Both the San Francisco 49ers and Denver Broncos head into the 2013 season looking to pick things up after disappointing ends to their season in 2012. Both teams, already two of the deepest in the NFL, added talent at key positions while barely relinquishing any in the offseason and each could certainly become the top team in their respective conference this year.
Meet the San Francisco 49ers
The defending NFC Champions will take the field for the first time since losing to the Baltimore Ravens in February, a 34-31 thriller that nearly saw quarterback Colin Kaepernick lead the most unlikely comeback in Super Bowl history. The 49ers haven't changed much since their appearance in the Super Bowl, deciding instead to bolster the talented roster with high-potential defensive players picked up in the draft.
The big battle on the team seems to be at backup quarterback, with Colt McCoy attempting to secure the second spot over third-year player Scott Tolzien. The 49ers will also feature a number of promising rookies in the defensive backfield in the game, including cornerback Marcus Cooper and safety Eric Reid. With a few receiver spots also up for grabs, second-year player A.J. Jenkins will be expected to step up and prove he can be a bigger part of an offense that now includes veteran Anquan Boldin.
Meet the Denver Broncos
The Broncos were supposed to be so much more in 2012, riding an 11-game winning streak into the postseason on a path that seemed destined for the Super Bowl. Led by Peyton Manning, the Broncos' passing offense surged to No. 5 in the NFL, and the team's defense was the No. 3 unit in the league. It was the balanced attack the Broncos had been waiting for and it seemed to all be coming together -- until Denver hit the juggernaut that was the Ravens.
The Broncos added receiver Wes Welker, cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, center Ryan Lilja and cornerback Quentin Jammer as the talented team aims to regroup from the disappointing divisonal-round loss to the Ravens. The already-stout passing attack and defense improved over the offseason, as it's clear this team is preparing once more for a big run at the AFC Championship.
Local Takes: San Francisco 49ers
David Fucillo from Niners Nation takes a look about what to expect from the first preseason game of the year, noting that for this game, the focus is mostly on players fighting for the final few roster spots.
One guy we haven't discussed much is offensive tackle Kenny Wiggins. He is listed as the backup at right tackle, but he hasn't been discussed a whole lot in training camp reports. Daniel Kilgore is the primary backup on the inside of the line, while Adam Snyder has been getting most of the work as the first OL off the bench after Kilgore. Wiggins spent last season on the 49ers practice squad. The 49ers drafted Carter Bykowski, who will likely be competing with Wiggins and Snyder for a roster spot. Wiggins cannot claim a job on Thursday, but he needs to build some momentum if he wants to snag a job.
Local Takes: Denver Broncos
Scotty Payne of Mile High Report takes the same approach, highlighting five position battles to watch against the 49ers -- including the battle at running back:
Hillman was given the starting job after the release of Willis McGahee, and he has yet to disappoint. Hillman added muscle and weight over the offseason and looks more confident, more aggressive, stronger and fast. One thing that kept Hillman off the field last year was his pass blocking skills. Hillman added weight and muscle to get better at that, and has shown in camp that he can hold is own out there.
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In the completely arbitrary practice of picking preseason games, we take a look at which team has the greatest chance for a better performance from the backups. The 49ers have a number of young players fighting for roster spots, while the Broncos sport one of the deeper and more talented teams in the league. Meanwhile, two quarterbacks that haven't exactly been impressing lately will be running the 49ers offense.
Denver 20, San Francisco 13.
The Broncos are favored by just three points, according to OddsShark.com.
The 49ers will travel to Kansas City to take on the Chiefs next Friday, and the Broncos will head to Seattle for their second preseason game on Aug. 17.