An enormous banner not far from Lambeau Field features the last two Super Bowl MVPs - Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees. Not too long ago, it was far from certain that this glamorous matchup of the past two Super Bowl champions would take place. However, a tumultuous offseason has finally given rise to this star-studded NFL season opener at Lambeau, with Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers taking on Brees and the New Orleans Saints on Thursday night.
Brees and the Saints won't be awed by the festive atmosphere. This is the third time in five years they'll be playing in the league opener, having defeated Minnesota last year in New Orleans and losing at Indianapolis in 2007. Brees put together his third straight season with at least 33 touchdowns in 2010, leading the NFC with 4,620 passing yards and helping New Orleans go 11-5 to return to the playoffs. The Saints, however, were stunned by Seattle in their first postseason game in their bid to repeat.
He'll get a chance to hand off to former Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram, drafted with the 28th overall pick. Ingram will replace another player who won the Heisman in Reggie Bush, who was traded to Miami. The Packers went 10-6 for a wild-card berth last year, and they could be even better with some key players back healthy. Dynamic tight end Jermichael Finley and starting running back Ryan Grant are among that group. It all starts with Rodgers, who finally put aside the doubts about whether he could replace Brett Favre by leading the Packers to the same amount of Super Bowl victories as the former legend.
Offensively, the Saints will have to be hitting on all cylinders against a Packers' defense that was among the best in the NFL last season. The Packers, who ranked fifth in fewest yards allowed, finished fifth against the pass and were 18th against the run. So the Saints will likely try to do some damage early with their re-tooled running game to open things up for Drew Brees and his group of receivers. On defense, the Saints ranked fourth against the pass a year ago, so keeping Aaron Rodgers from getting hot will be their top priority. The rare matchup of the last two Super Bowl champions in Week 1 also pits the league's two most consistently productive offenses - they are the only teams to rank in the top 10 for total yards each of the last five seasons. Two similarly blitz-minded defenses, however, could keep the intriguing matchup from turning into the shootout that unfolded for part of the teams' last meeting on the fast track at the Superdome in 2008, when the Saints finally pulled away for a 51-29 victory. Dom Capers didn't come in as Green Bay's defensive coordinator until the following year. His aggressive, opportunistic, nickel-heavy schemes with several playmakers on the field give the Packers a better shot to corral the Saints' spread attack led by Drew Brees than New Orleans' assertive defense that has holes in the secondary is to stifle the myriad options Aaron Rodgers has at his disposal. First one to 30 wins.
I'll have some more plays later this weekend.