GREEN BAY—It’s all about storylines, which create good theater, and that’s the league’s intent for the opening week of the season.
Let’s start with tonight’s “Kickoff” game between the Ravens and the Broncos. It’s a return-to-the-scene-of-the-crime game, Invesco Field, where the Ravens stole a win from Peyton Manning and the Broncos in last year’s playoff. It began the Ravens’ run to the Super Bowl title, and it ended Manning’s season with another one-and-done playoff loss.
Look around the league. The Week 1 schedule is loaded with storylines, even in the not-so-juicy games.
Seattle at Carolina—The 2011 season’s hotshot rookie quarterback, Cam Newton, against one of last year’s hotshot rookie quarterbacks, Russell Wilson, as the team from the cool northwest is forced to travel across the country to play in the hot and steamy south.
Minnesota at Detroit—Which team will emerge as the immediate challenger to the Packers’ grip on the NFC North?
Kansas City at Jacksonville—The two worst teams in the league last season square off. Is this the Jadeveon Clowney Bowl?
Atlanta at New Orleans—This is a headliner game, the kind of game usually reserved for midseason. The winner immediately emerges as the team to beat in the South.
Tampa Bay at New York Jets—Welcome back, Mr. Revis.
New York Giants at Dallas—Jerry Jones scheduled this one with his comments of a year ago. They still play.
Philadelphia at Washington—Chip Kelly gets the chance to show the Redskins and RG3 how the read option is really done.
How about Green Bay at San Francisco? You know the storylines. Another one was even added this week. Good theater? No, this one is great theater.
Here are 10 things the Packers have to do to beat the 49ers.
1. Be physical—If you’ve been looking forward to this column since the last such version ran, which is to say a few days prior to the Packers’ loss to the 49ers in the playoffs, you had to know what the No. 1 thing would be. It was the focus of the Packers’ offseason and training camp. Now, it’s time to be physical.
2. Stop Frank Gore—Don’t be fooled by the read-option diversion. It’s Gore the 49ers want to have the ball. They fooled the Falcons into falling for Colin Kaepernick, and then Gore beat them.
3. Run it enough—It would be foolish to expect the Packers to run to win, as the saying goes. The 49ers were No. 4 in the league against the run last season, and the Packers’ running game is a work in progress. Just run it enough to make the 49ers play run. That’ll work.
4. Win the battle of passer rating—Despite having arguably the best quarterback in football, the Packers lost the rating battle to the 49ers on opening day, 125.6-93.3, and eked out only a 91.5-91.2 win in the rematch. The Packers need to dominate this stat, and that would involve the play of the team’s defense, too.
5. Make kicks, catch kicks—A fumble fielding a punt was one of the deciding plays in the January playoff game. Big games usually turn on those types of mistakes and the Packers can’t afford another such event, nor can they afford to miss field goal attempts when they have a chance to put points on the board.
6. Win the line of scrimmage—OK, that’s a tall order against the 49ers’ two lines, but if the Packers can’t claim victory up front, they must at least avoid defeat. It would not be cliché in this type of game to say it’ll be decided along the line of scrimmage.
7. Help Micah Hyde—Jim Harbaugh will no doubt target the rookie as he did Nick Perry last season, in what was Perry’s first game as a pro. Until Hyde gets his feet under him, give him a little help.
8. Pinch Kaepernick—The Packers’ edge defenders must contain the 49ers quarterback by forcing him to the middle of the field. That’s where the big bodies are.
9. Help David Bakhtiari—A rookie left tackle against the “Smith Brothers?” That’s too daunting of a challenge for a guy in his pro debut to address without the help of a tight end or running back.
10. Do your job—There must be no bickering or finger pointing, and that includes not using scheme as an excuse. The preparation for this game has been intense and complete. This team is ready. Additional coverage - Sept. 5