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junkmansports
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Insight to gain in NFL opener

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On 09/07/2011 01:43 PM in NFL
Toronto, Canada (Sports Network) - What better way to open the 2011 NFL season than a Thursday night matchup between the last two teams that hoisted the Lombardi Trophy: the Green Bay Packers and the New Orleans Saints.

Besides being the last two teams to sit atop the football world, these squads share some similarities that make this an intriguing matchup.

Both franchises are built around exceptional offensive units, manned by quarterbacks who command the utmost respect from their teammates and opponents for their skill and - most importantly - poise. Their resumes also include postseason success and Super Bowl MVP honors.

Though many fans may feel the season opener is a possible NFC Championship preview history suggests it will be an unlikely affair.

That's not to say either of these teams don't have the talent, or personnel, to get to the conference final, because if anything it's difficult to find a pair of more well-rounded clubs in the NFC. But as the Saints can attest, getting back to the pinnacle of pro football is a tough task following a championship run.

Right out of the gate, defending Super Bowl champs have a bullseye on their backs as the rest of the league is gunning to dethrone the recently crowned kings.

A look at how New Orleans fared after the city's first championship parade could be an insight to how Green Bay handles the pressure of defending its title.

After easily disposing inferior competition in their first two weeks in 2010, the Saints went 2-3 before rattling off six straight wins en route to an 11-5 record. Though they qualified for the playoffs as a wildcard, it was a short- lived run with a 7-9 Seattle Seahawks team pulling off the upset, sending the reigning champs packing after just a single game.

The Saints struggles following their Super Bowl victory was no anomaly. Over the past decade two other defending champs were knocked out in their first playoff game - the Indianapolis Colts [2007] and New York Giants [2008] - while five other former title holders failed to make the postseason altogether - the Baltimore Ravens [2001], New England Patriots [2002], Tampa Bay Buccaneers [2003] and Pittsburgh Steelers [2006 and 2009].

This is not to suggest the Packers will stumble their way out of the playoff picture, but it is to quell the notion they're in prime position to repeat as NFC champions simply because their most integral components are returning, which makes this year's team a more experienced version of last season's rendition. A look back at the last 10 years would suggest otherwise as only one team got back to the big game in back-to-back seasons - the Patriots in �03-04 - while no other team even made it to the conference championship.

In fact, during that span only one team secured the No.1 seed in the conference the year after winning the Super Bowl - the Giants in '09 - while just three defending champs won their division the following year.

Taking a look at Green Bay's schedule, it's clear to see the road to Super Bowl XLVI won't be a picnic. By the time the Packers reach their bye in Week 8, it wouldn't be surprising if they sat at a pedestrian 4-3.

A division that seems to have improved - with Detroit turning heads and Minnesota looking like it may have some life post-Brett Favre, events in Chicago not withstanding - mixed with a second half that includes visits to San Diego, Kansas City, and New York to face the Giants, the Pack may find themselves hard-pressed to exceed 10 wins on the season. Such a record certainly would nix the �Cheese Heads' from claiming the top-seed, though it shouldn't be too much of a concern considering they weren't even NFC North champs a season ago.

Regardless, Green Bay headlines its division as the front-runner and until proven otherwise, it will remain the favorite to represent the NFC in Indianapolis.

One look at how their Week 1 opponents handled being Super Bowl champs rationalizes what should be expected of the Packers - a tough regular season, followed by an early exit in the playoffs. Then again, history was made to be broken.

09/07 13:09:18 ET
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