The damage caused by Hurricane Ida forced the Packers’ opening game against the Saints to be moved from New Orleans to Jacksonville. But what does this change mean for the Green Bay Packers? How will it affect the game itself and the preparation of the team?
The most obvious change is that the Packers are now playing in a neutral location. The Packers have not played a regular NFL game in a neutral location since 1938, when they faced the Chicago Cardinals in Buffalo on September 28.
The game was played on a Wednesday night in front of a crowd of 10,678 fans who showed up to see the pack defeat the Cardinals 24-22. Tiny Engebretsen scored the winning field goal in the fourth quarter and gave the Packers the win, improving their season record to 3-1-0. Arnie Herber, Clarke Hinkle and Don Hutson scored in-game touchdowns for Green Bay.
Going back to 2021, that game will now be played in a neutral location, although technically it will be a home game for the Saints. While Saints management reportedly picked Jacksonville because it was more difficult and expensive for the Packers and their fans to get to this game, it is still expected that there will be more Packers fans than Saints fans in the season opener. The Packers have fans all over the country and travel well. Additionally, Saints fans living in Louisiana are still grappling with the aftermath of the hurricane and many have more important issues to deal with.
The game will feel more like a Packers home game as most of the fans in the stadium will be standing for the Packers. That clearly speaks in favor of Green Bay. Last season there were no fans in the stands for most of the season because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Only a limited number of fans were allowed to participate in the playoffs. Having most of the fans cheering on the Packers will be an even bigger thing this year than it would be after a typical season.
The game is now played outdoors instead of the New Orleans dome. Last year the Saints were 6-2 in the Superdome. They also played another game in a dome, a 35-29 win over the Lions in Detroit. That means the Saints were 7-2 inside and 5-2 outside last season.
The Packers played five indoor street games last year, going 4-1 in their only loss to the Colts in Indianapolis. The Packers won indoors in Minnesota, New Orleans, Houston and Detroit. The Packers ended 2020 with a 9: 2 mark outdoors.
The game is now also played on natural grass. The Jacksonville stadium features Bermuda grass. The Packers played 11 games on grass in 2020, going 9-2, with their only losses in week 6 against the Bucs and at home in week 8 against the Vikings.
The Saints only played six games on natural turf in 2020 and went through 4-2 in those games. They were 8-2 on man-made surfaces.
While both teams were strong overall last season, with the Packers 13-3 and the Saints 12-4, the Packers are a turf team while the Saints play most of their games on artificial turf. For this reason, the change slightly favors the packers.
Now that the game is being played outdoors in Jacksonville, the heat and humidity are likely to be a factor. The average temperature in Jacksonville, Florida is in the low to mid 80s in mid-September, and the humidity in northern Florida is usually higher than in Wisconsin at this time of year.
As a result, the Saints will likely wear their white shirts for the game and force the Packers to wear their dark green home shirts. On a hot, sunny day, dark colors absorb heat while white reflects it. The Saints hope that wearing their white jerseys will give them an edge especially in the fourth quarter when the players on both teams are more likely to tire, especially in Week 1 when they are not yet in ideal football shape.
The Packers wore their white jerseys at home in the early games of the season, also to take advantage of wearing white in the heat. In 1989, the Pack played their first two games of the season at Lambeau Field, but wore their white street jerseys in each competition. In the first game, Green Bay lost the Bucs 23-21, while the Packers scored an exciting 35-34 win over the Saints in Week 2 when Don Majkowski received a late touchdown pass from Sterling Sharpe.
When all is said and done, the Packers and Saints have one more game of soccer to play. It is played in different environments and in different color uniforms, but it will still be the 2021 season opener and it will still count as one game in the NFL rankings.
Overall, the change in venue should give the Packers a slight advantage over the game in New Orleans. Now it is up to the team to take advantage of this.