SAN FRANCISCO, CA - DECEMBER 19: Justin Smith #94 of the San Francisco 49ers celebrates after recovering a fumble against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Candlestick Park on December 19, 2011 in San Francisco, California. The 49ers won the game 20-3. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Finally, Week 1 is upon us and supremacy is at stake in the NFC.
The San Francisco 49ers are set to take on Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. The game will be broadcast on FOX as America's Game of the Week, viewed by many as a potential playoff preview.
The Packers' high-octane offense and 49ers' rough-and-tumble defense will clash on the big stage, displaying their potency as two of the league's most efficient units.
A vast measure of this match-up will be decided by how much the Niners defense can limit Green Bay's offensive assault. With Rodgers at the controls, this Packers team has been able to move the ball at will. They will be expected to go to the air early and often, so San Francisco will have to be able to pressure and cover for sixty minutes.
In this heavyweight bout, one of the premier mismatches is the 49ers defensive front over the Packers offensive line.
The Green Bay Packers drafted Ole Miss offensive lineman, Derrek Sherrod, with the hope to lockdown that left tackle position long-term. Sherrod has been unavailable since suffering a horrific broken leg injury in the loss to Kansas City last season. In order to play it safe with his future, the Packers decided to place him on the PUP list.
In his place, Marshall Newhouse will start at left tackle for the Packers.
This should be the biggest concern for cheese-heads this year; that their franchise quarterback is at the mercy of an unproven offensive lineman.
Even if Newhouse winds up having a good season in 2012, it's going to take some adjustment and development. It will be natural for him to experience growing pains as someone suddenly assuming the responsibility of protecting the franchise's most important asset -- especially in Week 1.
Those growing pains are going to come against San Francisco 49ers defensive lineman Justin Smith. I have this as my mismatch of the week. When it comes down to it, Smith produces more horsepower than Newhouse can take.
The mammoth Pro Bowler will wear him down through the course of the game, bringing relentless energy and tenacity. And as a savvy veteran, Smith not only knows how to play Newhouse on a down-by-down basis, but over four quarters.
This is not to discredit Newhouse, but Smith is expected to bring the fight to tackles like Jake Long in Week 14. Newhouse is simply out of his league.
When you break it down -- strength, skill and ability -- Smith trumps Newhouse in all facets.
Packers left guard T.J. Lang will be expected to help out with Smith, but as we saw in the NFC Divisional Playoffs, even Jermon Bushrod and Pro Bowler Carl Nicks could not contain the Defensive MVP candidate. When it comes to Justin Smith, even double-teams haven proven to be an exercise in futility.
Ultimately, this match-up should cause a ripple effect on the game as a whole.
And it's not all about sacks, but more so about applying constant pressure. The consistent hurries on Rodgers will prevent him from finding a rhythm. Smith is in a position to make plays for the Niners defense, and to create an opportunity for the team by corroding the left side of the Packers offensive line.