(By Daisy Barringer)
Finally, after seven agonizing months: NFL Football is back! I'm not sure what you do in the offseason, but for me it was brutal. I mean, to give you a sense of how bad it got: I started crafting. Like making—and wearing—homemade jewelry without neither dignity nor shame. Clearly, football season couldn't come soon enough.
Things got off to an interesting start with Denver dismantling the Ravens Thursday night. Not gonna lie, it was fun to watch the Super Bowl Champions (*sob*) fall apart, even if their very existence will continue to haunt me until another team is named World Champions.
Which brings us to the point: 49ers Football. (My heart races by simply typing those words.)
The Niners have come a long way under Coach Harbaugh. In his first year, we (yes, WE) made it to the NFC Championship game (and lost). In his second, we made it to the Super Bowl (and lost). And this year, almost every NFL analyst out there sees us, once again, as Super Bowl contenders. We're no longer the underdog and frankly, it's kind of disconcerting. Journalists actually recognize that we exist. There are commercials featuring the 49ers franchise and players. And the way you really know we're good? People have started to hate us again.
Even scarier, the NFC West is no longer the NFC Worst. In fact, it's one of the better (best?) divisions in the NFL. Seattle (and, ugh, I really hate saying this) is a serious threat. Even the Rams seem to somehow be perfectly prepared to handle us.
Luckily for us, even though (as of today) we have 20 new players on the 53-man roster, the team is fundamentally the same as the one that went to the Super Bowl (and came five agonizing, nightmare-inducing, horribly unforgettable yards from winning).
We definitely lost some good guys this year. The saddest for me was seeing veteran long snapper Brian Jennings cut in favor of a rookie. Sad for nostalgic reasons, for sure; but also worried because Jennings was more or less perfect at his job, and if anything is going to screw us up this year, it will be the details. I don't see us being blown out. And I'm not sure I see us blowing out too many teams. It's going to come down to fundamentals and not making mistakes. (I know that sounds obvious, but it has to be said.)
Here's what I think will help us win:
Colin Kaepernick, Vernon Davis, the running game, the read option, our defense—every aspect of it except the secondary, including Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman, Justin Smith, and Aldon Smith, Andy Lee, Phil Dawson (hopefully), the stellar coaching staff, some great rookies (Quinton Patton, WR; Vance McDonald, TE; Eric Reid, S), discipline, and faith.
And here's what I'm worried about:
Our wide receivers, Kaepernick getting hurt (knock on wood—no seriously, go right now and knock on wood), our secondary (I'm not sure if this is fair, but it is what it is), special teams, and injuries.
Honestly—and I only say this because it is my job to tell you the truth—I can't see the Niners making it to the Super Bowl this year. I don't know if it's because the odds are statistically against them, because of the alleged Super Bowl Curse, or if I'd just rather be proven wrong than bitterly disappointed but even though I want it to happen more than anything in the whole entire universe, I'm trying not to appear overly confident or cocky. (Seriously though, I really hope we make it back there and this time when we're five yards away from the end zone, we RUN THE BALL instead of passing three times to Crabtree.)
In order to get to the Super Bowl though, we have to win games. Including the one on Sunday against the Green Bay Packers. Let's break down how that's going to happen.
49ers vs. Packers Preview
This is a huge game and the Packers are going to come in with a vengeance. Not only did we beat them in Week One at Lambeau last year (so fun!), we knocked them out of the playoffs in such a fashion that they allegedly starting fighting amongst themselves—while there was still time on the clock.
We all know that Aaron Rodgers is a little baby who's still mad the Niners didn't draft him and Green Bay is apparently so scared of us that they had to sign former 49ers QB Scott Tolzien to their practice squad just so they could pump him for intel. (I just made up that they only signed him for that purpose, but it kind of seems like it, right?) They're so nervous to face us that Clay Matthews even admitted that Green Bay has been working on defending the read option since Day 1 in OTAs.
How's it going to play out?
Home-field Advantage. It's the first game of the season so even 49ers' fans (who, I hate to say, remain consistently lackadaisical and meh during games) should be fired up. I just hope they refrain from doing The Wave on offense (or ever) like they did during the Vikings pre-season game. Seriously people. At least pretend you've been to a football game before.
Colin Kaepernick. Green Bay's already admitted their plan is to target the QB. My only fear is that Kaepernick gets injured, but as long as he doesn't take any crazy hits, I'm not worried about it. He's mobile and versatile and everything else you already know about the guy since he's been on scores of magazine covers in America this month alone.
Our Defense. I mean, duh. Green Bay's D plans on hitting Kaepernick? I can' wait to see what our boys do to Aaron Rodgers. Light. Him. Up. (Please.) Vernon Davis and Anquan Boldin. I feel confident about V.D.; he even said that his rapport with Kap has improved in the off-season. Boldin I'm a little iffy about, but he needs to step up, especially since Crabtree is out. I think he's going to surprise us and make some big plays.
Green Bay's Running Game. You just can't win without a decent running game. In both match-ups against the 49ers last year, their running game sucked. I hope it continues to do so this year.
Green Bay’s Passing Game. I’m just worried our corners aren’t up to the challenge. Obviously, I hope I'm wrong, but I think this could hurt us big time. I mean, Aaron Rodgers is annoying because he’s Aaron Rodgers. He’s a legit threat.
Green Bay's Defense. I think we can handle them, yes. But I also think they’re going to have a big impact in the game. Ultimately, it will come down to how well the Niners are prepared. I feel like we may have to switch from the game plan at some point and I hope we’re prepared to do that instead of just staying the course. (I have no reason to think this except gut instinct.)
The 49ers Wide Receivers. Crabtree is out for most of the season. Manningham is out until at least Week 6. That leaves Boldin as the No. 1 WR and then a bunch of other guys—Kyle Williams (who will also return punts), Quinton Patton, and Marlon Moore—to complement him. Sorry, but that makes me just a little nervous.
The Rest of It
The first Sunday of the NFL season is like Christmas. You look forward to it all year, but you never know what waits in those packages under the tree. It might be like the year I got Barbie Beauty Salon AND Barbie McDonald's or it might be like the year my mom gave me a vacuum cleaner. I really think the Niners have a good shot of beating The Pack, but “On Any Given Sunday” and all the rest of it. Regardless of the outcome, we'll have a much better idea of what to expect this season sometime around 4:15 p.m. on Sunday afternoon.
Nonetheless, I think we’re going to win by I’ll say 3-4 points.
My season prediction is (cautiously) as follows. 12-4:
Week 1: Packers - Win
Week 2: At Seahawks - Loss
Week 3: Vs. Colts - Loss
Week 4: At Rams - Win
Week 5: Texans - Win
Week 6: Cardinals - Win
Week 7: At Titans - Win
Week 8: At Jaguars (London) - Win
Week 9: Bye
Week 10: Panthers - Win
Week 11: At Saints - Loss
Week 12: At Redskins - Win
Week 13: Rams - Win
Week 14: Seahawks - Win
Week 15: At Buccaneers - Win
Week 16: Falcons - Loss
Week 17: At Cardinals - Win
Alas we shall see. For now, get stoked football season is here. Wear Red. Get Loud.
Watch SAN FRANCISCO vs. Green Bay on Sunday at 1:25 p.m. PT on FOX 2.