It's been a long and arduous offseason
The much-anticipated 2012 regular season is finally upon us.
In fact, four out of the Packers first six games are against playoff teams from last year. Not to mention that the NFC North will be much more heated than in years past. So don't let the strength of schedule fool you; the Packers face some very talented teams this season.
This article will cover the five toughest matchups for the Packers this regular season and offer predictions for those particular games.
Up first are the San Francisco 49ers.
Patrick Willis and the 49ers will face off against the Packers in Week 1.
Last year, the 49ers were a fumbled punt return away from making their first appearance in a Superbowl since 1995.
They look to build on last year's success and face the Green Bay Packers in Week 1. This will be the toughest test for the Packers this season.
A large reason for the 49ers 13-3 season last year was their stifling defense. All 11 players on defense return this season. And this unit boasts some impressive stat lines from last season.
They allowed 229 points all of last season, good for second in the league. They had a plus-28 turnover margin and recorded 42 sacks.
The defense is anchored in the middle with tackling machine NaVorro Bowman and the best linebacker in the NFL, Patrick Willis. The 49ers defensive line is arguably the best in the league. Isaac Sopoaga, Ray McDonald and Justin Smith aren't household names but they certainly should be.
The secondary is nothing to scoff at either. Carlos Rogers and Dashon Goldson each had six interceptions last year, and Tarell Brown and Donte Whiner had four each, as well. The entire secondary are certified ballhawks.
This does not bode well for the Packers.
The proof for this statement is the Chiefs game from last season. The Chiefs were able to man up on the Packers wide receivers and effectively put enough pressure on Aaron Rodgers with only four rushers. And we all saw the results of that game.
If the Chiefs and Giants can shut down the Packers offense, the 49ers can do the same.
On the other side of the ball lies Frank Gore. The Packers were bad in defending the run last season and didn't do much to address this concern. The 49ers also signed Brandon Jacobs and have a nice change-of-pace back in Kendall Hunter.
These three backs could really come together and hurt the Packers in the opening week.
The 49er defense will be too much for the Packers to overcome.
It will be an ugly and relatively low-scoring game for the Green Bay. Frank Gore will have a nice day and rush for over 100 yards. Vernon Davis will be the key player and have a big receiving day.
49ers win 23-17.
Jay Cutler and the Chicago Bears will play the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau, Week 2
Don't sleep on the Chicago Bears.
Superbowl favorites for many people, they are going to provide a tough challenge for the Packers in both matchups this year.
The Bears always play the Packers tough and this game will not be any different. The Bears new GM, Phil Emery, was very active this offseason.
He signed Michael Bush, who is a gifted runner and could easily start on almost any other team in the league. Emery also orchestrated a trade for Brandon Marshall. He finally reunited Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall, and big things are expected from that duo this season.
Emery finally worked out a contract with Matt Forte and signed him to a four-year deal worth $32 million. The Bears offense, it appears, may be better than their defense for the first time in a long time.
This will be a big matchup for both of these teams, but will mean more for the Packers. If the Packers drop their first game at home to the Niners, they need to save face and win at home against Chicago.
Although the Bears added some talented players to their offense, nothing was done about their aging defense. Yes, they drafted Shea McClellin, but he hasn't blown away anyone in training camp and will most likely be on the field only in passing situations.
This is why I believe the Packers will win.
Aaron Rodgers will have a big game. Jermichael Finley will be the main beneficiary from Rodgers' onslaught and the Packers will roll in this game. Jay Cutler, however, will make it a close game at the end, but the Bears come up short.
Packers win 34-30.
Drew Brees and the Saints take on the Packers in Week 4 at Lambeau Field
The New Orleans Saints make their way up to Green Bay in Week 4 to take on the Packers.
The Saints and Packers opened the 2011 season at Lambeau and fans were treated to an offensive barnburner. Expect this game to be just as theatrical.
But the game just won't be the same. I'm not gonna get into the whole Bountygate thing, or whatever you would like to call it. However, I do feel this offseason did not help the Saints. I believe it took a toll on them in some form or another.
They did lose LB Jonathon Vilma for the season, but they brought in very capable replacements. Curtis Lofton will take over for Vilma and should fit in seamlessly.
