We’re less than 48 hours from the kickoff of the 2021 NFL season. Cheer is in the air. Fantasy teams have been drafted. Weekend watch parties have been scheduled. Beer, brats, and curds will be selling fast in grocery stores across Wisconsin.
It’s a beautiful thing.
The Green Bay Packers open their season this Sunday on the road against a New Orleans Saints team that has a new identity. The game won’t be played at the Superdome, given the impact of Hurricane Ida. Instead, it will be played at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville at 3:25 PM CST.
The Saints also will be without Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees, who retired after last season. Hit-or-miss gunslinger Jameis Winston will lead the Saints in a season that will likely determine the legacy of his career. Green Bay is projected to win, touting significant betting odds on most websites. Yet even without Brees, any team coached by Sean Payton has the potential to be an upset.
Still, it would be downright silly for the Pack to lose this game — or their second game against a Detroit Lions squad that has seen a transition at QB and head coach in the past six months. And while the first two weeks of the season will certainly present challenges, it’s safe to say that Green Bay should head into Week 3 with a perfect record.
That’s when Green Bay’s schedule really kicks in.
The Pack will head to the Bay Area on Sept. 26 to take on San Francisco in a Sunday night matchup. On paper, it looks like Green Bay should win the game comfortably before a Week 4 showdown with the Pittsburgh Steelers. But football isn’t played on paper. And two years ago, when the Packers girded their loins at Levi’s Stadium, the result wasn’t pretty.
Memories of the 2019 NFC Championship blowout loss are still fresh in the minds of Packer fans. And while the identity of the 49ers and the Pack couldn’t be more different, Week 3 will serve as a predictor of how Green Bay’s 2021 season will pan out.
Last season was a tale of two different paths for the Packers and 49ers. Green Bay finished the regular season with 13 wins and a trip to the NFC Championship, where they lost a heartbreaker to Tom Brady‘s Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The year was not as fruitful for San Francisco. The Niners finished the season with an abysmal 6-10 record just one year after winning the NFC Championship.
Even though San Francisco had a tough season last year, that doesn’t mean anything when it comes to 2021. In fact, the Niners will almost certainly be a stronger squad. Game-changer Jimmy Garoppolo only played six games last year due to an ACL injury. He’ll be back, joined by first-round pick Trey Lance, the highly touted passer out of North Dakota State who they took with the third pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.
Very few franchises in recent history have had two quarterbacks with the combined talent of Garoppolo and Lance. Jimmy G will likely start the game against Green Bay, but it wouldn’t be shocking to see Lance get some snaps, given his versatility as a passer and runner.
The Packers are no strangers to Levi’s Stadium. After their conference title loss in 2019, the squad returned with a comfortable 34-17 win last season. Sept. 26th will mark the third time that Green Bay has played in the Bay Area in the past three years.
Given the kind pre-season projections of the Packers, it’s safe to say that Green Bay will be projected to win this game. Aaron Rodgers is the best quarterback in the game, Davante Adams is a top-two receiver in the league, and Aaron Jones is perhaps the biggest dark-horse running back in the NFC.
Yet in a season that will be measured entirely by whether or not the Pack wins the Super Bowl, Week 3’s matchup between Green Bay and San Francisco will provide an excellent first challenge.