The Packers thought for sure they would play host to the 49ers in the NFC Championship game last January. Instead, that game was never played and both teams fell short of the Super Bowl. While it is indeed a long season, it’s safe to say that the winner of this Week 1 showdown will have the inside track on getting to New Orleans.
To improve their modest passing game of 2011, the 49ers front office went wild at wide receiver in the offseason, adding Randy Moss, Mario Manningham and A.J. Jenkins. While the Niners haven’t been known to hurt teams through the air, the Packers’ shaky situation at cornerback could provide them with that opportunity. The key will be getting to Alex Smith before he can exploit Jarrett Bush.
Stopping the run won’t be a walk in the park for Packers without inside linebacker Desmond Bishop. Behind long-time starter Frank Gore at running back are Kendall Hunter, Brandon Jacobs and LaMichael James. Gore was injured when the Niners came to Lambeau in 2010 and was mostly contained in San Francisco’s 2009 visit.
I cringe at the thought of the Packers’ serviceable yet thin offensive line going up against one of the best front sevens in the game. Defensive end Justin Smith and second-year pass rusher Aldon Smith have the ability to completely shut down opposing offenses. If he’s not up to the task, it could be a long day for stopgap tackle Marshall Newhouse.
Just as daunting as its pass defense is San Francisco’s run defense. The Niners own arguably the best linebacker in the game, Patrick Willis. Willis is a major reason why the defense allowed the fewest rushing yards in the league last season. Still, the Packers will likely not rely on their week-to-week running game to beat San Francisco.