Green Bay Packers vs. San Francisco 49ers

With Game 1 effectively out of the way, in the Giants loss to the Cowboys, there are several more interesting match ups yet to come on Sunday. Most notably (at least to me) is the arrival of the San Francisco 49ers at Lambeau Field to challenge the Green Bay Packers.

It is a match that I’ve been waiting to see for some time, and one that came very close to happening in the post-season last year. But the past is the past, and I won’t bother talking much about it. The Packers will be the first of the NFC North teams to take on the 49ers this year. It is a game that pits one of the most explosive offenses in the NFL, against one of the most electric and powerful defenses. They are almost polar opposites in the way each team manages its philosophy, but they both ended in the playoffs last year, and had a few things been different, it wouldn’t be so difficult to see either of them in the Superbowl.

While Rodgers will continue his aerial assault, the 49ers will look to Frank Gore to establish the head on, confrontational running game the 49ers have come to be known for. Along with that, we will see if Green Bay’s offensive line can handle the aggressive and formidable pass rush of the 49ers. One very noteworthy match up that I expect to see is San Francisco’s Justin Smith vs. Green Bay’s Marshall Newhouse.

Justin Smith is easily one of the best pass rushers in the NFL. Though the stats don’t always shine his name in headlines, his play has been noticed by anyone who’s had the unfortunate pleasure of playing against him. He is all go from the beginning of the game to the very end. He doesn’t ever seem to slow down. The endurance of Smith alone is remarkable, but its more than just his stamina that makes him shine. It is in the way he is always on the attack, always causing problems for offensive line’s and always making an impact. Another noteworthy thing about him, much like the Cowboy’s DeMarcus Ware, Justin Smith plays multiple positions and can line up just about anywhere along San Francisco’s defensive front.

On the other side of the ball, you have Marshall Newhouse. Newhouse is the single question mark on Green Bay’s offensive line. He is the only unproven talent that will be starting the game. He may or may not be matched up against Smith, but if I were the 49ers, I would make sure the two players got well acquainted. Green Bay, for all of their talents, are very thin at the Left Tackle position. They only have 7 offensive linemen to begin with, and if Newhouse would sustain an injury, get worn out, or for any other reason, not be able to handle what San Francisco throws at them, it could be a very long day for Aaron Rodgers.

That being said, one of the biggest questions about this game, in my opinion anyway – will be on Alex Smith. He has, over the course of his career, endured his fair amount of criticism. Even after leading his team to a 13-3 finish last year, defeating the New Orleans Saints in the Wild Card Round of the playoffs, many have voiced their concerns about him. Some have even went so far as to call him a game manager.

Say what you will about Smith. He certainly isn’t one to collect stats and wow you with 300+ yards per game, but he has managed to pull a team that was virtually off of everyone’s radar, and place them in a position where they made a very formidable playoff run after an outstanding season. Call me a Quarterback apologist or just generally optimistic, but I like what I see from the guy.

In any case, I think the game will eventually be decided by whoever commits the fewest turnovers. While it is perfectly conceivable that Rodgers will start off strong, throwing for multiple touchdowns and racking up points like he has become known for, I don’t think it will be that easy for him against arguably, the best defense in the entire NFL. Both the Packers and the 49ers led the NFL last year in generating turnovers, and it was turnovers that ended both teams hopes of playing in the Superbowl.

My prediction is the 49ers escape with a narrow win of 27 to 24.

Week 1: Bears vs. Colts – My commentary and prediction

The Bears and the Colts will meet Sunday at Soldier Field. This is only the second time they’ve met since 2007, where the Bears lost to the Colts in the Superbowl. Every year, each team shows promise, and every fan waits anxiously in anticipation for that opening kickoff. This particular match up is a very interesting one on several levels. Both teams had high expectations last year that eventually faded into the misery of a terrible finish; brought mostly from injuries suffered by their starting Quarterback. Both teams have reason to be confident of success this year, but still have yet to go out and prove it.

For the Colts, Peyton Manning – one of the best Quarterbacks of our day- sustained an unfortunate neck injury that had him sidelined for the entire season. Things only spiraled down from that point, leading to a forgettable season where they ended with only 2 wins that came at the end of the year. However, it has been said that there is no great loss without a little gain, and after finishing at the very bottom, they drafted rookie Andrew Luck, who now carries the hope of an entire franchise, and the burden of standing in the shoes of a former legend. I don’t know that Luck will ever be able to escape the comparisons to Manning (there are many), but I don’t believe that is such a terrible thing. 

For the Colts, a change at Quarterback was only the beginning. As the Andrew Luck era begins, the entire shape and structure of the franchise is changing with him. Many of the old names Colts fans have been familiar with, are now gone. Names such as Pierre Garcon, Jeff Saturday, Dallas Clark, Joseph Addai, Blair White and Jacob Tamme to name a few. Initially I hadn’t expected the Colts to clean house so acutely, I was impressed enough that they had the discernment to release Manning into free agency. Although Jim Irsay drew much criticism from the move, I believe ultimately it will work out for the best – for both, the Colts and Manning. In the meantime, it will take the Colts a few years to get back on their feet, but the addition of Luck is a good beginning. 

