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Conor Philpott takes a look at the match up of the weekend in the NFL, as the San Francisco 49ers take on the Detroit Lions on Sunday Night Football (Monday 1.30am GMT Kick Off).

Jim Schwartz V Jim Harbaugh part 2? For those of you who don’t remember, the conclusion of their game last season saw the Detroit Lions Coach square off against the San Francisco 49ers HC.  The 49ers won 25-19 and had a stellar year last year, going 13-3 in the regular season and reaching the NFC Championship game. If they hadn’t made some special teams blunders during that game against the New York Giants we might be talking about Super Bowl winning QB Alex Smith. Think about that for a second , doesn’t it send a shudder down your spine?     If not, there may be something wrong with you.

The Detroit Lions also improved remarkably last year, going 10-6 on the back of a 6-10 season? What prompted their big change? Matthew Stafford. The man seemingly made of glass and who many doubted could stay up to the physicality of the league stood tall last season. He became only the 4th player to break 5000 yards in a season. The other 3 are all Hall of Fame Quarterbacks (2 are still active but let’s face it Drew Brees and Tom Brady are making it in Canton). The guy has got immense talent, he threw 41 TDs last year. The guy played at an elite level. He has some super receivers in Detroit most notably Calvin Johnson. The man who recorded 16 TDs, over 1600 yards and who also adorns this years Madden NFL 13 video game. It’s not all about “Megatron” though. The likes of Nate Burleson, Titus Young, Tony Scheffler and 2012 2nd Round draft pick Ryan Broyles. Broyles has massive potential and if injury hadn’t ruled him out of most of last year’s college season he could have been drafted higher up the board. Their defence is where they struggled last season and while Eric Wright was never more than a number 2 his release weakens what was already a depleted defensive backs unit. They have a great defensive line with Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley Cliff Avril and Kyle Vanden Bosch, while Stephen Tulloch headlines a relatively alright Linebacking unit. Their offence sputtered last weekend, Stafford himself threw 4 picks. That’s a quarter of the total he threw last season. Obviously it’s first day out and some teams take a while to work out the kinks. Stafford has the ability to be a top player, if his O-line can buy him time,  which they have struggled with at times. The important thing about last week though, they still got the win. That’s what the play for and Stafford managed to put a game winning drive together in the 4th quarter. He will bounce back.

Last week I previewed another 49ers game, they played the Packers in Lambeau Field. Not many teams come out of Wisconsin with a win but the 49ers did. I questioned their ability to put up points on offense, the Packers aren’t great on defence by any means but the I felt the 49ers could struggle in a shootout, (their stellar defence means they don’t compete in too many of them!) the Packers put up points, the 49ers responded. Smith threw 2 TDs (one to Randy  Moss, who seemed to be his old self) and Frank Gore picked up where he left off last season by picking up another. The Niners grabbed 30 points and won by 8, I was proved wrong  ( not for the first time, as my co-selector James McLachlan for the UK Inter-Blog Prediction league will remind you). Their defence did well to hold off the Packers, not many teams will do that well against the Packers and also win the game. The 49ers are a genuine contender for the Super Bowl, I gave a full scale explanation last week with their stellar running game, astonishing defence, a lot more weapons etc. See here if you want the full details: http://nfl-ireland.com/2012/09/nfl-games-of-the-week-week-one-green-bay-packers-v-san-francisco-49ers/

This week I’m plumping for the 49ers. Their improved offence should be able to score with some v the Lions and I’m backing them to do a decent job containing Stafford and co.

Prediction: San Francisco 49ers by 10.

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