Week 1 NFL Picks: New Orleans Saints @ Green Bay Packers 2011 NFL Vegas Odds, Free Picks, and Expert Predictions Thursday Night on NBC 9/8/11: Two of the best quarterbacks in the National Football League will take center stage when the Green Bay Packers (-4) and New Orleans Saints kick off the 2011-12 season Thursday night at Lambeau Field. The franchises are the winners of the last two Super Bowls, with New Orleans QB Drew Brees taking home MVP honors in 2009 and Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers doing the same last season. Both offenses are high powered, and both defenses are among the best in the conference. Given all the talent on both sides of the field, it is unrealistic to think that Thursday’s season opener is a sneak peak of the NFC Title Game.

Offense is the calling card for both teams, and both the Packers and Saints like to spread out opponents with pass-heavy attacks. Brees’ main target is receiver Marques Colston, but Robert Meachum ana Lance Moore get their share of targets as well. Rodgers’ go-to guy is receiver Greg Jennings, but Donald Driver, James Jones and Jordy Nelson are dangerous options as well.

The Tight end position could be one advantage for Green Bay. Jermichael Finley returns after missing most of last season with an injury, and he has been next to unstoppable in his brief career. Meanwhile, New Orleans’ Jimmy Graham is preparing for his first full season as a starter. Graham did show a lot of promise at the end of last season, but going into the Thursday’s game, the edge has to go to Finley.

While both teams will look to pass first, the running attacks for both sides should be improved this year. The Packers welcome back Ryan Grant, who played in less than one game last season before injuring his ankle. He was a perennial 1,000 yard back prior to the injury, and his return should help the play-action passing game for Rodgers as well as eliminate some pressure on the QB.

For the Saints, it was addition by subtraction. They parted ways with Reggie Busch but added the much more physical Mark Ingram in the draft. Ingram’s powerful style should allow the Saints to convert in short yardage and goal line situations as well as run out the clock in the fourth quarter of games. Versatile backs Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles will fill the void left but Busch, but Ingram is definitely the new wrinkle to the New Orleans offense.

With both offenses expected to put points on the board, Thursday’s game could be decided by which defense can make the most plays. The front seven for the Saints could have an opportunity to do just that. For all the strengths the Packers had last season, the offensive line was not one of them. Rodgers masked the problems with his scrambling ability, but a good pass rush can disrupt the Green Bay offense. With defensive ends Will Smith and rookie Cameron Jordan applying pressure from the outside and the newly acquired Shaun Rogers doing the same from up the middle, New Orleans may have a chance to slow down Rodgers and company. On the flip side, a solid but not spectacular Saints’ secondary could be exposed if the front seven doesn’t apply some heat.

Green Bay’s defense can bring some pressure as well. Defense end Clay Matthews and defensive tackle B.J. Raji are as good of a combination as there is in the NFL up front. In the secondary, former Defensive Player of the Year Charles Woodson is still capable of making a game-changing play. In a game that could be a back-and-forth shootout, a pick-six by Woodson could be the spark a rally or seal a win. Top to bottom, the better defensive unit belongs to the Packers.

It should come as no surprise that the oddsmakers predict a close contest Thursday night. The Packers are four-point favorites, and while Brees and the Saints certainly have enough talent to knock off any team in the NFL, Green Bay is going to be pumped to play in front of its home fans for the first time since winning the Super Bowl. Couple the adrenaline with a quarterback that is primed to make an MVP run, and Rodgers and Packers are the team to beat in this one.

Free NFL Picks and Predictions: Green Bay Packers -4.5

NFL Football: New Orleans Saints @ Green Bay Packers
Date: 8/29/2011
Time: 8:00 PM EST on NBC
Vegas Odds -
Favorite: Green Bay Packers -4.5 Total: Over/Under 47.5

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