Kevin C. Cox
The Packers, by virtue of their NFC North Championship in 2012, will host the Atlanta Falcons and visit the San Francisco 49ers. We take a look at these teams to see what changes have happened since they last met each other.
Because of the NFL's divisional schedule setup, each team plays one full division from the opposite conference and one full division from their own conference, in addition to their own six intra-divisional games. For the Green Bay Packers and the rest of the NFC North, they have the AFC North and NFC East on their schedules. That leaves two games that vary based on the teams' finishes in the previous season,. As the Packers won their division, they will play the winners of the NFC's other two divisions: South and West. These will likely be two of the toughest games on the Packers' schedule, as these two teams met in the NFC Championship Game.
2012 record: 13-3 (lost NFC Championship Game to San Francisco 49ers)
2011 result (@ Atlanta): Packers 25, Falcons 14
On paper, the Atlanta Falcons are much the same team they were in 2011. In that game, played in the Georgia Dome, the Packers went into Atlanta and spotted the Falcons a quick 14-0 lead. Green Bay roared back, however, and scored the next 25 points to win by 11.
On offense, there are very few changes between the Atlanta Falcons in 2011 and now. Matt Ryan is there, as always, and the receivers are still the duo of Roddy White and Julio Jones. The running back situation was unsettled after a mediocre season by Michael Turner, but the Falcons signed free agent Steven Jackson in the offseason. A lot depends on what kind of burst Jackson still has in the tank.
On defense, the Falcons lost Curtis Lofton after the 2011 season. He was their leading tackler that season and was a presence no matter where the ball was. The Falcons also picked up Asante Samuel from the Eagles, but their defense does have a prevalence of older players and new speed for the Falcons will be a must.
In short, a lot depends on when this game is held, as it is at Lambeau. If it is early in the season, Ryan and the Falcons' offense could give the Packers trouble. If, however, it is scheduled near the end of the year, the Falcons may struggle to move the ball being a dome team which in all likelihood is unaccustomed to playing in the cold.
San Francisco 49ers
As if these two teams don't know each other well enough already, there is another game between them in 2012, in San Francisco. This may end up being the single toughest game on Green Bay's schedule in 2013. Since the Packers and 49ers played each other twice last year, there will be few, if any, changes.
Here are the noteworthy changes. Alex Smith, who started the Packers-49ers game last September at Lambeau Field, was traded to Kansas City in the offseason. The 49ers also picked up Anquan Boldin from the Baltimore Ravens to replace the departed Randy Moss. Their defense is stout as always.
What's more, the 49ers could be even more loaded following the 2013 NFL Draft. They have 13 picks, more than any other team in the NFL. They will be a very young, fast team in 2013, and the Packers will have to neutralize this speed if they are even going to stay close with San Francisco.
In short, this will probably be the Packers' toughest game in 2013. The 49ers do appear to have Green Bay's number and game-planning for that critical game well in advance will be a must. Otherwise, the 49ers will continue their recent dominance over the Packers and this will continue until the Packers finally defeat a Jim Harbaugh-coached team.