The 2012 season is under way, and week 1 on the NFL schedule is filled with some interesting games… and some that will only be of interest to the fans of those two teams. I sat down with Bryan Lienesch (@bclienesch) to talk about the top 5 games on the schedule. We’ve already published part 1 of that two-man round table discussing NFL Week 1 for 2012. Here’s part 2.
#2 – San Francisco @ Green Bay
Rob: Two of the NFC Super Powers from last year, seeking to start another winning streak. Alex Smith looks to quiet his detractors now that they’ve added receiver weapons around him. Aaron Rodgers gets another chance to show that he should’ve been taken first in the draft instead of Smith.
Bryan: I really don’t think Rogers is dwelling too much on his draft. Anytime he feels bad, he has his paycheck and Super Bowl ring to look at. Either way, it’s going to be a good game. This is probably the best pairing of talent in Week 1.
Rob: By all accounts, players love to have a chip on their shoulder. Tom Brady shouldn’t care that he was a late round draft pick, but that helps motivate him, even with all those Super Bowl rings he’s got. I’m sure that every time Aaron Rodgers looks at Alex Smith, it gives him just a little more motivation to be at the top of his game. You’ve gotta be thinking that Alex Smith hopes the 49ers run game – on offense and defense – is the key to this game.
Bryan: They have plenty of running backs, but I think the weaker side of the Packers’ defense is their secondary. If the Niners want to win, Smith is going to have to step up and make some plays.
Rob: Oh I’m not worried about the 49ers being able to run the ball. I’m thinking that they want to use their run game to eat up the clock, keep time of possession on their side, and keep the Packers from being able to have a ground game. The 49ers barely allowed any rushing touchdowns last year – at all – and that’s certainly not the strong point of the Packers.
Bryan: It might turn into a shootout, but I don’t think it will. This looks more like a strength vs. strength matchup to me. The Packers offense versus the 49ers D.
Rob: If that’s how the game plays out, the pressure is on the 49ers defense, because Aaron Rodgers & Company have nothing to prove. I don’t want to say the 49ers defense isn’t legit, but I can’t see them having the same level of success this season. As a Redskins fan, I can almost guarantee that a certain San Francisco cornerback was playing way over his head in 2011.
Bryan: We’ve seen plenty of people go on to be successful after leaving the Redskins. Just look at Brandon Lloyd. Still, that doesn’t change the fact that this should be Green Bay’s game to lose.
Rob: I’d agree with that. Even if the Packers don’t have any success running the ball, they shouldn’t have any problem scoring. Will Randy Moss and Mario Manningham catch enough to keep it close (and high scoring)?
Bryan: I’m not a believer in Moss, but I wouldn’t sleep on Crabtree or Manningham. Or Vernon Davis, for that matter. The Giants did and almost paid for it dearly in the NFC Championship game last year.
Rob: Randy Moss is one of the biggest question marks for me over the past 20 years. He does great in Minnesota and New England, but then does almost nothing in Tennessee and Oakland. He’s a huge talent, it’s just a matter of which Randy Moss version shows up.
Bryan: For me, Minnesota was when he was in the apex of his career and New England may have been the brilliance of Belichick shining through. I’m leaning towards him being a bust again. I just don’t see it.
Rob: Maybe he’ll be a high-profile decoy for those other three. Either way, I think the receivers advantage is clearly the home team’s. And although Lambeau Field might not be the advantage that it once was, I think that will be another factor in the Packers’ favor en route to a victory today.
Bryan: Green Bay, San Francisco, hell, they could play on Mars and I’d still like the Packers to win this game.
#1 – Pittsburgh @ Denver
Bryan: In some ways, this game was over a year in the making. It kind of feels like Peyton came out of retirement instead of missing a year due to injury. Then there’s the Steelers, who look to be competitive for another year. Plus, they want to get revenge on the team that sent them home early last year. Tebow or no Tebow.
Rob: I think they Steelers definitely realize that the Broncos defense, rushing game, wide receivers and kicker were more important to that Broncos playoff victory than Tim Tebow was. All of the essential pieces are still there, but with a huge upgrade at quarterback.
Bryan: Huge question at quarterback is more like it. If anyone pretends to know how Peyton Manning will perform this season, they are lying through their teeth.
Rob: That’s a valid point, but his ability to perform and stay healthy for 17+ weeks isn’t what the Steelers are concerned about. Any QB can succumb to a huge hit at any time, and careers can end for any player any week. Peyton Manning is one of the most competitive players I’ve ever seen, and arguably one of the best prepared players. You have to know that whatever degredation to his talent, he’s going to make sure he makes a statement with this game. His personal drive has to be through the roof after sitting out a full season and having the team he was drafted by – and won a Super Bowl with – decided he was expendable.
Bryan: You’re more optimistic than I am. The statement made tonight could just as easily be that he will struggle against solid defenses.
Rob: This is certainly not the same defense that Tim Tebow had success against just a few months ago. The injuries at stake that day were likely the difference. There’s no doubt that Peyton Manning will have a tougher day than if he were playing just about any other team in the NFL this week. But what about the Pittsburgh offense? They’re not exactly built Steeler Tough like they were a year ago. And they have arguably just as tough a task as the Broncos do against them.
Bryan: Really? The Denver defense was ATROCIOUS last season. They had more holes than a redneck’s linens. I don’t know how much of a difference a year can make. The Steelers have questions at running back and a beat up O-line, but Ben Roethlisberger is still there. Mike Wallace is still there. Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders are still there. The “iron curtain” reputation sometimes hurts this Pittsburgh team in the sense that people think they play conservative, smashmouth football. Don’t be surprised if they air it out against Denver, and don’t be surprised if the Broncos struggle.
Rob: Mike Wallace didn’t get there until last week, hasn’t played any football since the last time the black & yellow were on the field with the Broncos, and so he needs to show that there’s no rust. Brown and Sanders are no slouch, but they’re not difference makers. Rashard Mendenhall would be a difference maker, but he’s out. Those other running backs they have to rely on? They’re going to struggle behind that O-Line.
Bryan: Wallace won’t have any more rust than Manning will and let’s hope, for the Broncos sake, they don’t underestimate Antonio Brown the same way. Obviously, I like the Steelers to win this one.
Rob: I think it’s naive to think that Wallace wouldn’t have benefited both mentally and physically from being with his team during mini-camps, training camp and the pre-season. I think you’re seriously underestimating the Broncos defense, and so I’m picking Peyton Manning to lead Denver to a victory.