The Saints also brought in David Hawthorne. Hawthorne excels in open space and coverage; however his run defense is suspect. Chris Chamberlain came over from the Rams with new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo and will play primarily in sub packages, where he will fit in nicely.
All three of these linebackers should adequately fill in for Vilma.
Even with these additions, the Saints defense is quite similar to that of the Packers. They rely heavily on making big plays and creating turnovers. Just like the Packers, though, they give up a good amount of yards and points.
This game will be almost identical to last season's opener. A bunch of yards and points from each team, however the Packers will come out unscathed.
Another big day for Aaron Rodgers will give the Packers a close victory. Green Bay's defense will be embarrassed by Jimmy Graham and Darren Sproles but do just enough to seal the victory.
Packers win 38-34.
Week 6. Arian Foster and the Houston Texans will host the Green Bay Packers at Reliant Stadium
The Houston Texans made the playoffs for the first time in franchise history last season. They won their first-ever playoff game against the Cincinnati Bengals but lost to the Baltimore Ravens in the divisional round.
That's pretty impressive considering they were down to their third-string quarterback and, defensively, they had been without star LB/DE Mario Williams since early in the season.
However, it's not hard to believe the Texans success when you realize that Arian Foster is the primary ball carrier.
In 2011, Foster ran for 1,224 yards and caught 53 passes for 617 yards. He plans on besting both of those totals this season.
And he could really hurt the Packers in this game, especially if Andre Johnson is healthy. Johnson demands a lot of attention from opposing defenses, and if he makes his presence felt early in the game, there will be fewer Packers in the box to stop Arian Foster.
In addition, QB Matt Schaub returns under center, which gives the Texans the ability to spread the field even more. Schaub can throw the ball with the best of them. In his two seasons before last year, he threw for a combined 9,140 yards and 53 touchdown passes.
Again, a top-flight quarterback complemented by a great running back...this combination does not bode well for the Packers. They will struggle defending Andre Johnson, will not get sufficient pressure on Shaub and will be gashed by Foster's running and pass-catching talents.
So it will be interesting to see how Houston's defense responds to those key departures.
Despite Ryans and Williams leaving, the Texans will be in a good position to take on the Packers in this midseason clash.
It will be a heavy dose of Arian Foster and the Packers will have no answer. But the difference will be Andre Johnson. If he is healthy the Texans will win this game. If he isn't able to play the Packers will win this game soundly.
If Andre Johnson plays, Texans win 30-24.
If he doesn't play, the Packers triumph 27-17.
The New York Giants will host the Green Bay Packers in Week 12 in MetLife Stadium
Week 12 will be the rematch of the year for the Packers and their fans.
The Giants will play host to the Packers and will look to reinforce their belief they were the better team back in January at Lambeau Field.
The Giants will look a little different from last year's playoffs.
They brought in defensive tackle Shaun Rogers and tight end Martellus Bennett. Antwaun Molden was also signed for secondary depth but could secure a starting job at some point during the season.
We know the Giants strengths; we saw it first hand in the playoffs at Lambeau. Their front four is arguably the best in the league and the Giants D excels at getting pressure without blitzing. So expect New York's defense to stick to its guns and only rush four, dropping seven into coverage.
Offensively the Giants have some quality receivers that could really test the Packers secondary. Victor Cruz had a breakout year last season and will most likely repeat his stat line. Hakeem Nicks is just as skilled and will have a solid season. Rookie Rueben Randle, complements Nicks and Cruz at the wideout position. He was considered one of the best receiving prospects from this April's draft.
These wideouts will give Eli Manning more than enough opportunities to have a huge year. The Giants will try to repeat the results from last season against the Packers.
I just don't see that happening.
The Giants are a good team. They just aren't in the same class as the Packers talent-wise, and Green Bay will be highly motivated to prove to everyone as to which team should have won that playoff game last year.
To do this, the Packers will utilize a weapon they didn't have last season: Cedric Benson.
Besnon will have a big game and cement himself as the starting running back for Green Bay. Aaron Rodgers will continue his MVP season. Green Bay will roll.
Packers win 34-20