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An early look at the Saints 2021 opponents: Green Bay Packers

Breaking down how the Packers have changed since they last came to the Superdome

Green Bay Packers v New Orleans Saints Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images

The New Orleans Saints Week 1 opponent will be one of their biggest tests of the season. The Green Bay Packers are fresh off a season in which they claimed the top seed in the NFC, posting a record of 13-3. The Packers have had their fair share of turmoil this offseason, as franchise Quarterback Aaron Rodgers is clearly not happy in Green Bay, and has made it clear that he would like to be traded. Outside of the uncertainty surrounding Rodgers, the Packers still have one of the best rosters in the NFL. Davante Adams is one of the best receivers in the league, they managed to retain running back Aaron Jones, and their defense is one of the more underrated units in the league. It will be a tough test for the Saints, but let’s look in depth at what has changed since the last time these two teams met.

The last meeting

Green Bay Packers v New Orleans Saints Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images

2020 Week 3 @ New Orleans, Packers 37, Saints 30

The Packers sent the Saints to 1-2 last season on Sunday Night Football. The crowd at the Superdome was noticeably absent due to the Covid-19 pandemic, but this year it looks like the Superdome will be back rocking at full capacity when the Packers arrive Week 1.

The Packers and Saints played a very competitive game in 2020, as they proved to be the two best teams in the NFC during the regular season. The Saints tied the game at 27 via Alvin Kamara’s ridiculous catch and run that was one of his best plays of the season.

Unfortunately, the Saints would give up 10 unanswered points in the 4th quarter, as the defense simply ran out of gas and a costly Taysom Hill fumble and a 3-and-out kept the Saints from scoring until it was too late.

The loss dropped the Saints to 1-2 after a loss the previous week to the Las Vegas Raiders. This was the first time the Saints had been below .500 since they lost to the Buccaneers in Week 1 of the 2018 season. The Saints were able to rebound however, as they would not lose again until Week 14, winning nine games in a row.

The Packers would wind up losing three of their next seven games, falling to the Buccaneers, Vikings, and Colts. These would prove to be the Packers only losses of the year however, as they finished the year on a six game winning streak.

How did the Packers season end?

NFC Championship - Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Green Bay Packers Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

The Packers, like the Saints, fell to noted trophy abuser Tom Brady and the Buccaneers in the 2020 NFL Playoffs. Brady picked apart the Packers secondary in the first half, and poor play on offense by the Packers in the second half helped the Bucs overcome three straight interceptions by Brady.

Aaron Rodgers was denied his second shot at a Super Bowl once again, as the loss dropped him to 1-4 in the NFC Championship game. Rodgers decision not to try and run the ball in for a touchdown on 3rd down was overshadowed only by Head Coach Matt LaFleur’s decision to kick a field goal down eight points with two minutes left in the game. This decision was one of the most talked about plays at the end of the season last year, as the second year coach took the ball out of his Hall of Fame quarterbacks hands and all but ensured his defense giving up just one first down meant his team would lose.

The Buccaneers were able to run out the clock, and the Packers fell on the doorstep of the Super Bowl for the second year in a row.

Key departures

Detroit Lions v Green Bay Packers Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

The biggest loss of the Packers offseason (for now) was All-Pro center Corey Linsley. The former Buckeye signed a five-year $62.5 million contract with the Los Angeles Chargers, making him the highest paid center in the NFL. The Packers offensive line is of course a key to their success, and they have had one of the better units in the NFL for some time. The loss of Linsley will hurt, as he has been the Packers starting center since being drafted in the fifth-round in 2014.

Key Additions

NFC Championship - Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Green Bay Packers Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

The Packers did not sign any big name free agents from other teams during the 2021 offseason, as the most recognizable name headed to Green Bay for the first time is backup quarterback Blake Bortles. Instead, the Packers used their money to retain most of their skill position players that needed new contracts. Robert Tonyan, Allan Lazard, and most notably Aaron Jones will all be returning to the team in 2021. Jones has arguably been the best running back Aaron Rodgers has played with, and his return came as a surprise to many who expected him to move on.

