No game opened eyes during the NFL playoffs last season more than when the San Francisco 49ers ran roughshod over the Green Bay Packers in the divisional round. It set the stage for their Super Bowl run and ushered them in as a dynasty in waiting. Can the Packers put a damper on those thoughts in Week One?
#5. Eddie Lacy vs. 49ers run defense
It took a few years to get the message but the Green Bay Packers finally made a hefty investment in their running game. Their most expensive was second round pick Eddie Lacy, who comes off a dominant year at Alabama with plenty to prove in a system built around the pass. San Francisco typically has a stout run defense, but they did suffer some losses at defensive tackle. Lacy must look to exploit that, or the 49ers will do what they aim for by making their opponents one-dimensional.
#4. Nnamdi Asomugha vs. Randall Cobb
It took a lot more effort and headaches than expected by Nnamdi Asomugha finally staked his claim to the third cornerback job in the fluid 49ers secondary. Not a moment too soon either as his first assignment of the season will be dynamic Packers slot receiver Randall Cobb. Asomugha has drawn a lot of criticism lately that he can’t play at a high level anymore. How he performs against Cobb could clarify whether that is justified or misguided.
#3. Jermichael Finley vs. Eric Reid
Green Bay Packers head coach Mike McCarthy said no player was having a better training camp than tight end Jermichael Finley. After so many squabbles with the team a year ago including contract and leadership accusations, it seems Finley has finally settled down and decide to just play football. Good thing too because the Packers will need him against San Francisco. Their linebackers led by Patrick Willis are among the best in football, but if Green Bay is smart they will use Finley to attack rookie 49ers safety Eric Reid. The team drafted him in hopes he could fix some of their coverage problems that showed up late last season. His battle with Finley will be telling.
#2. Frank Gore vs. Packers run defense
The entire offseason for Green Bay was centered around stopping the run, something they failed miserably to do in their playoff loss to the 49ers last year. In that game Frank Gore wasn’t the leading rusher but he did have 119 yards, a touchdown and averaged 5.2 yards per carry. Not much has changed since then. Gore has the same coaches and same offensive line while the Packers will field a slightly different defensive front featuring rookie Datone Jones. The hope is he can help anchor the line to keep Gore in check. Otherwise San Francisco could run away with the game just like they did in January.
#1. Aaron Rodgers vs. Colin Kaepernick
Naturally though this game will center around the quarterbacks. Colin Kaepernick ran all over the Green Bay Packers in their last meeting to the tune of 181 yards and two touchdowns. Never mind his additional 263 yards and two touchdowns passing. Aaron Rodgers engineered three scoring drives but he wasn’t able to match Kaepernick. Perhaps a year of stewing in that defeat and studying plenty of tape on the Vic Fangio defense could give him the edge he needs to take down the mighty San Francisco 49ers down a peg. If he can’t, it might be a long day.