With his passing accuracy and ability to make plays out of the pocket, a strong argument can be made for Aaron Rodgers as the NFL’s most complete quarterback. At 29, he’s going to be at or near the top for a while.
The San Francisco 49ers are not going away, either.
The Packers opened and closed last season with losses to the 49ers, and there will be no shortage of storylines to follow when the teams meet again Sunday. But will it be the same old story?
Colin Kaepernick ran circles around the Packers in an NFC playoff game in January, rushing for 181 yards as the 49ers gashed the Green Bay defense for 579 total yards in a 45-31 win. Rodgers played well, too, but he was the second-fiddle quarterback on that day.
Rodgers’ third shot at San Francisco is his best one, and I’ll take plus-5 with the Packers as live underdogs.
The 49ers will be the popular side with the betting public because of last season’s sweep. That’s understandable. Revenge is an overplayed angle. The key should be the Packers’ preparation, which will be much better, especially on the defensive side.
Green Bay has made a couple of subtle improvements, such as drafting athletic defensive end Datone Jones from UCLA in the first round. Jones can help linebacker Clay Matthews contain Kaepernick and the read-option offense.
Kaepernick was showered with more hype than Kim Kardashian during the offseason. How will he handle sudden fame, and how will he adapt to a relatively new receiving corps that’s missing Michael Crabtree? The 49ers offense appeared disjointed at times during the preseason.
Rodgers has plenty of targets, and he’ll make plays to keep the Packers in the game. He might finally get ground support, something that was sorely lacking last season, with the arrival of running back Eddie Lacy, a second-round pick from Alabama.
After taking two whippings by the 49ers, Rodgers and the Packers are in position to get payback.
San Francisco is my pick to win the Super Bowl, but that’s irrelevant in early September.
Four more plays for Week 1 (Home team in CAPS):
■ Bengals (+3) over BEARS: Marc Trestman was brought in as coach to boost a Chicago offense that ranked 28th in the league. But there is an adjustment period, and Trestman’s influence might not fully kick in until midseason. Cincinnati is loaded and looks like the slightly better team on paper. The concern is quarterback Andy Dalton’s ability to make key plays in the fourth quarter.
■ BROWNS (-1) over Dolphins: Offensive coordinator Norv Turner has some tools to work with in Cleveland. Running back Trent Richardson’s presence will help quarterback Brandon Weeden, who went 5-10 as a rookie starter. The Browns appear improved, and the money is going their way.
■ PANTHERS (+3½) over Seahawks: This shapes up as a public-vs.-wiseguy battle. The public is obviously enamored of Seattle and second-year quarterback Russell Wilson. Around 80 percent of the tickets are on the favorite. Carolina won five of six to finish last season, and Cam Newton is capable of stealing this one.
■ Giants (+3½) over COWBOYS: Eli Manning owns the Cowboys’ new stadium, where he has not lost. Dallas is 3-13 against the spread at home the past two seasons, including 1-7 last season. With those trends in mind, why not take the points? The Giants’ strong defensive front should win the matchup against the Cowboys’ questionable offensive line.
Last season: 56-28-1 against the spread
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports betting columnist Matt Youmans can be reached at email@example.com or 702-387-2907. He co-hosts “The Las Vegas Sportsline” weekdays at 2 p.m. on ESPN Radio (1100 AM). Follow him on Twitter: @mattyoumans247.