Sunday's first game features the losers of the last two battles for the Lombardi Trophy, with the Denver Broncos traveling to face the San Francisco 49ers.
Both teams are facing questions on defense, especially at the linebacker position.
For the 49ers, the torn ACL suffered by inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman in last year's NFC title-game loss most likely means the Pro Bowler will begin the season on the PUP list.
That leaves the 49ers in need of a new batterymate for Patrick Willis to start the season, with third-year pro Michael Wilhoite and third-round rookie Chris Borland vying for the job.
While speaking with Don Banks of Sports Illustrated recently, Willis admitted that Wilhoite's experience in the defense (he started two games in Willis' stead last year) gives the vet an edge, but he also talked up Borland's similarity to Bowman:
He’s a little pit bull. I love watching him play. He reminds me a lot of NaVorro. [He plays] real low and compact. It seems like they never break stride. They’re always moving and they always get to the ball.
They’re both going to take some chances, but they’re going to make some plays from taking those chances. Whereas I’m a little more conservative, a little more read and react, and more of a safety valve, they’re more like, 'I’m going to go for it, and you back me up.' But whatever works. I say as long as you’re gambling and you win more than you lose, I don’t have a problem with that.
As Andrew Pentis of the 49ers' website reported, Wisconsin coach Gary Anderson was effusive in his praise for Borland:
I coached against him in 2012, when I was at Utah State,” said Anderson, who then coached Borland in ‘13 when he took over the Badgers program. “As we got ready to play against Chris, I knew that this was how an inside linebacker plays football. I challenged my own son, who was then a junior in high school, to study Chris if he wanted to be a big-time linebacker, and I didn’t know anything about Chris then except for how he played the game. When you prepare for him, he’s better on gameday than you think he is. When you coach him, he’s a kid that never ceases to amaze you.
With that said, Wilhoite isn't just handing the spot to Borland, especially after posting seven total tackles and a sack in last week's loss to the Baltimore Ravens.
How the duo performs against the Broncos could go a long way in determining the pecking order for the "dress rehearsal" that follows, as well as who lines up next to Willis in Week 1.