Buckle your seat belt, put on your crash helmet and find something stable to hold on to, because Sunday’s season opener between the Packers and the Saints looks like another wide open barn burner.
In week three of last year, these two teams raced up and down the field all day long, the Packers emerging with a thrilling 37 to 30 victory. Saints running back Alvin Kamara was an unstoppable force, averaging over nine yards per carry, and grabbing 13 passes for 139 yards and two touchdowns. One of them was a 52 yarder during which Kamara broke five tackles. Drew Brees threw for 288 yards and three scores.
The Packers had to play that game without Davante Adams, but Allen Lazard broke out with 6 catches for 146 yards and a score, and Aaron Rodgers chipped in 283 passing yards and three touchdowns.
Many of the names and faces have changed, especially on the New Orleans side, but the elements are there for the same kind of track meet. It’s fun to watch, if your heart can take it.
Drew Brees is gone, replaced by the talented but undisciplined gunslinger Jameis Winston. Underestimate him at your own peril. He is just one year removed from throwing for more than 5,000 yards and 33 scores in Tampa Bay in 2019. His whopping 30 interceptions got him a ticket out of town, but make no mistake, Winston has a canon arm and decent mobility. If offensive guru Sean Payton can get him to play under control, he will be tough to handle. You could even make the argument that Winston is an upgrade over the deteriorating Brees of recent seasons. Kamara is back. The receivers are young and will be missing Michael Thomas who starts the year on injured reserve, but second year player Marquez Calloway looks like a budding star. The Saints return one of the best tackle tandems in the league in Terron Armstead and Ryan Ramczyk.
They will be playing against a Green Bay defense that will be adjusting to a new system, and may be without star pass rusher Za’darius Smith who is being brought back gradually with back problems.
The Packers, meanwhile, welcome back nine of eleven starters to the number one offense in the league, and maybe the universe. The returning starters include all of the skill position players and, if anything, the offense should be even better with the addition of potential weapons like Josiah Deguara, Amari Rodgers, Randall Cobb and Kylin Hill. Oh, and by the way, Davante Adams will be playing this time.
They will face a Saints defense missing several key pieces from last season, including Trey Hendrickson and his 13.5 sacks, Sheldon Rankins, Janoris Jenkins and Alex Anzalone. All were victims of the league-leading salary cap crunch New Orleans had to fight through in the offseason.
The game is in Jacksonville, which should mitigate the incredible noise volume generated by New Orleans fans in the Superdome. In fact, some speculate that Packer fans, who travel well, may even outnumber the New Orleans faithful. Florida is home to one of the largest Packer fan bases outside of Wisconsin in the country.
It all adds up to an offensive showdown. In the end, Green Bay’s defense will come up with just enough plays to make the difference. I’ll take the Packers by a score of 38 to 28.
Emotion in motion?
Player for player, Green Bay has a definite talent advantage in this game, but the Saints may have a motivational factor going for them that is being overlooked. The city of New Orleans has once again been devastated by a hurricane, as Ida rampaged through the city, leveling buildings and putting half a million people without power. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina similarly ravaged the area. In the midst of all the hardship, the people rallied around the football team as a symbol of overcoming adversity. The Saints responded by going from 3-13 in 2005, to 10-6 and winning the division in 2006, eventually winning a Super Bowl in 2009. Could the same emotional force sweep through the team this year?
Gone But Not Forgotten
There are a few familiar former Packers on the opening day roster for the Saints. RB/WR Ty Montgomery landed in New Orleans after stops in Baltimore and the New York Jets. Defensive lineman Montravious Adams was picked up by NO after the Packers gave up on him and let him walk. Many Packer fans were a bit surprised when the team traded defensive back Kadar Hollman. He signed with the Saints and made the team. And then, of course, there is Taysom Hill, the quarterback who got away from the Packers when they tried to sneak him through waivers in 2017. He lost the battle to be the starting signal caller to Winston, but remains a versatile weapon for Sean Payton.
Ken Lass is a former Green Bay television sports anchor and 43 year media veteran, a lifelong Packers fan, and a shareholder.