Kickoff'11: A few (XXV) thoughts on tonight

September, 8, 2011
9/08/11
12:11
PM ET
The New Orleans Saints won Super Bowl XLIV.

The Green Bay Packers were crowned champions after Super Bowl XLV.

They'll meet Thursday night to begin the NFL's march to Super Bowl XLVI.

So let's honor a whole bunch of Roman Numerals with XXV thoughts on this game. Why XXV? It's a nice, round Roman Numeral. And I didn't think you wanted XLVI of my thoughts on this game or any other.

1. The Packers have been downright defensive this week about their decision not to conduct players-only workouts during the lockout. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers refused to discuss it, possibly fearing his words would be interpreted as criticism of the New Orleans Saints' highly public workouts. Here's the truth: Many people around the NFL thought the Saints' efforts were more for public show than to get in actual football work. I can't see this issue being a factor in tonight's outcome.

[+] EnlargeChad Clifton
Howard Smith/US PresswirePackers left tackle Chad Clifton returns for another season protecting quarterback Aaron Rodgers' blind side.
II. Here's one issue that could: Rodgers' pass protection was spotty this preseason, and the Saints' rebuilt defensive line will force some matchup problems.

III. Every year at this time, we're asking whether Packers left tackle Chad Clifton, 35, has hit the wall. Every year, he answers the bell. But we're still asking the same thing.

IV. You think your stomach is twisted into knots? Here's what Packers guard Josh Sitton tweeted this morning: "Gameday. ... nervous as poop." And Sitton just signed a new $33 million contract extension!

V. It was surprising to see Sitton give up a couple of sacks in the preseason. The Saints' defensive tackle rotation of Shaun Rogers, Sedrick Ellis and Aubrayo Franklin no doubt noticed.

VI. No one blitzed more than the Saints last season, sending five or more rushers on 49.5 percent of the time in 2010. Sitton, Clifton and company can feel confident knowing that Rodgers has been the NFL's second-best quarterback against the blitz (based on Total Quarterback Rating) over the past three seasons.

VII. Trevor Ebaugh of ESPN Stats & Information has a cool scouting report on a play the Packers could use Thursday night against the Saints' defense.

VIII. If you're in transit to the game today, know that snack options are limited. Follow this link to see what I found Wednesday night.

IX. The Saints will be making some difficult guesses about the Packers' offensive approach.

X. With no regular-season running game to speak of last season, the Packers focused on their passing game. They ran more empty-backfield sets than any other NFL team (91). Will the Packers focus on that formation, allowing them to maximize their talented group of five receivers?

XI. Or will the Packers re-balance their offense now that Ryan Grant is healthy and James Starks is re-established?

XII. Or will the Saints see more of the no-huddle offense that Rodgers directed to near-perfection in the preseason? And will they work to get receiver Donald Driver the 42 yards he needs to be the team's all-time leading receiver by yardage?

XIII. It's hard to be ready for such a varied menu of options. Which is just the way the Packers like it.

XIV. Grant is the Packers' likely starter at running back, but it wouldn't be at all surprising if Starks finishes the game with more carries.

XV. If one relatively unknown player makes a name for himself in this game, I'm betting it will be Packers returner/receiver Randall Cobb.

XVI. If you think Packers fans are excited about Cobb's debut, imagine how they feel about the return of tight end Jermichael Finley. Never in NFL history has a tight end with 82 career catches gotten so much hype. ESPN's Rachel Nichols reports Finley got a pedicure Wednesday. Why wouldn't he?

XVII. Saints quarterback Drew Brees threw at least one interception in each of his final 12 regular season games last season and had an NFL-high 22 over that span. Just saying.

XVIII: Kid Rock is a notorious Detroit Lions fan but will be singing Thursday night in the Lambeau Field parking lot. Hey, business is business.

XIX: Couldn't Rodgers book "The Make" for an opening act Thursday night?

XX: One of the more confusing stories recently to get national attention: Rodgers' claim that New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez's GQ photospread was "embarrassing." And?

XXI: The Saints' running game is in much better hands with Pierre Thomas, Darren Sproles and Mark Ingram than it was with Thomas and Reggie Bush.

XXII: I can't say for sure that Packers defensive end Mike Neal (knee) won't play, but limited practice for three days after two weeks of inactivity caused by a knee injury means he probably won't make a huge contribution even if he does get on the field. The Packers have been counting on him to be a dual run-stopper and playmaker against the pass.

XXIII: This game has been billed as a battle between two elite quarterbacks, but I know which team I like if both backups were forced on the field. And no, it's not the Saints and Chase Daniel.

XXIV: There will be a lot of really good coaches on the field Thursday night, from McCarthy to Sean Peyton to Greg Williams to Dom Capers. But every team in the NFL should hope its quarterbacks will one day be coached by Packers assistant Tom Clements. A one-time Saints quarterbacks coach, Clements deserves a lot of credit for the development of both Rodgers and Matt Flynn.

XXV: Every single ESPN expert, including the AccuScore computer simulation program, picked the Packers to win tonight. So there you go. If I had made this No. I, you wouldn't have had to read all this way!

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