1) How good is the Packers’ offense?
Ask me again in about 24 hours. After taking full advantage of inexperienced and injury-depleted defenses the first two weeks, Aaron Rodgers and company will be facing a much tougher test on Sunday night. The Saints, along with a pretty good pass rush led by Cameron Jordan and Marcus Davenport, boast arguably the best trio of cornerbacks in the league. It’s safe to assume there won’t be as many wide receivers running free this week, even if Davante Adams (doubtful/hamstring) somehow manages to play. As coach Jon Gruden and the Raiders showed last Monday night, the best way to attack the Saints is by pounding the rock. Whether the offense struggles to score 25 points or goes over 40 for a third straight week will likely depend on the effectiveness of Aaron Jones, Jamaal Williams, and maybe even rookie AJ Dillon.
2) How much will the Saints miss Michael Thomas?
A lot. As much as Rodgers depends on Adams, Drew Brees relies even more on Thomas. In 12 games last season, the future Hall of Fame quarterback targeted the All-Pro wide receiver 138 times, and even though every person in the stadium knew exactly what was coming, the dynamic duo still combined for huge numbers (114 catches for 1,244 yards and 6 TDs. Just as importantly, Mike Pettine will now be able to focus even more attention on running back Alvin Kamara, whose unique all-around skills have caused far better coordinators to look befuddled. Along with Kamara, expect coach Sean Payton to make slot receiver Emmanuel Sanders (4 catches) and tight end Jared Cook (7 catches) bigger parts of the game plan. Both veterans could have advantageous matchups against nickel back Chandon Sullivan and safety Adrian Amos.
3) Should Billy Turner start if his knee is 100%?
There are nearly $30 million reasons why he’ll probably return to the starting lineup on Sunday night, but there’s one reason why he shouldn’t – the offensive line has been just fine without him. Rick Wagner has done a solid job at right tackle, and Lucas Patrick has allowed only three hurries and no sacks in 97 snaps at both guard spots. For the sake of comparison, Turner gave up 39 hurries and 10 sacks at right guard in 2019. There’s certainly a chance Wagner will wear down over time, and the athletically-challenged Patrick will get exposed the more he plays, but until that happens, why mess with a good thing? In the meantime, Turner would provide depth at four of the five positions on the line, albeit very expensive depth ($8.1M cap number).
Sunday night will be the first time since the middle of last season when the Packers won’t have an advantage on the injury report (unless Adams plays), but at least they won’t be at a disadvantage when it comes to the locale. The Superdome is usually one of the most difficult places to play for a visiting team, but that won’t be the case for the Packers. Running an offense is a lot easier when 75,000 screaming fans are replaced by 750 family members and some fake noise.
The Saints scored 95 points in their last two meetings with the Packers in New Orleans. In both games, Brees had way too much time to throw, and then defensive coordinators Bob Sanders and Dom Capers had no answers for Payton’s creative schemes. Sanders and Capers are long gone, but it’s more than fair to wonder if things will be any different with Pettine. If they aren’t, even the high-powered Packers’ offense will be hard-pressed to score enough points to win – a task that would be even more difficult without Adams.
With no Thomas on the field and only 750 fans in the stands, what looked to be a likely loss in the spring is now a toss-up. Taking the 3.5 points is a no-brainer, but will the Packers actually win the game? I’m not sure, but I ain’t going against a red-hot Rodgers. GREEN BAY 34-30 (Season: 2-0 straight-up/1-1 vs. the spread)