In taking down the Green Bay Packers on the road, they made a bigger statement than any other team in the league: They are back, and they're just as good as they were last year, when they nearly knocked off the New York Giants in the NFC Championship. In fact, they are even better than they were last year.
The Detroit Lions' statement against the St. Louis Rams wasn't quite as impressive, but a win is a win, and they got one in Week 1. It won't be quite as easy to get a second W on the road against one of the newly-crowned top teams in the NFC.
Here's all the information you need about where and when to see it happen.
Where: Candlestick Park, San Francisco, Calif.
When: Sunday, Sept. 16 at 8:20 p.m. ET
Listen: KNBR 680/1050 and KSAN 107.7 in San Francisco, 97.1 The Ticket in Detroit
Live Stream: NFL Game Pass
Betting Line (via Bovada): 49ers -7
What's At Stake?
In power rankings across the nation, San Francisco has solidified itself as the No. 1 team, at best—the No. 2 team, at worst. The 49ers had the toughest matchup of any team in Week 1, facing one of the NFL's most prolific offenses on the road, and they looked stellar.
It was clear from the 49ers' offseason activity that they knew they had a lot to prove this year. They knew exactly what their weaknesses were—namely, their offense—and they took the necessary measures to improve. Judging by what they did to Aaron Rodgers and Co. in Week 1, it worked.
Clearly, though, San Francisco has to keep winning in order to prove that it's for real, and this matchup against the Lions could have all the makings of a let-down game if the Niners aren't careful.
Detroit, too, is under pressure to continue the momentum it generated from a 10-6 record in 2011. The NFC North is essentially wide open, so every win matters. The Lions have the opportunity to disrupt the balance of power in the NFC—even this early—with a road win over the 49ers, but it isn't going to be easy.
Key Injuries: Lions (via CBS Sports)
- Defensive back Bill Bentley (concussion) left Sunday's game vs. St. Louis
- Defensive back Louis Delmas (knee) missed Sunday's game vs. St. Louis
- Defensive back Chris Houston (ankle) missed Sunday's game vs. St. Louis
- Running back Mikel Leshoure is suspended until Week 3
Key Injuries: 49ers (via CBS Sports)
- Wide receiver Ted Ginn (ankle) missed Sunday's game against the Packers
- Running back Brandon Jacobs (knee) missed Sunday's game against the Packers
Fantasy Prospect to Watch: QB Alex Smith
There is still a bunch of skepticism regarding Alex Smith and rightfully so. He's been in the league for six years (not counting this season), and he's only had one good season. It would be a reckless decision to bank the hopes of your fantasy team on his success.
But if he has another season like the one he had in 2011, it might not be so crazy. And if Sunday's season opener was any indication, he could be on his way to another few months of heroics. Against the Packers (granted, not the strongest defense in the world), Smith threw for 211 yards, two touchdowns and zero picks for a passer rating of 125.6. Not too shabby.
Right now, the likes of Carson Palmer and Michael Vick are rated above Smith in NFL.com's fantasy rankings. That probably won't be the case if Smith keeps knocking off every team in the NFL the way he knocked off Green Bay.
What They're Saying
In 2011, the 49ers had one of the toughest defenses in the NFL but one of the weakest offenses. That doesn't appear to be the case anymore, and NFL.com's Bucky Brooks is one of many who are buying into the hype.
He believes San Francisco has made the necessary adjustments to transform itself into a legitimate Super Bowl contender. Part of that is due to the Niners' rushing attack, led by Frank Gore, but it's also due to Smith, though he doesn't always get the credit he deserves.
Smith has been categorized as a game manager due to the 49ers' style of offense, but the eighth-year pro is developing into a dangerous pocket passer in Harbaugh's system. The key to his development has been San Francisco's clever utilization of play-action passes. Smith routinely is asked to fake the ball to the tailback before setting up on five-step drops within the pocket. The play fake draws linebackers to the line of scrimmage, creating huge passing windows for Smith on intermediate routes.
Be sure to check out the rest of Brooks' thorough analysis here.
One of the key storylines heading into Sunday's matchup is the rematch, or revenge factor for Detroit: You may recall that last season the Lions miraculously started off the season 5-0 before San Francisco came to town and hung a 25-19 loss on them.
It's a loss that still haunts the Lions, and it's one they are desperate to avenge in 2012. The Detroit Free Press' Carlos Monarrez writes:
The Lions entered the game as 5-0 NFL darlings. The loss was capped by the coaches' petulant postgame shenanigans, and just like that the Lions went from being considered Super Bowl contenders to water-cooler punch line. Now, the Lions want payback.
Unfortunately, doing so on the road, at Candlestick Park, against a much-improved team, isn't going to be easy.
Detroit Key Player
As you can see from Detroit's injury report, its secondary is struggling. Three defensive backs missed part, or all of Sunday's season opener, but somehow, the Lions still managed to hold St. Louis to 251 total yards, 173 of those coming through the air.
But that was the Rams, which boasted one of the weakest offenses in the NFL in 2011. Now, we're talking about the 49ers, who certainly didn't have one of the strongest passing offenses in the NFL in 2011 (29th), but you wouldn't have known it from the amount of success this team had.
A big part of a Lions' win on Sunday will come down to the secondary's ability to shut down Michael Crabtree and Randy Moss. Jacob Lacey, Erik Coleman, John Wendling and Kevin Barnes are going to have to be at their absolute best.
San Francisco Key Player
Heading into the 2012 season, it was unclear just how much of an impact Randy Moss would be able to make. He missed all of 2011 and he is, after all, 35 years old.
But the 49ers took a chance on him anyway. Their offense was abominable in 2011, and they could have used a veteran wideout who still has top-notch speed and who always creates big matchup problems because of his height. And in the first game of the season, at least, the move paid off: Moss only got four targets, but he finished with 47 yards and a touchdown.
We don't know what Moss' role is going to be in this offense going forward, but if he can prove to be an indisputable asset—like he was against the Packers—it's hard to believe that role won't continue to grow.
Prediction: 49ers Win
The Lions can talk revenge all they want, but it's not going to be easy for them to knock off San Francisco on its home turf. The Lions still looked good in Week 1, but they don't appear to have improved as much as the 49ers have in the offseason, and that will be the difference.
The 49ers were already better than the Lions in 2011. Now, they're much better and Alex Smith will continue to prove it against a weak Lions secondary.