(WFRV) – For Packers Nation, it seemed like an arduous journey to get to this point.
After an offseason of drama concerning quarterback Aaron Rodgers, training camp and the preseason has been relatively smooth in Green Bay with few surprises or injuries. (Note: see Baltimore for the horror of lost starters.)
The 2021 goal is crystal clear: Super Bowl or bust. “Look, I think we all know what’s at stake,” Rodgers said earlier this week.
In a season of high expectations, the Packers take step one against a formidable foe in the Saints under veteran head coach Sean Payton. With one notable exception: no Drew Brees under center. And in a different venue other than the Superdome.
Quarterback Jameis Winston, the former 2015 No. 1 draft choice overall who starred at Florida State, won the starting job in camp over Taysom Hill after a checkered career in Tampa Bay.
Filling Brees shoes on the field and in the locker room is a tall order, and Winston will strive for more consistency in his fresh start in the city of New Orleans, still reeling from the Hurricane Ida devastation.
Versatile running back Alvin Kamara is one of the NFL’s most dynamic players, and the Packers defense experienced that in Week 3 of the 2020 season. Kamara racked up 197 total yards on 18 touches in a 37-30 Green Bay victory in New Orleans and gave the poor-tackling Packers defenders fits.
Winston will be without Saints top receiver Michael Thomas, who is still recovering from ankle surgery and was placed on the PUP list for six weeks.
New Orleans will also be without two starters in cornerback Ken Crawley and receiver Tre’Quan Smith with hamstring injuries, according to Friday’s injury report. Green Bay will be without safety Vernon Scott and star linebacker Za’Darius Smith who has worked hard throughout camp to overcome a back injury and play Sunday. His status is day-by-day.
The keys to success against New Orleans:
–Semi-contain Kamara. He is the focal point of the defense effort. Head coach Matt LaFleur said being assignment sure and sound tackling are keys to limiting the elusive running back, who is noted for making the first defender miss.
–Pressure Winston. The strong-armed quarterback is erratic and at times makes poor decisions under pressure. Za’Darius Smith’s availability will be a game-time decision, and he could play a large role in making Winston uncomfortable in the pocket behind a formidable Saints offensive line.
-Establish the pass to open the run. Rodgers has looked superb in practice, but did not play a down in the preseason—as did 30-some other Packers. Some rust is inevitable, but Rodgers has many weapons (Adams, MVS, Cobb, Lazard, Amari Rodgers, Tonyan, Deguara) in the passing game and will look to establish an rhythm early.
“I love the versatility of those guys and the depth we have,” Rodgers said. “I feel good about different things we can throw at the team—and especially if they try and take Davante away the entire game.”
-Thunder and lightning. Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon will get plenty of touches as Green Bay’s running game helps keep Saints’ weapons (Kamara, WR Marquez Callaway and speedster Deonte Harris) idle on the bench. A balanced offense will help keep a talented and physical defensive end tandem of Cameron Jordan and Marcus Davenport off balance.
The NFL season opened Thursday night with the defending Super Bowl champion Buccaneers edging the Dak Prescott-led Dallas Cowboys, 31-29, in the final seconds of a thrilling contest in Tampa.
Below is our FOX Football Insider’s predictions for the season and Week 1. Are you ready for some football?
2021 Season Predictions
- NFC North: Green Bay 13-4
- NFC South: Tampa Bay 12-5
- NFC East: Dallas 11-6
- NFC West: LA Rams 12-5
- Wild Cards: San Francisco (10-7), Washington (10-7), New Orleans (9-8)
NFC Champion: Green Bay
- AFC North: Cleveland 12-5
- AFC South: Tennessee 11-6
- AFC East: Buffalo 13-4
- AFC West: Kansas City 14-3
- Wild Cards: LA Chargers (11-6), Indianapolis (11-6), Baltimore (10-7)
AFC Champion: Kansas City
Super Bowl LVI: Green Bay 34, Kansas City 31
Week 1 NFL Picks
Packers 34, Saints 30
A shoot-out looms in Jacksonville between two high-powered offenses. Rodgers and his versatile arsenal prevail over Winston/Hill and Saints sans Michael Thomas. Pressuring Winston will result in turnovers, which decide this game. The team that capitalizes wins.