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NFL Opening Game: Packers-Saints Preview and Analysis

Michael Katz |
September 7, 2011 | 8:17 p.m. PDT

Staff Writer

The Packers were 7-1 at Lambeau Field last season. (Lordmontu/Wikimedia Commons)
The Packers were 7-1 at Lambeau Field last season. (Lordmontu/Wikimedia Commons)
Rejoice NFL fans: The 2011 season is finally here.

Despite a summer of lockouts and uncertainty, we can finally focus on the first game of the year. Fortunately for fans, it looks like one of the premiere matchups of the entire season. The Saints and Packers have won the past two Super Bowls, and look to be contenders again this season, but the Packers are favored by four points on Thursday night.

We'll take a look at the offenses and defenses for both teams, the game changers, and finally get to a bold prediction for this Week 1 matchup.

New Orleans Offense:

Saints QB Drew Brees. (dbking/Wikimedia Commons)
Saints QB Drew Brees. (dbking/Wikimedia Commons)
The Saints' offensive prowess the past few seasons has been well documented; since Drew Brees (pictured left) joined the team, they have been near the top in scoring offense every season. Brees threw 33 touchdowns last season with a somewhat depleted receiving corps; Marques Colston, Jeremy Shockey, and Reggie Bush all missed game action last year.

Shockey and Bush are now gone, meaning Colston, receivers Robert Meachem and Devery Henderson and tight end Jimmy Graham will all be seeing more passes coming their way.

The running game figures to get a much needed boost this year with the addition of former Alabama running back Mark Ingram. Ingram will get the majority of the carries once the season progresses, but in the first game, look for the Saints to use multiple running backs to keep the chains moving.

Green Bay Offense:

Packers offense (Amy Anderson/Wikimedia Commons)
Packers offense (Amy Anderson/Wikimedia Commons)

Like the Saints, the Packers boast quite the offense as well. Led by Super Bowl MVP Aaron Rodgers, the offense looks to be high flying once again. Receivers Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, and Jordy Nelson all return this season and look to make the Packers one of the top offenses in the league again.

Also returning is star tight end Jermichael Finley (pictured in front) who missed almost all of last season with an injury. His addition will likely mean an even more prolific offense for Green Bay. The offensive line returns in tact as well and looks to be a stronger unit than the one that just won the Super Bowl.

The real question for the Packers' offense is at running back: who is going to get the carries? Ryan Grant, who was the undisputed starter before the 2010 season began, tore his ACL and missed the season. James Starks came in and provided the team with a spark in the playoffs, and looks to build off of his strong end to the season.

With both returning and healthy, it will be interesting to watch who will be getting the carries come kickoff.

New Orleans Defense:

The Saints' D does not get nearly the credit that its offense does, and rightly so: it is rather pedestrian. While the defensive line is a force with former USC Trojan Sedrick Ellis as the anchor, the rest of the unit is mediocre. The Saints have lived off of the momentum-turning play the past few years, and the defense traditionally thrives off forcing turnovers. 

The unit will need to do the same in this game, as they are rather overmatched by the Packers offense in terms of quality players. Greg Jennings is not exactly shaking in fear at the idea of Tracy Porter lining up at cornerback across from him.

Green Bay Defense:

Packers defense (Amy Anderson/Wikimedia Commons)
Packers defense (Amy Anderson/Wikimedia Commons)

The Packers have one of the best defensive squads in the league; there is not a lot of argument there. The rising star of the defense is another Trojan defender, linebacker Clay Matthews. Matthews was the runner-up for Defensive Player of the Year in 2010, and will probably be even better this season.

Joining Matthews in the star-studded defense are cornerbacks Charles Woodson and Tramon Williams as well as safety Nick Collins, all of whom made the Pro Bowl last season. The main issue with the Packers' defense might be their defensive line, as there are not a whole lot of bona fide stars. Despite the emergence of B.J. Raji (No. 90, pictured left), it is not a group that has received many accolades. While it is a solid group of tackles and ends, it is certainly not spectacular.

Game Changers:

Marques Colston (NO) - Drew Brees definitely likes to spread the ball out, but when it is all said and done, his favorite target is Colston. He will be guarded by two premiere cornerbacks, though, and might have trouble making plays. If he is shut down by Woodson or Williams, the Saints could have trouble moving the ball, especially since Lance Moore will not play. If he can get open, however, the Saints should be in good shape, especially since Colston's 6-foot-5-inch frame provides an exceptional red-zone target.

Clay Matthews (GB) - While the key to the Saints' attack is passing, the key to the Packers' defense is pressuring the quarterback. Matthews, who has consecutive double-digit sack seasons, is one of the best pass rushers in the game. If he is able to get to Brees and force him to make bad throws, the great cornerbacks for the Packers will be able to make plays on the ball. If Matthews cannot, Brees will be able to find receivers over the middle of the field.


I think that this has the potential to be an incredible game. However, because it is being played in Green Bay and the fact that the Packers the superior defense, they could win this game by a couple of touchdowns. Aaron Rodgers and the offense will put up points, and the defense will be able to make life for Drew Brees difficult.

Packers 35, Saints 24


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