As the old saying goes, it’s not who you play, it’s when you play them.
Two years ago, Packers fans would have been petrified at the thought of Patrick Mahomes torching the Green Bay defence at Arrowhead Stadium. But by the time the game rolled around, it had turned into a showdown between Aaron Rodgers and middling veteran Matt Moore.
Last year, Green Bay travelled to the house of horrors that had been Levi’s Stadium in San Francisco, and were given a helping hand in exorcising their demons, as the 49ers roster became ravaged with injuries and COVID cases leading up to the game.
For various reasons, the Packers may be catching the New Orleans Saints at the perfect time, as they look to kick off the 2021 season with an opening day win.
The most obvious advantage Green Bay has in this matchup is that is has now been moved to a neutral site. The situation in New Orleans is terrible and of course far bigger than any football game, but from a pure competitive advantage standpoint, avoiding the raucous Superdome crowd for a second year in a row (after no fans could attend last season) is a big win.
Despite the best efforts of the Saints to find the location most difficult for Packer backers to travel to, there’s every chance there are more green and gold jerseys in the stands than black and old gold. That’s good news for Aaron Rodgers, who will be able to use his hard count and operate the offense as normal… unless people are doing the wave *ducks*.
As we have been relentlessly informed since the relocation was confirmed, it’s hot in Florida. While the heat is no doubt a challenge, it will be hot for both teams, so all the hand-wringing over the weather and Matt LaFleur’s concerning tracking of his player’s urine colour (not something I ever expected to type) might be a bit much.
New QB in New Orleans
It’s going to be weird watching a starting quarterback for the Saints not named Drew Brees, and Green Bay will be looking to take advantage of the combustible Jameis Winston in his first start on Sunday.
You could argue that by the end of Brees’ final season in NO, Winston might have been the better quarterback, as number 9’s arm began to fail him. With Sean Payton as his play caller, Winston could absolutely have a successful season, which is why going against him in week one is the best-case scenario for the Packers.
This is a team likely to get better as the year goes on, as Winston becomes more comfortable and the Saints offensive brain trust figure out what works and what doesn’t. Drawing the Saints to open the season is a good thing for Green Bay.
No Michael Thomas
Last time these two sides squared off, both teams were missing their superstar wide receiver. This year, the Packers will have the edge as Davante Adams suits up while Michael Thomas starts the season on the PUP list.
Marquez Callaway has impressed in pre-season action, and the former undrafted free agent could have caused some serious problems versus Green Bay’s second and third cornerbacks if All-Pro Jaire Alexander had been busy guarding Thomas.
Callaway is still a threat at wide receiver, and even hearing the name Alvin Kamara will give Packers fans flashbacks to approximately 85 missed tackles from Green Bay last year, but without Thomas, there is one less thing to worry about.
Like the Packers, New Orleans have one staple cornerback in Marshon Lattimore (although not as good as Alexander) and then some question marks. However, if fans are worried about the prospect of Kevin King still being the number two corner heading into the season, they should take a look at what the Saints have going on.
New Orleans have only three cornerbacks available for Sunday behind Lattimore, due to Bradley Roby, who they just traded for, being suspended for week one (another break for Green Bay). That leaves rookie Paulson Adebo, Desmond Trufant and Ken Crawley, who didn’t practice on Wednesday.
As long as the Packers’ new look offensive line can buy Rodgers enough time, the reigning MVP will be salivating at the opportunity to pick apart the Saints and their underwhelming stable of defensive backs.
Mark Oldacres is a sports writer from Birmingham, England and a Green Bay Packers fan. You can follow him on twitter at @Marko7LW.