The Packers will take on the Saints on Sunday afternoon to officially begin the 2021 NFL season! It’ll be Green Bay’s first game since their heartbreaking loss to Tampa Bay in the NFC Championship 232 days ago.
Outcomes of week one match-ups are always hard to predict. Both teams enter on relatively even playing fields with 0-0 records, new players and coaches, and plenty of kinks to work out. To put it simply, it’s anyone’s game.
However, that doesn’t mean we can’t speculate about potential winners and losers. Here’s three reasons why the Packers will be victorious in their season opener against New Orleans!
#1: Green Bay has a major advantage at QB.
This match-up will feature a tale of two very different quarterbacks.
On one side, there’s Aaron Rodgers. Throughout his 17 seasons in the league, Rodgers has never taken a snap with any team other than the Packers. He’s a Super Bowl champion, the reigning NFL MVP, and considered one of the greatest to ever play the game. With his insane efficiency, deadly precision, and magnificent football prowess, Rodgers is a certifiable legend.
On the other hand, you’ve got the Saints QB Jameis Winston, who’s taking over for Drew Brees following his retirement. Despite being the youngest-ever Heisman Trophy winner and the first-overall draft pick in 2015, his journey in the NFL has been rocky. Winston – a turnover machine – spent five unremarkable seasons with the Buccaneers, four of which ended in losing records. This resulted in the team’s decision to not re-sign him when his contract expired.
Winston is still quite young and inexperienced compared to the veteran Rodgers. This is especially true when considering his limited time and action with his new team. Last year, he appeared in only four games with the Saints while filling in for the injured Brees and threw just seven total completions. He had to battle teammate Taysom Hill for the quarterback spot in training camp this season, but Winston was ultimately named the starter.
Perhaps the biggest distinction between Rodgers and Winston, though, is their propensity to turn the ball over. In his five seasons with Tampa Bay, Winston threw 88 interceptions – 30 in 2019 alone. Conversely, Rodgers – who has started 120 more games than Winston – has logged just 89 career picks.
There’s no denying that Winston has talent and potential the Saints can exploit, but he’s certainly no Aaron Rodgers. #12 is in a class of his own, which gives the Packers a huge advantage against New Orleans.
#2: A Neutral Venue
Hurricane Ida pummeled the East & Gulf coasts after making landfall on August 29th. The Category 4 storm has killed more than 50 people to date and taken an inconceivable toll on the tens of millions of people affected.
Caesars Superdome did not suffer any damage. But as New Orleans and much of the surrounding area continues to recover from Ida’s destruction, a change in venue for week one’s Packers vs. Saints game was necessary. In a statement, the NFL said, “The decision was made, in consultation with state and local officials and both clubs, in the interest of public safety.”
Green Bay will now open its season at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville. This development may seem inconsequential to Packers fans – after all, it’s a road game either way. However, the key is this: the Saints will no longer be playing at their own stadium in front of all their usual fans.
Will this truly impact the outcome of the game in any way? It’s hard to say for certain. Just keep these next two thoughts in mind…
Traditionally, having home field advantage is quite valuable. Recent data analysis shows that 55-60% of the time, NFL teams win games played at home.
Additionally, multiple sources have reported that the Packers’ victory odds increased with the game being held at a neutral site. The Saints were previously three-point underdogs; Green Bay is now considered 4.5-point favorites.
#3: No Michael Thomas
Once again, the Saints will be without their best wide receiver when the Packers come to town.
Unfortunately for New Orleans, history seems to be repeating itself. In 2020, Michael Thomas injured his ankle during the season opener and lost substantial playing time. Flash forward to 2021, Thomas suffers another ankle injury. He was forced to undergo surgery and, after being placed on the PUP list, will miss at least six weeks.
This is great news for Packers fans. For years, the first-team All-Pro and three-time Pro Bowl selection has been a major threat for the Saints.
Going into Sunday’s game, Green Bay should feel confident about their prospects. Losing Thomas – as well as Jared Cook and Emmanuel Sanders, who both signed with other teams during the offseason – is a huge blow to New Orleans’s already weakened offense. There is little depth nor experience in the receiver room behind him. Not to mention, the Saints will be without Drew Brees as their starting quarterback for the first time since 2006.
All of this will put added pressure on powerhouse RB Alvin Kamara to supplement the various missing pieces. New Orleans will have no choice but to run their offense through him. The Packers know this, and with Michael Thomas out of the picture, they can almost exclusively focus their attention on stopping Kamara.
It’s impossible to know how this game between the Packers and Saints will turn out. Green Bay may be the favorites to win – much in part due to the three reasons outlined above – but we cannot overlook New Orleans. As we’re all aware, upsets happen all the time in the NFL.
Win or lose, I’m just thrilled that the long seven-month wait is finally over. In a few short days, Packers football will officially return!
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