Davante Adams said this week that this is the hungriest Packer team he’s been a part of. It also might be the last Packer team he’ll be a part of, but we’ll save that for, and worry about that another time. They’re hungry because they came so close in 2020 and appear to be locked and loaded to contend once again in the NFC, knowing that for a good chunk of the roster may be playing elsewhere in 2022.
It all starts in Jacksonville, a site hand-picked by Sean Payton, who figured Packer fans would have a tougher time traveling there, would struggle in the hot, humid conditions and, oh by the way, Aaron Rodgers is 3-4 in the state of Florida. Let’s unpack that last point for a minute: three of Rodgers four losses in the Sunshine State came in 2008 and 2009. He’s 3-1 since; the one loss coming last season in Tampa. I don’t think he’s shaking in his boots. But the muggy weather won’t do either team any favors, that’s for sure.
The biggest question mark for the Pack revolves around the offensive line, which will see four new players in new places to start the season. Elgton Jenkins will be tasked with holding down the left tackle spot, probably until the Chiefs game in early October. Nothing we’ve seen from Jenkins should give us cause for concern that he’s not up to the challenge. The question marks come on the inside, where last year’s right guard Lucas Patrick moves to the left side and is joint on the interior with a pair of rookies, Josh Myers at center and Royce Newman at right guard. Billy Turner is the lone holdover on the line in his usual spot, right tackle.
The strength of the Saints defense is the front seven, and the Pack’s line will have its hands full with pass rushers Cam Jordan and Marcus Davenport. You can bet Matt LaFleur will protect the line with a lot of pre-snap movement, mis-direction and a heavy dose of play action, if Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon find running room early. Aaron Rodgers will see matchups he likes on the back end. Starting corner Ken Crawley will miss the game and top corner Marshon Lattimore will play, but missed practice time this week. The Saints recently traded for former Texans starter Bradley Roby, but he won’t play this week. Their depth at corner is not strong right now.
With a grand total of preseason snaps, the Pack’s offense will get unwrapped for the first time and we’ll finally get to see what wrinkles LaFleur has added with the return of Randall Cobb and Josiah Deguara and the addition of Amari Rodgers. It might take a series or two, but the offense should find its stride early. Yes, the humid weather will be a factor, but playing outdoors on a neutral field (likely with more Packer fans than Saints fans) and not in the noisy Superdome is a huge break–especially for Myers, who won’t have to deal with a silent count and will be tasked with snapping the ball precisely when Rodgers wants it snapped. There will be a learning curve to snap for #12; let’s hope it’s a short one.
This new look Saints team has ten new starters, none more important than at QB, as Jameis Winston replaces the legendary Drew Brees. The Pack’s new defense, led by Joe Barry, tries to take away explosive plays and force offenses to be patient and dink and dunk. That said, Winston loves to throw the deep ball and is bound to take a few chances–his penchant for turnovers spelled his exit from Tampa.
Winston’s receivers are another story. Their top two, Michael Thomas and Tre’Quan Smith are out. That leaves Marquez Callaway (who impresses in the preseason) and Deonte Harris as the starters. Look for Jaire Alexander to shadow Callaway and see if anyone else can make plays. Winston’s top target figures to be running back Alvin Kamara, who gashed the Pack for nearly 200 yards last season, the vast majority coming through the air. That’s priority #1 for the defense. Let anyone else beat you. The biggest concern is the health of Za’Darius Smith, who’s been called a game time decision. My guess is they hold him out of this one, with an extra day of rest coming next week.
Special teams is a wild card, but the Saints top kicker, Will Lutz, will miss the start of the season. This will be our first look at new punter Corey Bojorquez, who’ll also serve as Mason Crosby’s new holder. Add in the fact that Hunter Bradley is on a short least as the long snapper and new ST coach Maurice Drayton is making his debut, and special teams could be interesting on Sunday.
The Packers catch a break getting the Saints early and on a neutral field. It adds up to an opening week win.
Packers 31 Saints 24