The Packers also selected Georgia cornerback Eric Stokes with the 29th overall pick in the 2021 Draft. Corner was a big need for the Packers as, much like the Saints, they lack a solid #2 option on the outside to go with their star #1 CB in Jaire Alexander. Stokes is a decent prospect who will be the favorite to start opposite Alexander. Clemson WR Amari Rodgers was the Packers third-round pick, and he will have the opportunity to distinguish himself from Lazard and Marquez Valdes-Scantling to become the #2 WR to Davante Adams in the Packer offense. Rodgers is a good slot receiver, but does not have the speed to take the top off a defense, which is something the Packers desperately need.

NFC Championship - Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Green Bay Packers Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

Biggest offseason story

Aaron Rodgers may be the most talented thrower of a football we have seen in the NFL other than Patrick Mahomes. He fell into the Packers lap in the 2005 NFL Draft, sliding all the way to the 24th pick. Rodgers has been the Packers starting QB since 2008, winning one Super Bowl for the team. However, the reigning MVP now wants out of Green Bay after a dispute with the front office. The Packers have famously never drafted a skill position player in the first round since taking Rodgers, and seemingly angered the future Hall of Famer by selecting his replacement Jordan Love in the 2020 NFL Draft. Rodgers was a no-show at mandatory minicamp, and it is unlikely he joins the team anytime soon.

The question now becomes what will Rodgers do? The Packers are adamant that he will not be traded, so Rodgers can either show up to camp, or pull a Le’Veon Bell and sit out the entire year. Rodgers has even threatened to retire if the Packers do not make a change to the team to fit his liking.

It is looking more and more likely that it will be Jordan Love starting for the Packers in the Superdome this year. The fact that the Saints play the Packers in Week 1 means it is even more likely they will not have to face Rodgers. Only time will tell how this holdout from Rodgers will end, but it does not look like anything will change soon.

Green Bay Packers v New Orleans Saints Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images

Questions for Week 1

Are these teams still elite?

The Packers and Saints were the top two seeds in the NFC in 2020, but both teams might not have their Hall of Fame QBs from 2020 on the roster when they meet in Week 1. The Saints will definitely not have Drew Brees for the game, as he retired in the offseason, handing the reigns to Jameis Winston. The Packers however, may have a much more bitter parting with their franchise QB. If Rodgers is still holding out come Week 1, or has retired or been traded, we will see Jameis Winston vs. Jordan Love to start the 2021 season. The rest of the roster for both teams has remained nearly intact, as the Saints lost a few good players like Trey Hendrickson and Janoris Jenkins, while the Packers lost their starting center in Corey Linsley. This game will be a good measuring stick to see which new QB will be able to lead their quality rosters to the Playoffs once again.

Who will be the CB2s?

Jaire Alexander and Marshon Lattimore are both excellent corners, but they do not have much help on the other side of the field. Janoris Jenkins’s departure means it will be up to Patrick Robinson, Chauncey Gardner or rookie Paulson Adebo to take over at CB2, and this position battle will be one of the more interesting storylines during training camp in Metairie. The Packers #2 CB is Kevin King, who had a rough season to follow his career year in 2019. King did not intercept a single pass in 2020, and gave up multiple long touchdowns in the NFC Title game which ultimately ended the Packers season. The Packers drafted CB Eric Stokes in the first round of this years Draft, meaning they are unhappy with King’s play last year. If King is able to get back to the level he was at in 2019, he may save his job, otherwise we may see the rookie from Georgia starting on opening day in New Orleans.

Can the Saints defense keep it up?

The Saints defense has been one of the better units in the league over the last three seasons. Even though Aaron Rodgers may not be there, the Packers still have elite playmakers in Aaron Jones and Davante Adams, and a very good offensive line to go with them. The Saints lost numerous key contributors on defense to the salary cap, and even without Rodgers, the Packers will still be a tough test early in the season for the Saints defense.

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