Less than 24 hours.
That's how long we now have to wait till the start of the 2011 NFL season. And against my better judgement I'm going to dip a toe into the water and make a pick for the starting clash.
New Orleans Saints @ Green Bay Packers
For the second year in a row the Saints get to kick off the season, this time facing down the Green Bay Packers. Back at the start of the 2010 season the Saints met the Vikings as the defending Super Bowl Champions. Now it's the Packers who hold that honour.
And I'll just cut straight to it, I think the Packers have this.
Last season the Saints just didn't look the same as their Super Bowl winning year. The Defense was still good, but if anything the offense seemed to tail off a little compared to the ease that it displayed in shredding people during the '09 season. At times the performance of the starters during this pre-season have not been much better.
The key for me is the Saints O-line, as well as the loss of tight end Jeremy Shockey. I know the Saints have second year player Jimmy Graham who they feel really good about, but I'm just not sure he offers them what Shockey did in '09, or that teams respect him as much.
Looking at the Saints roster, I think they've sold their offensive line short in favour of running backs. They have Darren Sproles, Joique Bell, Pierre Thomas and Mark Ingram, plus two more fullbacks, which kind of makes you wonder why given that the Saints aren't exactly heavy runners of the ball early on in games.
I just think that the O-line lacks depth and immediate quality. Bushrod is good and I think Charles Brown will develop in time, but for 2011 I just don't think Drew Brees is going to enjoy the time that he is normally afforded in the pocket. The hope for Saints fans will be the fact that Brees is still very good when it comes to timing and getting the ball out of his hands.
That won't be easy against the Packers though. Their pass rush is pretty well known now for its fearsome nature and by the looks of it they plan on keeping it that way, carrying 6 outside rushing backers into the season! Couple that with a very good secondary and the Packers are probably one of the best equipped teams to handle a pass heavy attack like that of the Saints.
Couple that with an explosive offense and you have your magic. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers is one of the best quarterbacks in the league right now and he eased through the pre-season, appearing to have picked up with his receivers precisely where he left off in the Super Bowl.
This means we're set up for a shoot out, with both teams looking to stretch out an early lead, force the other team to come back with the passing game, at which point they can let loose their pass rush. And despite all the big name linebackers, defensive linemen, receivers, quarterbacks etc, I think it's the big guys up front on offense who will decide this.
I think the Packers O-line will cope better than the Saints. The Saints pass rush isn't as naturally strong and that will force coordinator Greg Williams to dip deeper into his playbook as a result, which creates opportunities for mistakes and miscommunications that a guy like Aaron Rodgers can exploit. I think the Packers get ahead and stay there. Packers win.
Right, I'll be back after the game with a recap of sorts and then at some point before Sunday I need to make picks for all the weekends games. I'll see you then.