Packers vs. Saints Odds, NFL Week 1 Preview, Prediction, Pick: Back The Pack For Neutral Site Game
Quinn Harris/Getty Images. Pictured: Davante Adams.
- For Week 1 of the 2021 NFL season, the Packers are 3.5-point favorites over the Saints.
- Instead of hosting their opener at the Superdome, the Saints will host the Packers in Jacksonville due to Hurricane Ida.
- After a tumultuous offseason, Aaron Rodgers is back with Green Bay. And there's a new starting QB in town for New Orleans in Jameis Winston.
|Packers Odds||-3.5 (-105)|
|Saints Odds||+3.5 (-115)|
|Time||4:25 p.m. ET|
All good things come to an end. For the first time since 2005, the New Orleans Saints will start the season without Drew Brees at quarterback after the future Hall of Famer retired at the end of the last season. That’s not the only thing that appears to be ending either.
After months full of drama, Aaron Rodgers will be returning to the Green Bay Packers for what appears to be his final season with the team. With back-to-back 13-3 seasons leading to losses in the NFC Championship Game, the Packers are poised for one more Super Bowl run.
Meanwhile, Jameis Winston is now the starting quarterback for the Saints and looks to jumpstart the next era of football in New Orleans with a win.
Unfortunately, it will have to come in a neutral site game at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville as Hurricane Ida displaced the Saints from their home stadium at the Caesars Superdome. Nonetheless, oddsmakers have installed the Saints as 3.5-point underdogs with a total of 50.
So where is the betting value for this matchup?
Let’s analyze both sides and find out!
Green Bay Packers
A quarterback can’t possibly play better than Aaron Rodgers did last season when he threw for 4,299 yards and 48 touchdowns with a 121.5 passer rating and 84.4 mark in QBR with just five interceptions, winning the league’s MVP award.
Behind his stellar play, the Packers had the league’s top scoring offense at 31.8 points per game while ranking first in offensive DVOA, EPA/play and success rate. The Packers should remain a top-tier offense with the weapons around Rodgers, including wide receivers Davante Adams, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Allen Lazard, and running backs Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon.
One of the biggest issues facing the Packers is on the offensive line. They’ll start the season without left tackle David Bakhtiari, who tore his ACL at the end of last season. They also recently lost center Corey Linsley through free agency, which means they’ll be doing some shuffling along the O-line.
Pro Bowl guard Elgton Jenkins will be moving to left tackle and the Packers will be starting two rookies in Josh Myers and Royce Newman at right guard and center.
The Packers have done a solid job at developing offensive lineman over the years, but it’s certainly not ideal to be starting two rookies against a defensive line as good as the Saints. Nevertheless, the Packers are catching a huge break by playing a neutral site game as opposed to a road game at the Caesars Superdome.
Overall, this is a worse Saints defensive line than the Packers faced last season so I’m not doubting the Packers’ ability to score in this matchup. In last season’s game, the Packers scored 37 points with a 54% success rate and 0.25 EPA/play. They were particularly successful passing on early downs where they had a 63% success rate. Given the Saints’ ability to slow down the run, I’m expecting a similar game plan.
The Packers defense was just 17th in DVOA and 20th in total success rate — they’ve struggled to stop the run much of the past few seasons which is problematic facing a backfield with Alvin Kamara. The Packers replaced Mike Pettine with Joe Barry and we’ll likely see heavier personnel, which could help with slowing down the run.
Za’Darius Smith has been listed as questionable as he’s missed most of August with a back injury. If he can’t go, the Packers would rely primarily on Preston Smith and Rashan Gary at edge rusher. The secondary, led by Jaire Alexander and Darnell Savage, is the strength of this unit, and unlike previous seasons, this Saints team doesn’t have a ton of receiving threats.
New Orleans Saints
Although Drew Brees spent the last few years of his career looking washed and devoid of arm strength (which prohibited him from taking deep shots down the field), he brought accuracy, stability and the leadership that made the Saints a contender.
Have you seen what happens to teams when they lose a Hall of Fame quarterback?
It’s not pretty.
Since 1993, teams that have replaced a quarterback who had played at least 10 seasons have won 4.3 fewer games the following year. Only the 2012 Colts (who went 11-5 after replacing Peyton Manning with Andrew Luck) and the 2000 Dolphins (who had Jay Fiedler under center instead of Dan Marino) have winning records among those teams that lost a quarterback who had played at least 10 seasons.
