The Green Bay Packers defense spent a good chunk of the NFL offseason focused on working out how to stop the read option and defend mobile quarterbacks like San Francisco's Colin Kaepernick.
Kaepernick left that much of a mark on the Packers' embarrassed unit in a 45-31 divisional playoff loss to the 49ers at Candlestick Park in January. Now they meet again on Sunday in a second straight season opener between a pair of NFC powers.
"I'm sure they've been game-planning for us since training camp," 49ers tight end Vernon Davis said. "Any time you lose a game like that, you should be very mad." Kaepernick was a meteor bolting through a flimsy defense as he rushed for a quarterback-record 181 yards and two touchdowns and threw for two more touchdowns.
The Packers have no choice but to be worried. They were embarrassed by the NFC champions in their opener last year at Lambeau Field, then again in the postseason. Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers wants his guys to be aggressive and force the issue with Kaepernick and the versatile 49ers offense. That's not easy with Frank Gore at running back, Davis, and Anquan Boldin at wide receiver, all working with a stout line.
Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers actually is one of the better scrambling quarterbacks in the league, and no one throws on the run better, not even Kaepernick. He could keep off-balance a staunch 49ers defense led by linebackers Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman and Aldon Smith.
On Thursday in the season opener, Peyton Manning matched the NFL record with seven touchdown passes in Denver's 49-27 home victory over Super Bowl champion Baltimore. On Sunday, New Orleans welcomes back coach Sean Payton, and everyone will see how much his presence means for the Saints.
New Orleans lost its first four games last season while Payton was suspended for the entire schedule due to the bounty scandal. He doesn't want his return to be the focus at the Superdome, especially with the division rival Atlanta Falcons and their equally prolific offense in town.
"I don't buy into the idea that, 'Well, now the head coach is back and they'll be back to contending right away.' There's no evidence of that," Payton said. Also back will be quarterback Robert Griffin III, from major knee surgery, running the read option when the Washington Redskins host the Philadelphia Eagles in a Monday doubleheader with Houston at San Diego.
New Eagles coach Chip Kelly's fast-paced, versatile offense will be trying to match points with RG3 and the Redskins. The furor over Griffin's injury — and whether he should have been on the field in the playoff game against Seattle last January — was followed by daily, if not hourly, reports on his recovery.
"I feel very good where Robert's at," coach Mike Shanahan said. Elsewhere on Sunday, it's Minnesota at Detroit, Tampa Bay at the New York Jets, Seattle at Carolina, Cincinnati at Chicago, New England at Buffalo, Oakland at Indianapolis, the New York Giants at Dallas, Tennessee at Pittsburgh, Kansas City at Jacksonville, Miami at Cleveland, and Arizona at St. Louis.