NFL Picks: Saints at Packers Odds and Betting Predictions

Doc Moseman@DocsSportsCorrespondent ISeptember 6, 2011

CLEVELAND, OH - AUGUST 13: Starting quarterback Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers warms up prior to the game between the Cleveland Browns and the Green Bay Packers at Cleveland Browns Stadium on August 13, 2011 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
Jason Miller/Getty Images

 Not sure if you heard, but the NFL returns this week and as has been the case for the past several years the defending Super Bowl champs host the season opener on a Thursday night. In fact, this year it’s the past two Super Bowl champions in the New Orleans Saints and Green Bay Packers facing off. Many believe these are two of the favorites in the NFC this year–although obviously you have to throw the Philadelphia Eagles into the equation.

If there is one lock in betting on the NFL, it’s on this game. This will be the eighth season in a row the NFL has opened with its defending Super Bowl champion at home on a Thursday night. The defending champions are 7-0, winning by an average of more than 10 points per game. Last year was a rarity, with the 2009 champion Saints beating Minnesota, 14-9.

NFL Picks: Saints at Packers Betting Predictions

Of course, the Packers were in danger of missing the playoffs last season, only to see Aaron Rodgers return from a concussion and shred the New York Giants in Week 16. That started a season-ending six-game winning streak that culminated in the franchise’s fourth Super Bowl.

Green Bay lost more key players to injury last season than any club, and, thus, conceivably should be even better in 2011 with the return of the likes of RB Ryan Grant and TE Jermichael Finley. The preseason NFL MVP favorite is QB Aaron Rodgers, who threw for nearly 4,000 yards and 28 touchdowns last season before being nearly flawless in winning Super Bowl MVP honors. On defense, linebacker Clay Matthews was a beast last year and he was playing with a stress fracture for much of the season.

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OAKLAND, CA - AUGUST 28:  Drew Brees #9 of the New Orleans Saints throws a pass against the Oakland Raiders in the first quarter during an NFL pre-season football game at the O.co Coliseum August 28, 2011 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Hende
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

The Saints, meanwhile, were a bit up-and-down in 2010 as they attempted to repeat as champions. But they were able to snag the NFC’s other Wild-Card spot before being stunned by Seattle as the biggest favorite of the Wild-Card round.

A major problem for New Orleans last year was the running game. It ranked 28th in the NFL, while the Drew Brees-led passing game was No. 3. That was the biggest differential of any NFC team. So the Saints decided to let Reggie Bush go, brought in a similar player in former San Diego Charger Darren Sproles and took Heisman winner Mark Ingram with their second first-round pick. Brees was a Pro Bowler yet again last year, as he completed an NFL-high 68.1 percent of his passes for 4,620 yards (No. 3 in the NFL) and 33 TD passes (No. 2). But he also was second in the NFL with 22 interceptions. On defense, the Saints overhauled their line and must get more production out of a secondary that helped the team rank among NFL leaders with 26 picks in 2009 but an NFL-low nine last season.

This game will be the first time since 2000 and the seventh time ever that the two most recent Super Bowl champions will meet in Week 1. Green Bay is 5-0 all-time in prime-time season openers (four on Monday night, one on Sunday night).

Probably the biggest player news entering this one is that Saints top defensive end Will Smith is suspended for two games for a banned substance case that dates back to 2008. Smith, a former first-round pick, is fourth in franchise history with 55 sacks and has started 65 consecutive games for New Orleans, including the postseason. Turk McBride will start in Smith’s place. He finished with a career-high five sacks last year as a part-time starter in Detroit. 

Saints at Packers Betting Odds and Trends

Green Bay is currently a four-point favorite on NFL odds with the total at 47. The lean is around 55 percent on the Packers. New Orleans was 6-2 on the road last year (3-5 ATS). Green Bay was 7-1 at home (5-3 ATS).

The Saints have covered in five of their past six openers. The Packers have covered in their past four. The "over" is 4-1 in the Saints’ past five on the road and 5-1 in Green Bay’s past six at home.

Saints at Packers NFL Predictions and Football Picks

The Packers have won four straight season openers. Green Bay is the lone NFC team to win its season opener each of the past four years. The Saints have won three of the past four meetings, but the teams haven’t played since November 2008 in New Orleans when the Saints put up 51 points in a 22-point win. This will be just the third Thursday night game in Lambeau Field history. 

I have to go with Green Bay here to win by a touchdown, thereby giving the points. The total is tough because of the lockout, but these are two clubs that are pretty much back at full strength. I like the "over."