The Saints lost Drew Brees to retirement after last season and had to navigate cap hell this off-season, but they did so in a way that kept the rest of their core intact, as the Saints continued borrowing future cap space, rather than going through a full rebuild. Brees actually had his worst season in years last season, but the Saints still had a strong season because of how much talent the Saints have on the rest of this roster and most of that talent was kept this off-season. On top of that, replacement quarterback Jameis Winston looked good in the pre-season and is an experienced starter with untapped upside if he can finally learn to take better care of the ball.
All that being said, I wouldn’t expect the Saints to get off to a good start. Two of their key players, wide receiver Michael Thomas and defensive tackle David Onyemata, are out for the start of the season, due to injury and suspension respectively, and kicker Will Lutz will also be out with injury, which is a big loss for the Saints’ special teams. Winston could also take some time to settle in as well and the Saints are notoriously slow starters anyway, even with Brees, going 4-17-1 ATS in the first two weeks of the season, dating back to 2010 (94-58-7 ATS in weeks 3-17).
Further complicating things for the Saints is they won’t get to play their home opener until week 4 or later, as they’ll be on the road weeks 2 and 3 and will have to play this “home opener” against the Packers in Jacksonville, with New Orleans still dealing with the effects of Hurricane Ida. That situation has likely been a distraction for this team as well, further hurting their chances of getting out to a fast start.
That doesn’t mean I want to take the Packers this week, however, as they could also get out to a slow start, due to the absence of left tackle David Bakhtiari. Bakhtiari is one of the top left tackles in the league and his presence is always missed, but he’ll be especially needed this season, given that the Packers are much thinner on the rest of this offensive line than they are used to being. With Bakhtiari’s absence, they are expected to start a pair of rookies upfront in week one, which will likely be a steep drop off for one of the best offensive lines in the league.
The Packers could also be without Za’Darius Smith, who was very limited in practice this week with a back injury that has plagued him for several weeks now, which would be as big of a blow to their pass rush as Bakhtiari’s absence is to their pass protection. This line seems to be taking into account all of the tough circumstances the Saints are dealing with, giving them 3.5 points in a neutral site game, but ignoring the key absences for ther Packers.
For that reason, I’m actually taking the Saints, as I think we’re getting line value with them if the line is higher than a field goal. If this game were later in the season, I would probably bet on the Saints, but it hard to be confident in them in week 1, given how slow of a start they usually get out to. If Smith plays and the line stays put, I will likely drop this down to no confidence, but it sounds more likely than not than he will be out for week one.
Update: Smith sounds likely to play, while cornerback Marshon Lattimore popped up on the injury report on Saturday, likely a bad sign for his status this week. That would leave the Saints even thinner at cornerback, a thin position group that is already missing Ken Crawley and Brian Poole with other injuries. I’m dropping this to no confidence.
Green Bay Packers 27 New Orleans Saints 24
Pick against the spread: New Orleans +3.5