The Green Bay Packers and New Orleans Saints, the league's last two Super Bowl winners, kick off the 2011 regular season on Thursday night at Lambeau Field.
Green Bay overcame a rash of injuries (Ryan Grant, Jermichael Finley, Morgan Burnett) in 2010 to earn a Wild Card spot in the NFC Playoffs. Packers quarterback exorcised his post-season demons by leading the Packers to road wins over the Philadelphia Eagles, Atlanta Falcons and Chicago Bears before earning Most Valuable Player honors in the team's 31-25 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Packers get Grant, Finley and Burnett back and return most of their key starters for 2011. The main changes on offense are along the offensive line. 2010 first-round pick Bryan Bulaga replaces Mark Tauscher at right tackle, and at left guard, the physical T.J. Lang replaces Daryn Colledge, who signed with the Arizona Cardinals. To replace the pass-rushing void created with the departure of defensive end Cullen Jenkins, nose tackle B.J. Raji will occasionally move to defensive end. But that role will primarily be filled by Mike Neal, a promising, but oft-injured second-round talent who is questionable for tonight's game with a knee injury.
New Orleans will be looking to erase the bad memory of their playoff to the 7-9 Seattle Seahawks in January, a game that undoubtedly haunted defensive coordinator Gregg Williams as replays of Marshawn Lynch's 67-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter were replayed all offseason. Williams' crew will be short-handed on Thursday night, as defensive end Will Smith begins his two-game suspension for his positive test for StarCaps, a banned diuretic, during the 2008 season.
Offensively, Drew Brees and the league's No. 3 passing attack are back, though they'll be without the services of Lance Moore (groin) tonight. Head coach Sean Payton has vowed to return to a more balanced approach, which explains the team's decision to re-sign Pierre Thomas, trade back into the first round of the 2011 NFL Draft to select former Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram, and sign fullback John Kuhn and third-down back Darren Sproles in free agency. New Orleans also has two new starting offensive linemen, replacing center Jonathan Goodwin with former Chicago Bears mainstay Olin Kreutz and Zach Strief winning a right tackle competition battle against Charles Brown.
Game Date/Time: Thursday, September 8, 2011; 8:30pm ET
Location: Lambeau Field, Green Bay, Wisconsin
TV Distribution Map: The506.com
Packers: WTMJ & STATEWIDE RADIO NETWORK
Saints: WWL 870AM, 105.3 FM