Week 1 of the NFL season officially kicks off on Thursday night when the Super Bowl Champion Bucs host the Dallas Cowboys. For the displaced Saints, they open their season in a somewhat national spotlight for America's Game of the Week on FOX in a late kickoff. They'll welcome Aaron Rodgers and the Packers for their first test in what ended up being a highly entertaining matchup last season.
What to Watch For
The venue shift. Due to the devastation left behind from Hurricane Ida, the Saints will not be able to host their season opener in the Superdome. It's unfortunate, as many were looking forward to this. However, at times like this, some things are bigger than football. Jacksonville was one of several realistic spots for the team to move operations to, and New Orleans was pretty tactical in their approach.
When the Saints last played the Jaguars in 2019, the black and gold traveled well. Although it won't have the traditional feel of a home game, elements like the heat and potentially sloppy weather conditions could benefit Sean Payton's team.
The start of the Winston Regime. There's likely no other area that is more exciting or more important heading into the season than the team's starting quarterback. With Drew Brees out of the picture, it's officially the Jameis Winston show after winning the battle over Taysom Hill. Winston certainly has a lot of upside this season, even though the masses will have you believe that he's just a glorified turnover machine.
The 2019 Bucs version of Jameis Winston is not what the Saints will experience in 2021, and honestly Winston does not have to come in and try to singlehandedly beat every opponent he faces. New Orleans can help ease pressure off of him by leaning on a stellar offensive line and utilizing some of their best weaponry in Alvin Kamara. After Payton named the starter, things finally could shift to establish continuity on offense after the flipflop scene of rotating quarterbacks daily during training camp.
The defense. Dennis Allen's unit saw a good bit of roster turnover from last season, and they'll also be without David Onyemata for the first six games of the year. Positions like linebacker, defensive end, and the safety spot are areas of strength going into the season. However, the question marks surround the interior defensive line and cornerback.
Overall, the defense has looked strong in training camp and the preseason, but all of that is put to the test in Week 1 against Aaron Rodgers. Last year, Rodgers went 21-of-32 for 283 yards and 3 TDs. The Saints defense could only sack him once after being close plenty of times. Will the interior be enough to contain Aaron Jones and will Ken Crawley or Paulson Adebo be able to hold their own opposite of Marshon Lattimore?
Special Teams scene. All three facets of the game matter, and the Saints have some question marks at kicker without Wil Lutz. Aldrick Rosas should be elevated from the team's practice squad to hold down duties there, but every kick will go under the microscope. The Saints also have a new punter in Blake Gillikin after Thomas Morstead held things down since 2009.
The good news is that Gillikin is undoubtedly ready, but we also look at the return game. If Tre'Quan Smith misses this game, do the Saints let Deonte Harris still return punts and kicks if he's to be utilized more on offense? Or, is it someone like Ty Montgomery or Tony Jones Jr. who handles the kick duties? Also, the gunner spot doesn't get talked about a lot, as J.T. Gray and Justin Hardee were a great tandem for so long, and Gray's new partner in crime will have some big shoes to fill.
Hurricane Ida has brought a lot of devastation to the Louisiana area. Please consider donating to help those who have been affected. One great cause is donating to the Second Harvest Food Bank. Nick Underhill of NewOrleans.Football has already piloted a tremendous effort, and any support would be greatly appreciated as the area has a long road ahead to rebuild.