Finally, after seeing some of the worst football ever in the preseason, and I mean league wide, not just in Green Bay, we are getting ready for the real deal. And much like last year’s opener when the Packers defeated the Saints in Lambeau Field, the Packers have a chance to set the pecking order of the NFC right from the start. Because of that loss the Saints were chasing the Packers all year. Even though in the end it didn’t matter as the Packers and Saints both lost in the divisional round of the playoffs, it’s still nice to have that upper hand and know the road to the Super Bowl goes through Lambeau Field.
Of course the Giants, Bears, Lions and Eagles will all be in the hunt, but by most accounts the Packers and 49ers are the teams to beat. I think the Packers biggest challenge for the division will come from the Bears, the biggest challenge to the NFC title will come from the, wait for it, Dallas Cowboys. Like the Packers the Cowboys have a bad taste in their mouth the way last season ended and will play with a chip on their shoulder all year. If the Packers do indeed reach the Super Bowl I think it will be a rematch of Super Bowl 45 – Packers and Steelers.
It will not be a cake walk by any stretch. The Packers can ill afford an injury to the offensive line and really need left tackle Marshall Newhouse to take that next step in his first full year as a starter. Much like T.J. Lang did last year. At running the Packers took a gamble on the 29-year old Cedric Benson who is a completely different type of back than the Packers are used to. If Benson can stay healthy and even show 90% of what he did the last three years in Cincinnati, the Packers’ offense will have a fourth quarter lead protector for the first time since Ahman Green was running wild.
The defense is anybody’s guess. With so many new faces and new players in new positions, it may take a while for this unit to really jell. The best case scenario is they are serviceable at the start and coming together down the stretch like they did in 2010. The Packers will counting on young players like Nick Perry at linebacker and whoever starts at cornerback and safety in the nickel to play big right away. I think those two players will be Sam Shields and Jerron McMillian.
I think with Tramon Williams returning to form and Charles Woodson moving to safety in the base defense, the Packers will undoubtedly be better. Perry has shown the skills to get the job done but still needs a lot of fine tuning at his new position. He will be learning on the fly. I also think the Packers will get more pressure on the QB with a rotation of young lineman instead of old has-beens.
The 49ers will provide a good test on both sides of the ball for the Packers. Their defense is one of, if not the, best in the league. On offense they have addressed their weak spots with the additions of Randy Moss and Mario Manningham. They also added running back running back Brandon Jacobs, who always seems to have big games against the Packers. This one will not be a track meet like last year’s opener, that is for sure, but I bet it goes down to the wire like that one did.