He has yet to play a single game in the regular season, but if the pre-season is any indication, I believe Luck will do well in his career. He has demonstrated a very controlled and calm pocket presence, and his accuracy and arm strength looked right on the mark. Nevertheless, he is still a rookie and the NFL is a very cruel and unforgiving world. It doesn’t help that he is making his debut game at Soldier Field, against a veteran defense and arguably, one of the harsher environments in the NFL. It will give us all a very good look at exactly what Andrew Luck is made of, and is perhaps a very fitting baptism into a career that I expect to be successful.

As for the Bears, Jay Cutler and his offensive line have drawn an aggressive amount of criticism, both from the media and their own fans. In spite of an offensive line that has faltered at times, and a receiving corps that struggled to produce, Cutler led the Bears to the NFC Championship match in 2010, where he had to be taken out of the game by order of his medical staff due to injuries sustained in that game. Last year, after starting out 3-3, the Cutler led his team on a five game winning streak, where he looked poised to make another bid in the playoffs, until he sustained yet another injury in his last game against the San Diego chargers. 

The offseason that followed was arguably one of, if not the most active in Bears history. It included changes almost everywhere. From Phil Emery taking the reins at General Manager, to Mike Tice assuming the role of Offensive Coordinator, to Brandon Marshall coming in, in an unexpected trade with the Miami Dolphins. For the first time in…well, forever…the Bears offense looks explosive, and Cutler went from having Matt Forte as his single reliable offensive weapon, to having an arsenal of extraordinary depth.

And while the offense seems ripe and ready to play, the defense is struggling with age and injuries. Most notably, Brian Urlacher, who hurt his knee in the final match up against the Minnesota Vikings, has stated that his knee will “never be the same.” While it is expected that Urlacher will play in week 1, at the age of 34, it is only a matter of time before the Future Hall of Famer comes to terms with the gravity of the situation. This is the final year of his contract, and every Bear fan wishes him to remain healthy and finish the year, hopefully with the ever-elusive Superbowl Ring, but only time itself can answer some questions. Along with Urlacher, Brandon Hardin – a Third Round draft pick this year, has sustained a season-ending injury before the regular season has even began. The Bears have struggled to maintain healthy Safety’s in recent history, and they are growing thin at that position.

Sunday will give us our first preview into what the future has in store for both of these organizations. I expect there will be more good than bad, but admittedly, I am generally more optimistic in my evaluations of players than perhaps the next guy. Even so, it is an exciting time, and as a die-hard Bears fan, I am very enthusiastic here at the beginning. I think Emery has done a marvelous job so far in his offseason acquisitions, and I am eager to see it come together on the field.

As for the Colts, I truly do wish Andrew Luck the best. I very much enjoy watching talented, young Quarterbacks enter the league. There aren’t very many of them. I only regret that he has to make his entrance in Chicago. I believe Luck will keep the Colts competitive, but there are just too many factors playing against him in his debut. For this game, I am predicting the Bears to win 27-17.

 

Disclaimer: This is my first year making predictions, so we’ll see how it goes!

 

 

Week 1: Giants vs. Cowboys

So the 2012 NFL Season is just a few days away! (Finally!) If you share the same enthusiasm for the sport as I do, then you are probably sitting here anxiously updating your Fantasy Football rosters and counting down the minutes until kickoff. So while you wait with a bud light in hand, barbecuing wings and praying that the football gods would bestow your picks with ungodly statistical numbers; to enhance your bragging rights when you return to the dull monotony of your work place, I will give you a few points to read over and discuss. (If you happen to enjoy that type of thing.)

Overall, I’ve been quite impressed with both organizations. While Dallas seemed to struggle a little bit in the first few weeks of the pre-season, lets be honest…its the pre-season. Tony Romo still looks sharp, and statistically matches up very well with Eli Manning of the Giants. The biggest concern facing Dallas is the overall health of their team. Receivers Dez Bryant (knee) and Miles Austin (hamstring) reportedly will be able to start against New York, but Tight End Jason Witten (spleen) is still uncertain, and the fact he has not been cleared by Doctors yet should be of some concern. However, John Phillips -his back up- made a few impressive plays in Game 3 of the pre-season and DeMarco Murray looked very sharp.

On the other hand, Eli Manning has looked every bit of the Elite Superbowl MVP he did at the conclusion of last season, and Victor Cruz is on pace to have another outstanding year as well. I was particularly impressed with the rookie acquisition of running back David Wilson. He opened in Game 3 of the pre-season against the Chicago Bears, where he stated before the game that he wanted to “wow people,” then proceeded to do just that. He ran through tackles like he was running through air, and gained impressive yardage against a veteran defense. Having him in the backfield to support Ahmad Bradshaw adds an entire new avenue of offense to an already dangerous passing game.

Rivalry games are always fun to watch, and I don’t think this one will be an exception. I could really see it swinging either way, as both offenses have great weapons and both defenses can do damage. However, the past few years, the Giants have started out slowly, and I believe playing on the road will work against them. I am predicting the final score 28-24, with the Cowboys able to steal the win.