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.