If you’re looking for a positive spin on this, the Saints will be starting Jameis Winston who last threw for 5,109 yards and 33 touchdowns for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2019. Given his arm talent, he’ll add an element to the Saints offense that they haven’t had in years. Brees had an average depth of target of just 6.3 yards which was the sixth-lowest in the league last season while Winston lead the league in that same category in 2019 at 10.4 yards.
The bad news is that he also threw 30 interceptions, forcing his defense to consistently cover short fields. You have to expect that his turnovers will regress as he’s playing for Sean Payton as opposed to Bruce Arians’ “no risk it, no biscuit” system.
This offensive unit was just 12th in EPA/play last season, and it’s tough to imagine that getting better given the options this unit has at receiver. Michael Thomas will miss the first six weeks of the season, Emmanuel Sanders and Jared Cook departed in free agency and — to make matters worse — Tre’Quan Smith was ruled out for Week 1.
This means the Saints will rely on Marquez Callaway and Juwan Johnson who don’t have much experience. Alvin Kamara could take on an even bigger workload, which could be ideal.
The Packers were 30th in defending passes to opposing running backs, allowing a 55% success rate in 2020. The Packers were also 20th in rushing success rate, allowing 46.9% of run plays to grade out as successful.
Still, in their Week 3 matchup last year the Saints had a -0.22 EPA and just a 37% success rate when running the ball. Rushes on early downs did even worse with a -0.28 EPA and 33% success rate. Nevertheless, it’ll be interesting to see what Payton has up his sleeve for this offense that should take a step back this year but will need to match Rodgers point for point.
The Saints’ salary cap issues not only caused them to lose Sanders and Cook on offense, but also pass rusher Trey Hendrickson, Kwon Alexander, Malcolm Brown and Janoris Jenkins on defense. Hendrickson in particular had 13.5 sacks, which is tough to lose when you’re facing Rodgers in Week 1.
Cam Jordan is still a star, but he’s 32 years old, and the Saints will be dealing with the absence of defensive tackle David Onyemata, who is suspended six games for performance enhancing drugs. He comes off a season with 6.5 sacks so this unit is even weaker.
The Saints were eighth in the NFL in sacks (45) and sixth in pressure rate (26.3%) last season, but I’m expecting this unit to take a step back. If this was last year’s team, I’d be confident that they could take advantage of a Packers team that is starting two rookies, but this year I’m not so sure that’s the case.
Marshon Lattimore continues to regress after a dominant rookie season as he had just a 47% success rate last season. They’re still dependent on the 34-year-old Malcolm Jenkins, which doesn’t inspire much confidence in this unit.
The Saints did trade for Bradley Roby who should bolster their secondary. He graded out as the 25th-ranked CB in 2020 (71.5 OVR) and owns a 76.6 career overall grade (2014-present), so his presence is very beneficial.
The Saints are really catching a bad break losing a home game and being forced to play in Jacksonville as opposed to the Caesars Superdome given Hurricane Ida’s impacts on Louisiana. We saw what happened to the 49ers last season when playing home games in Arizona, and with the Saints moving to Jacksonville, their home-field advantage disappears.
Home-field advantage has been decreasing year over year during the past five seasons, going from 2.86 points in 2016 to 0.05 in 2020. Separating home-field advantage by stadium, I have home-field advantage at the Caesars Superdome at 2.095 points, and with fans back in the stadium, this was one other way to help slow down this Packers offense.
Money has come in on the Saints, pushing this number down from 4.5 to 3.5 after the venue change, but I think that’s simply creating value on the Packers.
They’re the better team, they have the better quarterback and more weapons in a game that is likely to be a high-scoring affair. The Saints’ lack of receiving threats will hurt them in a game like this. I played the under 9 wins on the Saints win total this season, and I love fading them against a team who looks to be the cream of the crop in the NFC.
I like the Packers at -3.5 at most books (+100 at PointsBet) but if you exercise some patience, you just might find the Packers at -3 on game day given the professional money which has come in on the Saints. Caesars Sportsbook currently has them at -3 if you’re able to bet with them.
Pick: Green Bay Packers -3 (-110) at Caesars Sportsbook