Green Bay at San Francisco (-4.5)

Ravens-Broncos get marquee billing in Week 1. Falcons-Saints is so sexy is it belongs in a Real Girls of Panama City video. And Giants-Cowboys bring yet another Glamour Division showdown to primetime.

But Packers-49ers might be the most statistically arousing game of Week 1: two high-profile franchises with a rich history of big-game battles, each a defending division champ, each with legit Super Bowl dreams, and who met twice last year, including this past January in the division playoffs.

The 49ers carried that most recent battle 45-31, behind a thrilling 444-yard performance from Colin Kaepernick (263 passing yards and, more memorably, 181 rushing yards).

These two teams also met in Week 1 last year. San Francisco won that game as well, 30-22, this one at Green Bay, behind a highly effective performance from Alex Smith (20 of 26, 211, 2 TD, 0 INT, 125.6 passer rating, 106.4 Real QB Rating).

Green Bay was a sterling 12-4 in between the bookend losses to the 49ers.

The victor here in Week 1 enters the season with a true Quality Win under its belt out of the gate and an inside track on the playoffs. That San Francisco win in Week 1 last year was the difference between the No. 2 seed for the 49ers and a bye and the No. 3 seed and a wildcard game for the Packers.

These powerhouses combined to rank in the Top 10 in 32 of 42 Quality Stats highlighted below. The sole weaknesses in San Francisco last year were in scoring efficiency (No. 15 in Scoreability) and on the offensive line (No. 20 on the Offensive Hog Index).

The Packers certainly had more holes in their statistical line up, and we can see below why the 49ers were simply a better team, as evidenced by their 2-0 head-to-head record against the Pack last year.

Green Bay was mediocre to weak on both sides of the trenches (No. 15 on the Defensive Hog Index; No. 21 on the Offensive Hog Index), and poor all around in the running game:

  • No. 17 in Offensive Rusher Rating
  • No. 25 in Defensive Rusher Rating
  • No. 23 in Rusher Rating Differential

The Packers addressed those issues in the draft, heavily attacking linemen and running backs, with second-round pick and former Alabama standout RB Eddie Lacy most notably.

The 49ers largely ignored its weak offensive line in the off-season, instead devoting its drat attention to doubling down on defenders, free safety Eric Reid most notably. He’ll take the spot left open by Dashon Goldson, who now plays in Tampa.

The Cold, Hard Football Facts have long found that it pays to draft to address weaknesses, as the Packers did, and not to solidify existing strengths, as the 49ers did. So it will be interesting to see how those strategies unfold on the field here in 2013.

The San Francisco offensive line will be a unit to watch: if it struggles, as we suspect it might, it could hijack San Francisco’s very legit Super Bowl dreams.

The 49ers are still the stronger horse in this race until on-field evidence tells us otherwise. They torched the Packers for 956 yards of offense last season, outgaining Green Bay by nearly 300 total yards in two games.

Both teams will move the ball in this one. But Green Bay will sustain too many body blows in the ground game, and we don’t have assurances – certainly not yet – that the Packers have made enough improvements in the trenches to keep pace. But this test will certainly tell us a lot.

Pick: San Francisco 27, Green Bay 24

Note: stats below are year-end 2012