It can never be too early to discuss who will face the San Francisco 49ers in the team's second year under Jim Harbaugh. Throughout the offseason, we'll take a team-by-team look at the 49ers' 2012 opponents and the storylines for each team. Up next are the Green Bay Packers, who are scheduled to host the 49ers in the season opener, as the 49ers will face all four teams from the NFC North in 2012. View the 2012 schedule.
Team: Green Bay Packers
When: Week 1 (Sept. 9)
2011 Record: 15-1 (8-0 home)
All-Time Series:34-26-1 Packers
2011 Recap: The Green Bay Packers were the talk of the 2011 regular season, marching out to a 13-0 record to be the last unbeaten team in the NFL. Thanks to the stellar play of league MVP Aaron Rodgers, the Packers enjoyed one of the most prolific offensive seasons in recent memory with six, 40-plus point performances. Five different Green Bay targets hauled in six or more touchdowns in 2011, while Rodgers completed 45 touchdowns against just six interceptions. However, for all its production, the Packers passing game sputtered in a Week 15 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs and once again in a Divisional Playoff loss to the New York Giants. The high-powered Packers mustered just 20 points in a home playoff defeat to the eventual Super Bowl champions. Defensively, Dom Capers' attacking defense struggled against New York, giving up several big passing plays on their way to allowing 37 points in the playoff upset.
2012 Outlook:Green Bay's defensive inconsistencies were addressed in the 2012 NFL Draft with six of the team's eight selections being on the defensive side of the ball. Led by notable picks USC outside linebacker Nick Perry, Michigan State defensive tackle Jerel Worthy and Vanderbilt cornerback Casey Hayward in the first three rounds, Capers has plenty of talent to add to a unit led by cornerback Charles Woodson and outside linebacker Clay Matthews. Offensively, Packers veteran running back Ryan Grant remains unsigned. That leaves third-year running back James Starks, and second-year backs Brandon Saine and Alex Green in competition to be Green Bay's featured back. Starks led the team with 578 rushing yards and added 29 receptions out of the backfield for 216 yards. Perhaps Starks' catching ability will lend him more opportunities alongside Rodgers in Green Bay's often used multiple-receiver formations. Other than running back, Green Bay will look to solidity its left tackle position after releasing 12-year veteran Chad Clifton. The first-round tackles selected in back-to-back drafts (Bryan Bulaga in 2010, Derek Sherrod in 2011) will get first crack at protecting Rodgers' blindside.
Three to Watch
QB Aaron Rodgers: **Rodgers was dominant in 2011, completing 68.3 percent of his passes for 4,643 passing yards with 45 touchdowns and a 122.5 quarterback rating. Rodgers was atop the NFL ranking in just about every quarterback category: Rodgers was first in quarterback rating, second in completion percentage, second in touchdown passes, fifth in passing yards and fifth in touchdown passes. At 28 years old, Rodgers is positioned to continue posting lofty passing numbers. Flanked by some of the top receivers in the game today, the accurate passer also totaled 257 rushing yards, showing the ability to extend plays when receivers are covered. For his career, Rodgers has thrown 72 of his 132 touchdown passes at Lambeau Field and will remain one of the game's most feared passers in 2012.
WR Jordy Nelson:The fourth-year player led the Packers in catches (68), receiving yards (1,263), touchdowns (15) and yards per catch (18.6). Yet, Nelson was not selected to the 2012 Pro Bowl despite finishing with the third-most touchdown catches in the NFL. Seven of Nelson's teammates were members of the NFC squad, including fellow wideout Greg Jennings. Nelson struggled with drops in the team's playoff loss to New York, but should bounce back for another productive season.
LB Clay Matthews:The former first-round pick made it to his third consecutive Pro Bowl to start his career, despite posting his lowest sack total (6.0) in three seasons. Without the presence of another feared pass-rusher on the other side of the field, Matthews was the subject of constant double-teams. Despite the added attention, Matthews totaled 50 tackles, three forced fumbles and three interceptions. With the addition of Perry, the Packers are hopeful their USC pass rushers will wreak havoc on opposing quarterbacks for years to come.