words // Brandon Richard
The first week of the 2012 NFL season is filled with big time matchups, including division rivalries like the Dallas Cowboys vs. New York Giants and Cincinnati Bengals vs. Baltimore Ravens, as well as 2011 playoff rematches like the Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Denver Broncos. However, the game that stands out the most on the Week 1 schedule may very well be a preview of the NFC Championship.
This Sunday, the San Francisco 49ers will travel to Lambeau Field to take on the Green Bay Packers. Many fans expected to see this matchup take place in last season’s NFC Championship, but the Pack were ousted in the Divisional round by the eventual champion New York Giants. Now both teams are reloaded and amongst early favorites to determine the NFC’s Super Bowl representative in January.
Green Bay comes into the season with extremely high expectations and are the Super Bowl choice for many experts. Aaron Rodgers will lead the high-octane offense once again, along with a receiving group of Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson and Donald Driver. In past seasons, the Pack’s backfield has been a revolving door of runners, but the signing of Cedric Benson should provide them with a little stability and could be one of the steals of the offseason. Like last season, the question this year is whether or not the Green Bay defense can take some pressure off of Rodgers and company. They drafted linebacker Nick Perry and are bringing back a healthy Tramon Williams at cornerback to help their cause.
San Francisco flirted with the idea of bringing in Peyton Manning at quarterback, but are bringing back Alex Smith for another go-round. That shouldn’t be much of an issue, as the 9ers are returning all 11 starters from last season’s #1 ranked defense. The offense has also been retooled, with offseason additions like rookie tailback LaMichael James and veteran wide receivers Randy Moss and Mario Manningham. If they can duplicate last season’s track record of health, there’s no reason to think the 49ers won’t factor in at the end.
With that said, the obvious keys to this matchup is Green Bay’s offense and San Francisco’s defense. Even with new weapons, it’s a little unfair to expect Alex Smith to travel to Lambeau and keep up with Rodgers’ numbers. That famous crowd will be a factor and should provide the Packers with an edge. Either way, we’ll see a tremendous game Sunday afternoon.
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