The San Francisco 49ers and Green Bay Packers will open up their 2013-14 campaigns with an anticipated matchup on Sunday. It's the second straight year that the 49ers and Packers have faced off in the opener, but this time, the game will be played at Candlestick Park in San Francisco.
It's the third time these two teams have played in a year. The 49ers took last year's opener, 30-22, with Alex Smith starting at quarterback and Michael Crabtree earning 76 receiving yards. Things got much worse for the Packers from there, however, as the 49ers dominated Green Bay in the divisional round of the playoffs later that season, winning 45-31.
Both teams have made some interesting changes so we'll see how that has an effect on the outcome.
Meet the 49ers
The 49ers made it to the NFC Championship in Jim Harbaugh's first season as head coach, and then made it to the Super Bowl last year, Harbaugh's second year. They've taken a big step both times, and hoping the next will be another Lombardi trophy. There's a lot of reason to be optimistic.
For one, quarterback Colin Kaepernick spent the offseason preparing to be the starter. He's improved since taking over mid-season last year, and should be just as unpredictable as before. The big changes came on defense, though, as Isaac Sopoaga is out as the starting nose tackle in favor of Ian Williams, and Pro Bowl safety Dashon Goldson has been replaced by rookie Eric Reid.
They're still one of the best defenses in the NFL, but those changes could go either way given the inexperience there. Still, there's players such as Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman, Aldon Smith and Justin Smith to keep them on the right path. On offense, Crabtree suffered an injury and won't be back until late in the season, so Anquan Boldin, who was acquired in a trade, will have to step up.
Meet the Packers
Green Bay made one thing clear after being bounced out of the playoffs: they would learn how to effectively stop the read option. That's due to the massive amounts of yardage that Kaepernick put up on them in said playoff game. That will surely be tested on Sunday.
The Packers have made some changes, especially on the offensive side of the ball. The core is still there with Aaron Rodgers throwing the football, which means the Packers are going to score one way or the other. Rodgers can make any receiver look good, but the loss of Greg Jennings and the possible limiting of Jordy Nelson makes things a bit tougher.
Fortunately, he might have a running game this year, as the Packers are putting a lot of faith in rookie running back Eddie Lacy. They were hoping DuJuan Harris would be involved in the running game, but he is injured. Lacy is the starter, and will possibly give up some reps to James Starks, but the Packers are surely going to give Lacy a shot at being the feature back. He'll have a tough out against the 49ers, though.
Local Takes: 49ers
Just about anything less than unstoppable isn't good enough when you're up against Matthews. Last year, Matthews managed just 13 sacks, but that was before going down with an injury after playing in 12 games. He's one of the NFL's best pass rushers and would have a legitimate claim to the title of best pass rusher in this game if Aldon Smith hadn't come on so strong last season.
Local Takes: Packers
Brendan Kennedy of Acme Packing Company thinks that the Packers need to play physical in this one to stand a chance, based on prior outings:
The Niners in two recent matchups have just been bigger, stronger, faster, nastier, filthier or whatever other adjective you can think of that would describe a Rex Ryan home movie. The Packers should have no problem in getting motivated to play this one with as much physicality as they can muster. How that turns out, who knows. But at least matching the Niners in terms of their style of play could go a long way in the Packers finally shedding their ‘finesse team' label.
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Dwight Clark is third all time in receiving yards in 49ers history, and people only talk about one play. I think that defines underrated— Niners Nation (@NinersNation) September 6, 2013
Packers-49ers: Jim Harbaugh's rage-face is our bonus 6th thing in this week's 5 Things to Watch For http://t.co/SBbo3fxCBB— Acme Packing Company (@acmepackingco) September 6, 2013
Ryan Van Bibber made his picks for the week and he's picking the 49ers, with this brief snippet:
Did the Packers figure out this whole read option business over the summer? We'll know soon enough because it's Kaepernick this week and RGIII next week.
The 49ers opened as 4.5-point favorites to begin the week and could be had for that exact amount on most books throughout, according to OddsShark.