Taking Care of Business in Opener Begins with Taking Care of Football

The Pack's opener features two teams that won 28 games last season--one off the all-time record. It's why this game is the crown jewel on the opening Sunday afternoon of NFL football.

We'll find out real quickly if last season's playoff performance was the result of a bad day, or whether it unmasked some trouble spots. As you'll recall, the Pack turned the ball over four times against the Giants--demonstrating the best way to slow down the offense is to give the other team the ball.

The 49ers tied the Packers for the most takeaways last season. The defense is an opportunistic bunch, led by the league's top set of linebackers that wreak havoc and force QBs into mistakes. That said, they were #1 against the run last season, and middle of the pack against the pass.

The Pack will force them into nickel all day long and force at least one of those pass rushers into coverage. The key matchup when the Pack has the ball is how Marshall Newhouse fares against Aldon Smith and Justin Smith. Newhouse takes over for Chad Clifton and while he held his own last season, needs to show growth and stability, since there is very little depth at that position--at least until Derek Sherrod gets healthy. Expect the Pack to give him a little help, asking Benson and Green to chip and rolling Rodgers to the right early and often.

Offensively, look for Aaron Rodgers to take over right where he left off in last year's regular season. He should find holes in a SF secondary that is the weak link of that defense. Look for a lot of no huddle to prevent them from substituting and to see if they can keep up. I'll be interested to see if the replacement officials can handle the speed of the game in the hurry up--something we take for granted week in and week out.

We all want to see how the defense looks against an offense that was one of only four that ran more than it passed last season. Look for that to change this year, with the additions of Randy Moss and Super Bowl hero Mario Manningham at receiver. If that offense changes its stripes a bit, there might be more of an opportunity to force Alex Smith into mistakes.

You would think they would like to pound the ball, try to put long drives together and keep the Packers offense off the field. Something to watch: Bj Raji's ankle, which has limited him in practice this week. The Packers struggled to stop the Chiefs from running the ball in the preseason finale. If Raji isn't close to 100% and the D can't slow Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter, the Niners will stay in the game to the end.

Vernon Davis remains their biggest offensive weapon and the Pack has had troubles with prolific tight ends in recent seasons. Charles Woodson will likely keep an eye on him all day long. Meanwhile, Tramon Williams will keep an eye on Randy Moss, who's said to actually be motivated to play football season. We'll believe it when we see it. Let's see if he can make plays against a healthy #38.

This will be a good test for the young secondary to establish a pecking order. I expect McMillian to be on the field a lot and I want to see how Sam Shields responds to his deserved criticism for last year's performance.

Bottom line: Mike McCarthy wins home openers (five straight) and the Packers have owned the 49ers since the Favre era began. The Pack is 8-0 against them since 1990 and last lost to them in the '98 playoffs when T.O. caught the game winner from Steve Young, just moments after Jerry Rice fumbled--which wasn't called (no instant replay then). I don't get over bitter losses easily. I've still not consumed an Anheuser Busch product since the Cardinals knocked off the Brewers in seven games in the '82 World Series.

Aaron Rodgers loves to play with a chip on his shoulder. This is his boyhood team, the team that spurned him on draft day and went with Alex Smith. That's all he needs to ensure a razor sharp performance.

Both teams will likely force turnovers, but the Pack will make a play late that settles things.

Packers 24 49ers 13


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