The Giants' loss to the Cowboys on Wednesday effectively turns all eyes in the NFC to Sunday's clash between the Packers and the visiting 49ers. Big just got bigger.
These are the two kingpins in the NFC now.
One is the hot, new team on the block, a team that made a dramatic rise to 13-3 and the NFC title game last season, a game that team probably should've won. Who knows? Take away a fumbled punt and maybe the Packers are getting ready to face the Super Bowl champions.
The other team, the Packers, was the best team in the league last year; at least it was for 17 weeks. At 15-1, the Packers had the look of invincibility, until circumstances and a red-hot Giants team conspired to end the Packers' season.
This Sunday's game represents an immediate opportunity to atone for all of those dropped passes and missed tackles in that playoff loss to the Giants. Sunday's season opener at Lambeau Field will allow the home team to turn the spotlight back on itself with a performance that will say, "That was a fluke; we are who you thought we are."
But beware the visitors. They possess the grit of their head coach. They seek confrontation. They want to be known as a bully and they like it when you don't like them. They're Baltimore West.
The 49ers are a dangerous team, especially for a team such as the Packers. Why? Because the 49ers are the Packers' polar opposite. The Packers throw it; the 49ers run it. The 49ers win with defense; the Packers win with offense.
Each team will be attempting to make a statement. The 49ers want to leave Green Bay with the distinction of being the top team in the NFC, which is what a win would earn. The Packers would quickly reclaim that distinction should they win, but more is at stake for them. A win over the 49ers would quickly end any talk of the Packers being a finesse team, and that might be the biggest win of all.
Here are 10 things the Packers have to do to beat the 49ers:
1. Stop the run—If you don't do that, the 49ers will milk the clock, and Aaron Rodgers can't score points while sitting on the bench.
2. Be on the plus side—The turnover battle is an obvious key to any game, but it's especially critical in a game between teams that were head and shoulders above the rest of the league in turnover differential last season. It's how they win.
3. Press the issue—The 49ers aren't a shootout-type team.
4. Make them play dime—The more defenders they commit to coverage, the fewer defenders they can commit to the rush.
5. Hold your own—Winning the battle of the hitting might be too much to ask. Just don't lose it.
6. Play to the crowd—Lambeau will be ready for this day.
7. Make Alex Smith be the star—That's not his role. He's a game manager.
8. Make two big plays—Big plays win games.
9. Use a 150/300 strategy—Hold the 49ers under 150 yards rushing, and throw for 300. That'll work.
10. Show 'em what you got—The 49ers are likely wondering in what imaginative ways the Packers will use Randall Cobb. Aren't we all? Related links