Sunday, September 11, 2016

NFL Week 1 2016: Packers vs. Jaguars Preview and Prediction

Welcome to the start of the 2016 NFL season, Packers fans! There are high expectations for this team. More on that in a minute, and specifically as regards today's game.

But first, I invite you to take a moment and remember all those lost, injured and impacted with the events of September 11, 2001...

Thank you.

Now, to the Packers. Some oddsmakers and prognosticators are projecting the Packers to not only be in the Super Bowl but to win it; from their stat sheets to God's ears, to turn a phrase if not a theological point. Some, such as the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's great writer, Bob McGinn, don't think the Packers helped themselves in this regard with the shocking release of Pro Bowl left guard Josh Sitton. His article on how the Pack "blew it" with this clumsily handled roster move is definitely worth reading.

Be that as it may, fourth-year player Lane Taylor is now your starter at this position. He's demonstrated his ability as a servicable run blocker, but there is a great deal of skepticism as we start the season about his pass-blocking abilities. He also had what can only be described as a disappointing game, with three penalties including two back-to-back, in the preseason finale. Given that he's one of the two guys essentially protecting the franchise's (that would be QB Aaron Rodgers, of course) blind side, Taylor is going to have to raise the level of his play in that regard quite quickly.
The Packers secondary will be challenged by the Jags receiving corps.
(Photo: Joe Robbins, Getty Images)

How we see it
As game time rapidly approaches, we need to get to the heart of the conversation, don't we?

The first game of the season is a lot like the proverbial box of chocolates: you never know what you're going to get. This will be the first time that starters on both sides of the ball for both teams are called upon to play a full 60 minutes. Expect some rustiness, some blown plays, and probably more penalties than we'll see later on in the season. Having said that, there should be no reason that Aaron Rodgers isn't able to lead the Pack to victory today. He's got a great group of receivers, although the Pack might very well choose to use Jory Nelson sparingly depending upon how he's feeling coming off his injury from last season. Expect to see a great deal of the Packers tight ends, especially Jared Cook. He can stretch the field and coverage in a way we haven't seen since the days of Jermichael Finley. Also expect a heavy dose of Eddie Lacy and James Starks. The running game will have to exert itself early and often in order to allow Rodgers the time he'll need to open up the passing game. One unknown at least at the time of this writing is whether left tackle David Bakhtiari will start or even play at all today; he was listed as "questionable" on yesterday's injury report. Under the new labelling system, this puts him roughly somewhere between 50.1 and 99 percent likelihood to play. If he's unable to go, rookie Jason Spriggs will take his place and then that entire left side of the Packers offensive line will be new...not ideal in protecting Rodgers' blind side, especially against what could be a good Jaguars defensive line and pass rush.

As for the Packers defense, the line is thin for various reasons. The inside linebackers are young -- including rookie starter Blake Martinez who will be relaying the plays called in from Dom Capers et al. The secondary should be the strength of the defense early on and probably throughout the season. The d-backs will be challenged today with a very good corps of Jag receivers. If QB Blake Bortles gets in rhythm it could be a challenging day. If the Packers defensive front can make him uncomfortable, the secondary may have opportunities for multiple interceptions. Let's hope that's the way it plays out.

Our prediction
The Packers are 5-1/2 point favorites. That's a pretty good spread for any time of the season, but particularly on the road in a "Let's see what we all got" type of game. Despite what is reported to be perhaps the third-hottest game the Packers will have ever played in -- and remember, Jacksonville opted for their white jerseys today, making the Packers play in the darker and hence warmer green jerseys -- the Pack is the better team.

We're calling it 27-20 Packers.

Go Pack Go!!!

Leroy Butler: Sports brings us together, the way it should be
We have to highly recommend to you this special article that Packers great Leroy Butler wrote for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel today. Given the current political and cultural environment in which we seem to be immersed, Butler advocates for the lessons we all can learn from sports as a way to be unified rather than divided. Amen. Read it.