1) Can the defense slow down Pro Bowl running back Dalvin Cook?
I’m not sure the run defense could slow down Apple’s Tim Cook. The Packers struggled to contain Dalvin Cook (20 carries for 154 yards) at Lambeau early last season, and now they’ll have to deal with him on a faster surface. The swapping of Christian Kirksey and Oren Burks for Blake Martinez and B.J. Goodson at inside linebacker should help. Kirksey is a better athlete than Martinez, and that’ll be an asset against a player as dynamic as Cook. As for Burks, it’s hard to imagine him having a worse game than B.J. Goodson had a year ago. But for the run defense to have a successful day, it’s going to take all 11 players. While it’s easy to point fingers at the big guys when a back runs for over 150 yards, corner Kevin King and safety Darnell Savage were every bit as responsible. They missed a combined four tackles and took poor angles on at least three other runs. It’s safe to assume Mike Pettine and his guys have been champing at the bit to redeem themselves after the debacle in the NFC Championship game. Today’s their chance.
2) Will right tackle be a problem without injured starter Billy Turner?
Right tackle was probably going to be a problem even with Turner. Now it has a chance to be an even bigger problem. Veteran Rick Wagner, who signed an $11 million deal in March that included nearly $6 million in guaranteed money, should be the obvious replacement, but the fact that LaFleur was wishy-washy all week about who’d replace Turner could suggest otherwise. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see one of the starting guards – Elgton Jenkins or Lane Taylor – get the nod instead. Regardless of who plays right tackle, expect the tight ends and running backs to provide plenty of help in passing situations, especially when star pass rusher Yannick Ngakoue lines up on the left side. It still makes no sense why GM Brian Gutekunst didn’t add a veteran tackle like Jared Veldheer or Cordy Glenn a week or two ago. Turner’s knee injury occurred on Aug. 30, and Wagner’s been limited in practice since tweaking his elbow on Aug. 22.
3) Will the Packers be better at tight end, or will they miss Jimmy Graham?
OK, stop laughing. For all of his faults, Graham caught 93 passes for 1,083 yards and 5 TDs the past two seasons. That might not sound like much, but the four tight ends on the current roster caught 32 passes for 372 yards and 3 TDs during that same time period. The Packers were counting on Jace Sternberger making a sizable jump in his second season, but that hasn’t happened yet. In fact, he’ll open the season behind 36-year-old Marcedes Lewis and former street free agent Robert Tonyan on the depth chart. As for today’s game, expect Lewis to see the majority of the snaps. He’ll be asked to open holes in the run game and provide help in passing situations to whoever starts at right tackle. LaFleur will probably mix and match the young guys depending on the situation. Sternberger and Tonyan are athletic enough to get down the field, and Deguara could be useful leaking out of the backfield on dig routes and delays. As far as the original question is concerned, that it’s still being asked can’t make anybody in Green Bay very happy.
The Packers seemed to catch a lot of breaks en route to winning 13 games last season, and their good fortune seems to be continuing. Green Bay will be without their starting right tackle on Sunday, and lo and behold; the Vikings will be without their starting left defensive end – a much better player. The Packers also get to play in an empty U.S. Bank Stadium. And even though Rodgers has had success (6-5) in Minnesota over the years, it’s still a huge advantage to not have to deal with 70,000 screaming fans.
Pettine would love to force quarterback Kirk Cousins to throw 30+ passes in the face of a relentless pass rush and against a ball-hawking secondary, but in order for that to happen, the run defense must be able to keep Cook somewhat under control. If that happens, it’s hard to see the Vikings scoring more than 21 points. On the other side of the ball, the Packers need the reshuffled right side of the offensive line to hold up. If it does, Rodgers should be able to take advantage of young cornerbacks Mike Hughes, Holton Hill, Jeff Gladney, and Cameron Dantzler. It’s doubtful wide receivers Allen Lazard and Marquez Valdes-Scantling will have the upper hand in too many matchups this season, but Sunday could be one of those rare weeks.
Look, it’s hard enough picking winners in the opening week of any NFL season, let alone one as unique as this season. That said, assuming these teams at least resemble the teams that played in 2019, you have to like the Packers’ chances. The Vikings are favored by 2.5. I’ll take the Packers and the points. GREEN BAY 27-20