The Green Bay Packers, who had the league’s best offense last season, should get off to a hot start.
Mainly because the weather in Jacksonville is gonna be a scorcher.
In what already promised to be an intriguing game for two NFC titans, the Week 1 matchup between the Packers and the New Orleans Saints is being relocated. As a result of the effects of Hurricane Ida in New Orleans and the surrounding area, the NFL will move the game to a neutral location: TIAA Bank Field, home of the Jacksonville Jaguars. The choice of location puts an interesting stamp on a game already containing a myriad of storylines.
Earlier in the week, it seemed like the game might take place at AT&T Stadium in Arlington. Saints coach Sean Payton mentioned the Saints will be away from New Orleans for roughly a quarter of the season, and the team would practice in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. AT&T Stadium was a no-go, as the venue is hosting a concert that week. A boon for Saints fans, as the Cowboys’ home field is practically a timeshare for Aaron Rodgers.
Rodgers has played some of his best football at JerryWorld. In four visits, Rodgers beat the Cowboys three times and won a Super Bowl there. Despite the ample amount of Saints fans in the area, a game at AT&T would become a pseudo-home game for the Packers.
Instead, Green Bay will need to beat the Saints, and the heat, in Jacksonville.
The Packers have played at TIAA Bank Field just twice in the Rodgers era: a 20-16 loss in 2008 and a Week 1 27-23 win in 2016, when Rodgers dueled former Jaguars and Packers legend Blake Bortles. A less impressive stadium resumé, to be sure, but not a bad one.
Like in that 2016 game, the weather will play a major factor in Week 1, with temperatures projected in the high 80s/low 90s.
Green Bay and New Orleans last met in 2020, a 37-30 win for the visiting Packers. Green Bay defeated an NFC favorite while missing Davante Adams and Kenny Clark, two of their most important players on each side of the ball. However, the Saints didn’t have Michael Thomas in that game either.
Week 1’s tilt will also lack some key players on both sides, so the hot weather won’t be the only challenge. Packers left tackle David Bakhtiari is starting the season on the PUP list. While Elgton Jenkins seems more than ready to fill in at LT, the implications along the rest of the line remain to be seen, especially at both guard positions.
Za’Darius Smith‘s status is also in question, as the Packers’ best edge-rusher has been sidelined with a back injury and could miss Week 1. There isn’t a lot of edge depth beyond Z. Smith, Preston Smith, and Rashan Gary, and the Packers’ defense won’t be chasing down the immobile Drew Brees this time.
Jameis Winston has been named Brees’ successor over former Packer Taysom Hill. The Saints wisely deduced their starting quarterback should be a quarterback instead of a tight end who can kind of throw.
Unfortunately for Winston, he will be missing some key weapons. Thomas will start the season on the PUP list, keeping him out of commission; Thomas’s relationship with the team is also in question. Likely No. 2 WR Tre’Quan Smith is dealing with a leg injury. Kicker Wil Lutz is sidelined with a core injury. On the defensive side of the ball, defensive tackle David Onyemata is suspended for six weeks for a PED violation.
It’s hard to call a Week 1 contest a must-win game, but fortune smiles on the Packers. The Saints lose their home-field advantage as they move to a neutral location. With the game no longer in a dome, the noise factor becomes much more tolerable. The heat will certainly be a factor, but it affects both teams. And while the Packers will miss a few key players, the Saints are missing far more and are starting a new quarterback.
The Packers need to seize these advantages to get that early jump in the NFC race. Even without Brees and some key players, the Saints are a consistent NFC powerhouse led by a respected head coach, and the game could easily become a trap game.
Both the sun of Florida and the sun of favorable circumstances shine on the Packers in Week 1 in what should be a memorable start to the 2021 season.