NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
at GREEN BAY PACKERS
Kickoff: Thursday, September 8, 8:30 p.m. EDT
Line: Green Bay -4.5, Total: 46
The Packers begin their title defense when they host Super Bowl XLIV champion New Orleans to kick off the 2011 NFL season in Green Bay. NFL spreads.
This game will match up two of the league’s most explosive offenses led by elite quarterbacks. While Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees will likely be at the tops of their games, the Packers are better suited to stop (or at least contain) the Saints. New Orleans did little to improve their struggling pass rush, and Rodgers should be able to take advantage of the middling talent in New Orleans’ secondary. Meanwhile Brees will have his hands full against the Packers’ elite pass rush, led by Clay Matthews, and one of the NFL’s top secondaries. Factor in the Packers’ strong play against 2010 playoff teams (7-3 SU and ATS) and the Saints’ 3-6 ATS road mark last year, and the pick is GREEN BAY.
New Orleans added a couple of run-stuffers to its defensive line in free agent DT Aubrayo Franklin (formerly of the 49ers) and first-round DE Cameron Jordan, but starting defensive ends Will Smith and Alex Brown combined for just 7.5 sacks last year. S Malcolm Jenkins is a star and CB Jabari Greer is solid, but the Saints will have a tough time keeping up with the Packers’ diverse group of weapons in the passing game. NFL lines.
Offensively, the Saints may turn more to the ground game this year. They upgraded their backfield with first-round pick Mark Ingram and free agent Darren Sproles. An improved running game could help make up for the potential drop-off in production from WR Marques Colston, who is coming off another major knee surgery. Green Bay was susceptible to the run last year, allowing 4.7 yards per carry (the NFL’s fifth-highest average).
The Packers essentially brought everyone back on offense, and will get a boost from the return of a couple of injured stars: RB Ryan Grant and TE Jermichael Finley. Including the playoffs, Green Bay faced seven teams with winning records to close out 2010 and went 6-1 SU and ATS. Rodgers posted a 112.6 passer rating during that span.
The defense led the NFC in sacks last season (47) and boasts two of the league’s best cornerbacks in Tramon Williams and Charles Woodson, plus a rising star in Sam Shields. They held opponents to a 67.2 passer rating, lowest in the NFL. NFL betting lines.