By Kyle Soppe
The last two Super Bowl champions meet up in a stand-alone Thursday night game to open the 2011-2012 NFL season. Both teams have high expectations this year and the winner of this game gains the early leg up in the race for NFC home field advantage.
Green Bay Packers Led by Aaron Rodgers (an A-Rod that actually performs well under pressure) the Pack passed their way to supremacy last year. The offense not only stayed intact from last year’s magical playoff run, but they actually improved by getting healthy. Jermichael Finley will help an already explosive passing game as he adds a big athletic target that defenses will have a hard time matching up with. Joining Finley, the Cheeseheads have talented wide receivers with well defined roles. Greg Jennings is the team’s top target as Donald Driver settles into the “experienced but still productive” role. The duo, along with Finley, will require a lot of attention from opposing defenses, opening room for Jordy Nelson and James Jones. Nelson is a possession receiver that will gain the hard yards across the middle, while Jones stretches the field vertically. The Packers rely on the pass, but the running game will also see improvements. Ryan Grant is healthy after surgery on his ankle, and is ready to share the backfield with playoff hero (and UB product) James Starks. They won’t lead the league in carries, but their ability to keep defenses honest will open up the passing game.
New Orleans Saints Sean Payton and Mike McCarthy must have attended the same school of coaching, as he has a football team that is built in the same fashion. He uses a top 5 quarterback in Drew Brees to exploit defenses at will. He, too, has numerous receivers, however the Saints set is predicated more on breakaway speed than anything. Marques Colston is the team’s number 1 receiver who can both move the chains and come down with a Brees bomb. Lance Moore and Robert Meachem highlight a group of burners who spread the field. While the Packers have a slight advantage at WR, the Saints have the best RB in this game in Alabama rookie Mark Ingram. With Pierre Thomas banged up (off season ankle surgery has left his status for this one up in the air) and Christopher Ivory unproven, Ingram is ready to contribute right away. It’s a pass first offense, with the potential to gain balance as Ingram grows and matures.
Final Word: Aaron Rodgers threw multiple touchdown passes 8 times last year, and the Packers won all of those contests. Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco, good quarterbacks but not on the level of Rodgers, picked apart the Saints aggressive defense for multiple TD’s last year, as they beat the high flying Saints.
Soppe Score: Defending champs open with a win in front of a packed house, 31-24. A healthy offense is huge for the Packers, but I believe Clay Matthews and company make a big play down the stretch, and seal the victory.