Since the loss to Arizona at the end of the 2009 season (which was a facemask on Michael Adams) there have been 3 games that I’ve felt like the whole country expected the Packers to lose with little to no chance of victory. The games vs. the Jets and Patriots during the Super Bowl season, and the game against the Texans last year. The Packers shut out the Jets 9-0 behind a dominant defensive performance from Clay Matthews and Matty Flynn almost beat the Patriots on the road. Last season Aaron Rodgers tied the aforementioned Flynn’s franchise record with 6 TD passes while routing the Texans in Houston. The mantra that I love and is one of the reasons that I think Mike McCarthy is an elite leader of men is “we are nobody’s underdog.” McCarthy has convinced his team that they are not only capable of winning, but are going to win every game. He’s been right 27 times in the past two seasons.
I feel like that this weekend. I looked over at ESPN’s expert picks and there isn’t a single one that’s picking the Packers in this game. The Packers are only 4.5 pt. underdogs, so it is a little disarming that no one thinks they can win the game. The reasons for this are obvious. The Packers lost to the 49ers twice. Once at home by a touchdown and once on the road by two touchdowns. Colin Kaepernick ran absolutely wild on the Packers defense, that on the surface, doesn’t look like it’s any better prepared to stop him. This is the most pessimistic I have seen the fan base/media since the Super Bowl XLV victory.
Why the Packers will win: these are not the same teams that played each other in San Francisco in the playoffs. The 49ers are without Michael Crabtree, without Dashon Goldson, without Mario Manningham, without Chris Culliver and possibly without Patrick Willis. The Packers add Datone Jones, Eddie Lacy, Johnny Jolly and Nick Perry to the equation. If the Packers can figure out how to stop Kaepernick’s legs, his arm doesn’t worry me that much. He has struggled to create chemistry with Vernon Davis, and right now Vernon Davis is the only skill player that concerns me through the air. I think the move of Mike Neal had a lot to do with the ability to stop these offenses. If you have Neal and Perry on the outside I’d be hard pressed to find a stronger pair of OLBs setting the edge. This, as Cheesehead TV’s Brian Carriveau orginally pointed out, could open up Clay Matthews ability to spy the QB, and it sounds like he is pretty interested on hammering Kaepernick on every play. The biggest difference that you will see defensively in this game is the improvement of the Packers defensive Line. Being able to rotate guys like Pickett, Wilson, and Jolly on running downs and bring in Jones, Neal, Raji and Daniels on passing downs could turn the advantage that the 49ers offensive line (one of, if not the best, in the league) into a standstill with fresh and talented bodies coming in time after time. Lacy’s ability to bring balance to the offense could really change the way that the 49ers play them, especially if Patrick Willis is hobbled or unable to play. The 49ers are also not terribly deep at corner, and if the young Packers offensive line can hold up, the Packers 3 receiver set will create mismatches.
Why the 49ers will win: the 49ers pulled away from the Packers in last season’s playoff matchup and turned the game in to a rout. Colin Kaepernick set an NFL record with 189 yards rushing by a QB, with only 3 of those yards coming after contact. He basically ran around untouched. Frank Gore was also effective against the Packers in both the season opener and the season ender for the Packers. The strength of the 49ers is their defense. They have an elite pass rusher in Aldon Smith who teams with an elite (but aging) DE Justin Smith. they have (by far) the best tandem of ILBs in a 3-4 in the league in Patrick Willis and Navorro Bowman. Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks are going up against two very inexperienced tackles for the Packers, both LT David Bakhtiari and RT Don Barclay have a lot to prove. Quite simply, the 49ers have won the two most recent matchups against Green Bay and the local and national media doesn’t seem to see any reason to believe in the Packers.
Fantasy Packer to start: Randall Cobb- as mentioned the 49ers are not very deep at CB. Nnaamdi Asomugah is a nice name at the position, but he’s washed up and the idea of him running around and trying to match Cobb’s changes of direction makes me giddy. If you couple that with the fact that the best way to protect Rodgers with these young tackles is going to be by running the ball (even just for the sake of running it) and with short throws. Who catches short throws? Randall Cobb catches short throws.
Fantasy Packer to sit: James Jones- I was thinking about going with Eddie Lacy in this spot, but it’s Jones that I anticipate being disappointing this Sunday. JJ finished in the top 20 for fantasy receivers last season, but it was because of his league leading 14 TDs. While I agree that scoring TDs is a skill and not 100% luck, if Jones has similar receiving numbers and a more sensible number of TDs (7-10), there isn’t going to be as much value. A week 1 matchup vs. Tarell Brown is less than appetizing.
Packers Stat of the Week: although it’s with only three players, LB Brad Jones, K Mason Crosby, and LT David Bakhtiari, the University of Colorado-Boulder is the most well represented school on the Packers 53 man roster. Although the “Buffs” did just down rival Colorado St. last weekend, they were 1-11 last season, including allowing 70 points to the Oregon Ducks. This is either proof that you can find talent everywhere or that the Packers might be in trouble.
Bottom Line: This team is nobody’s underdog. 17 of the team’s 22 starters have seen a seen both a Super Bowl championship and a 15-1 season. The 49ers are just as beat up as the Packers (this is rare) and when all things are equal I’m not going to bet against Aaron Rodgers and Mike McCarthy when they’re operating with a chip on their shoulder. Packers 27 49ers 24