The San Francisco 49ers and Green Bay Packers are a pretty evenly matched team when it all comes down to it. There are some lopsided matchups when you compare player vs. player - Alex Smith is no comparison whatsoever to Aaron Rodgers, while [insert Packers running back here] is no comparison whatsoever to Frank Gore - but all in all, they're two top tier teams set to renew their storied hostilities in Week 1 of the 2012 NFL season.
They're also both very complete teams. There aren't many holes on either squad, which makes the previews harder and harder to do. For some matchups, you can very clearly state what one team needs to do to win. You can simplify it down to one thing and say that the team that accomplishes this one objective will win.
You can't do that with the Packers and 49ers.
If you stop Rodgers from throwing for 350 yards, then the Packers defense will probably grab a couple interceptions for touchdowns, or they'll run back a kick. If you prevent Gore from getting going on the ground, then Smith just might surprise you and throw a touchdown strike to Vernon Davis in the final minute. These things have happened and will probably happen again.
In a top tier match like this, it all comes down to balance and perfection. If the 49ers are to walk out of Lambeau Field victorious, then they need to find just the right balance of pressure on defense and they need to be mistake-free when they've got the ball in their hands. Let's take a look at either one.
Rodgers doesn't quite have the release of Drew Brees, but he has overwhelmingly good instincts and San Francisco will need to get creative right out of the gate for their blitzes. This is a playoff caliber matchup and we're only in Week 1 here. San Francisco has strong pass rushers in Justin Smith, Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks, but with the crop of receiving talent that Green Bay boasts, can you send both outside linebackers on every play?
No, and there's plenty of reasons why. Green Bay is a team built upon being able to adapt. They lack a big name running back, but they've got some consistent enough performers to make it scary for San Francisco if they have Aldon and Brooks keep their feet on the gas the entire game. San Francisco needs to find that perfect balance of rushing Rodgers and maintaining their fundamentals of stopping the run and preventing touchdowns.
Balance must also come on offense. There are widely differing views on the Green Bay secondary, but it mostly boils down to them giving up a slew of bad plays in exchange for a big interception. Alex Smith would like to get hot and start hitting his receivers left and right, but it would be a mistake to fall into a false sense of security. Luckily, the 49ers have a giant roster of running backs and falling into that trap isn't something that's likely.
Perfection mostly must come into play on offense. Perfection isn't hitting your wide receiver for a 70-yard touchdown pass. Perfection is executing your gameplan and making sure the ball isn't turned over. When it is turned over, it had better be on an Andy Lee punt, and it had better sail inside the 20-yard line. That's how the 49ers won games a season ago and that's the only way they can expect to beat Rodgers and the Packers.
If you're giving Rodgers good field position, he'll turn it into touchdowns a high percentage of the time. San Francisco isn't likely to come in and win this game the same way they won the game against the New Orleans Saints in the Divisional Round last year. Smith isn't going to out-gun him ... the 49ers just aren't prepared for that kind of thing on offense.
They need the perfect mindset. Jim Harbaugh has to know when is right to take a chance and when is right to just put their backs at the five-yard line. Perfection on offense will come through application of their tried and true gameplan. One player or one position isn't going to win a game between two of the best teams in the NFL. It's going to come down to who can execute their gameplan the best. And the 49ers were very, very good at that a season ago.