree and TE Vernon Davis will also present their match up issues. The Packers defense will also have to keep RB Frank Gore from running loose behind a big offensive line; its often easy for the smaller backs to hide behind the big push and before you know it they've picked up five yards. The Pack can't let them happen. This will be a great test for B.J. Raji, Ryan Pickett and others at the line, as well as the Pack's linebackers.

As to the Packers' offense, it's the best in the game. The quarterback is the league MVP, there are six top-notch receivers, all of whom can break a defense down, and now also a consideration in the running game for defenders in the name of Cedric Benson. If Benson can pound for several yards a carry as needed -- and hold onto the ball -- and if Alex Green and John Kuhn can pick up third down yardage on screens, it will keep the defense from loading up entirely on a pass rush or dropping into nickel coverage throughout the game.

Special teams play may also factor into this game, as it sometimes does especially early in the season where young players are getting their first exposure to the speed of NFL play. If second-year player Randall Cobb can get loose, as he did last year, he could score on a return or set the Pack up in good field position for a score. Punter Tim Masthay was rewarded with a big contract for his past performance and their should be no let down this season. Kicker Mason Crosby, however, seemed a bit inconsistent in his field goal attempts at times during the preseason and you have to hope that's not a precursor of things to come today or throughout the season.

Game Prediction
The Packers are still listed as 5-point favorites today, with the over/under set at 46.5 points, among the highest point totals for Week One.

I think this game will be closer than five points. In the first game of the season, anything can happen. This is a game that the Pack could indeed lose. Still, according to gameday notes at, "Under Head Coach Mike McCarthy, the Packers have won five straight season openers (2007-11), which matches the franchise record." So you know McCarthy will have a great game plan in place and have the team ready to go. Niners coach Jim Harbaugh will likewise have his team ready to go. So, will it be the league's highest-scoring offense from last season that prevails or the league's No. 2 scoring defense that wins the day?

I give the nod to the Packers. My prediction: Packers 24 - 49ers 23. Go Pack Go!!!

Season Prediction
I know that many bloggers and prognositcators do a whole game by game preview for you. Sorry, gang...not gonna get that here today. Not enough time. And, really, do you need another such review? I didn't think so.

So my bottom line win-loss projection for the Pack is 12-4, good enough for winning the NFC North. Playoffs and Super Bowl...yes.

I tend to break down the season by quarters. In looking at the tough first four games -- Niners, Da Bearz, Seahawks and Saints -- I think it's reasonable to assume the Pack will drop one of those games, particularly with two tough games coming within five days of each other (49ers and Da Bearz). The second quarter of the season sees the Pack playing the Colts, Texans, Rams and Jaguars. The Packers should take all of those, but playing on the road against the playoff-ready Texans will be the biggest challenge; that game could result in a loss. The Cardinals, Lions, Giants and ViQueens is potentially a tough stretch in the third quarter of the season with the Lions and Giants back to back on the road. I'd expect one of those games to be a loss. In the final quarter of the season, the Packers play the Lions, Da Bearz, Titans and ViQueens. There's one potential loss among that group. That's how I get to 12-4.

Whether 12-4, 13-3 or even the unexpected 15-1 of last season, say it with me: It's great to be a Packer fan!