Monty, resident awesome: You’re familiar enough with the hype surrounding the Green Bay Packers opener against the [intlink id=”234″ type=”category”]New Orleans Saints[/intlink]. You’ll hear even more of it throughout the rest of the day, so I’ll refrain from harping on the obvious.
These teams are very closely matched. Both have quarterbacks that can beat the blitz and defenses that can get to the quarterback. The keys are simple and the way I see it, the game comes down to a handful of players on each team.
The tight end position will be key to beating the blitz. [intlink id=”209″ type=”category”]Jermichael Finley[/intlink] is Aaron Rodgers’ first option and, as you know, is more-or-less uncoverable. Jimmy Graham is Drew Brees’ safety blanket and could very well put up big numbers against the Packers. None of the Packers linebackers are great in coverage and if Graham becomes a problem, look for defensive coordinator [intlink id=”305″ type=”category”]Dom Capers[/intlink] to roll [intlink id=”143″ type=”category”]Charles Woodson[/intlink] his way.
The other key is defensive end. The Saints’ top pass rusher Will Smith is suspended and the team released Alex Brown, the team’s other starter last season. They’ll be replaced by rookie Cameron Jordan and former Lion Turk McBride. For the Packers, [intlink id=”1033″ type=”category”]Mike Neal [/intlink] will likely be a game-time decision. If he can’t go, either Jarius Wynn or [intlink id=”1042″ type=”category”]C.J. Wilson[/intlink] will step in. The question is, what can be expected from any of these guys?
The uncertainty on the defensive line might make it the biggest story of the game. If either line is able to consistently generate a pass rush and handle the run, they could determine the winner.
Since both Wilson and Wynn played in the Super Bowl, they’re getting the nod, albeit a slight one.
Throw in the home field and the fact that all of Green Bay will be shitfaced by kickoff, and I don’t see how the Packers lose, although the Saints have too much talent for it to be anything but a close game.
Packers 21, Saints 17
Shaun, senior analyst: The list of Super Bowl champions who failed to defend is long and undistinguished. As I see it, the key questions for the Packers are just these two: Can the offensive line play as consistently as it did during the stretch run last year? And, most importantly, can the Packers defense come close to repeating what it did last year, when it allowed an average of just 15 points per game?
The Saints will not necessarily answer the first question. They are not one of the better pass-rushing teams in the league, and their best blitzer, Will Smith, is suspended.
However, the Saints certainly have the kind of offensive firepower, now bolstered by the additions of Mark Ingram and Darren Sproles and the emergence of tight end Jimmy Graham, to give us a good indicator on the second question.
If you’ve paid any attention to the pre-game hype, then you’re aware that both teams bring dynamic offenses led by elite quarterbacks to the table.
However, among all the predictions of a high-scoring affair, perhaps many have forgotten that this is the first game of the year after the shortest offseason since 1982. If last year’s battle between the Saints and Vikings is any indication, there might be more defense played in this game than many expect.
The offenses might be near equals, but the last time I saw the Saint defense it was basically going 11-on-1 against Marshawn Lynch and getting punked. Meanwhile, the Packers defense was stopping the [intlink id=”386″ type=”category”]Pittsburgh Steelers[/intlink] in their tracks to win a Super Bowl.
The Saints might have an improved running game, but the Packers are better than the Saints at stopping the run. The Saints will have to throw the ball to score, and they may have some success, but throwing the ball is a dangerous way to matriculate the ball down the field against this defense.
The defending champion has never lost the Thursday opener since it began. That won’t change this year. The Packers defensive backs and [intlink id=”454″ type=”category”]Clay Matthews[/intlink] make the difference.
Packers 27, Saints 17
Sarah, resident broad: What a way to kick off the NFL season. Saints at Packers — the last two Super Bowl champs, both likely contenders again this season, battling it out in the league’s most storied stadium to get a jump-start on the race for the NFC title.
Despite the return of [intlink id=”64″ type=”category”]Ryan Grant[/intlink], don’t look for Green Bay to stray from their tendency to rely on Super Bowl MVP Aaron Rodgers’ arm Thursday night. Rodgers put up huge numbers at Cowboys Stadium last February — completing 24 passes for 304 yards, three TDs and no interceptions — and that dominance will continue Thursday despite a decent Saints secondary.
New Orleans will play a good deal of nickel and dime and their cornerback group just isn’t as deep as the Packers’ receiver group. Look for Rodgers to exploit that matchup early and often with returning tight end [intlink id=”209″ type=”category”]Jermichael Finley[/intlink], sure to be a huge factor for Green Bay this season.
The defense will get a good early test against Drew Brees and the Saints offense. Green Bay will use its share of nickel and dime to combat Brees’ air attack and that could mean a big night for rookie running back Mark Ingram.
Still, it’s just not going to be enough. Rodgers & Co. will electrify the capacity crowd and continue where they left off last season.
Packers 30, Saints 21
JC Lombardi, senior writer: Thursday night’s season opener between the Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers and New Orleans Saints features several great matchups.
You’ve got evenly matched head coaches and defensive coordinators and great offensive schemes involving two very successful NFL franchises. So, two high-powered passing games with elite receivers square off against two of the most aggressive defenses in the NFL.
In 2010, the Saints were ranked fourth overall defensively, while the Packers were ranked fifth. On offense, the Saints added new weapons like running back Mark Ingram. The Packers offense gets tight end Jermichael Finley and running back Ryan Grant back from injury.
The pass rush and special teams will be key factors to set the tone for the offenses to win it. While Mike McCarthy’s teams are notoriously slow in the early season and the Packers defense may have problems stopping Brees and his offensive weapons, the Packers should score enough points to win the home opener.
Packers 28, Saints 27