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Packers Friday Musings: Does change in Week 1 location favor Green Bay or New Orleans?

The move to Jacksonville poses some pros and cons for Green Bay in the regular-season opener.

Wild Card Round - Minnesota Vikings v New Orleans Saints Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images

With the Green Bay Packers’ preseason wrapped up and the final roster established, attention now turns to the regular season.

First up is a challenging matchup with the New Orleans Saints, but the disaster that was Hurricane Ida may have evened the football playing field. Today’s musings look into the advantages and disadvantages the Packers face in a warm change of location to kick off the season against the Saints. Do the Saints still hold any home-field advantage themselves?

But first up are some concluding thoughts on the Packers’ final cuts and one potential adjustment that could be still to come.

A few thoughts on the Packers’ final cuts

As cut day came and went, the grand majority of the moves went as this author planned. However, there were still a handful of surprising keeps and pink slips as is usually the case.

  • Along the offensive line, Ben Braden’s release in favor of Jake Hanson was an eye-raiser as mentioned in the Wednesday Walkthroughs earlier this week. Braden’s versatility seemed to be much more valuable to the Packers’ line than Hanson after a disastrous third preseason game for the latter player at center.
  • On an equally surprising level was the cut of Kabion Ento at cornerback. A converted wide receiver, Ento had been with the Packers for two seasons - on the practice squad in 2019 and injured reserve in 2020 - and the investment had appeared to be paying dividends with some splash plays throughout camp. While Ento did end up on the team’s practice squad again after final cuts, his release in favor of Isaac Yiadom was a little head-scratching. Yiadom, acquired in exchange for Josh Jackson, struggled in the first half against Buffalo’s first-team offense in his first game with the Packers.
  • Jonathan Garvin was always a bubble player on the edge, but Chauncey Rivers was a surprising keep. Green Bay certainly needs developmental bodies at outside linebacker, but keeping both Garvin and Rivers was a relative surprise.
  • That Kurt Benkert was not picked up by another team and was able to make the Packers’ practice squad was a pleasant surprise and makes for a very capable scout team quarterback. Benkert may still hold some longer-term value to the Packers, much like Tim Boyle a few years ago.
  • Even with the Braden and Ento cuts, there is a reasonable scenario in which both find their way on to the active roster at some point during the season. The same could be said for Bronson Kaufusi as a blocking tight end in the event of injury, as well as Patrick Taylor, who could be on the final roster next year with continued development, health, and opportunity.

Hunter Bradley is not out of the woods yet for the long snapper position

A minor surprise from the Packers’ roster trimming was Bradley’s safe position on the team’s 53-man squad. Bradley had a number of low snaps during training camp after having some inconsistent struggles during his rookie season in Green Bay as well. Perhaps one of the most eye-opening cuts of the summer was fellow long snapper Joe Fortunato on August 5, a little over a week before the preseason began. It was odd that the Packers would not bring in additional competition for Bradley for the three exhibition games.

Well, though Bradley is the assumed starter for the first week, it appears he may have some competition after all. Green Bay added Steven Wirtel to the practice squad on Thursday, replacing defensive lineman Willington Previlon. The Iowa State product was on the Detroit Lions’ practice squad last year and released by Los Angeles earlier this offseason.

General Manager Brian Gutekunst insisted that Bradley’s performance during individual practices this summer was not consistent with what they had seen from him the majority of his time in Green Bay. Still, while Wirtel might not be the one to unseat Bradley or play a snap for the Packers this season, his signing signals that the Packers are not all-in on their incumbent heading into the year.

Does home-field advantage still stick with New Orleans on a neutral site?

In July, a Week 1 matchup with the Saints was listed as one of this writer’s three games that could define the Packers’ playoff standing in 2021. Much of that hype was due to the nature of playing inside the rowdy Superdome, but also because of the game’s importance to the Packers’ ability to take advantage of a softer early schedule. However, with the game being moved to Jacksonville, does the “home” advantage remain with the Saints or does the game neutralize to an extent?

Working against the Packers is the sheer heat and humidity of playing in Florida in September. The early forecast is calling for 87 degrees, 72% humidity, and some sunshine on September 12. While Wisconsin has had its share of heat and humidity over the past few weeks, the Saints should be a bit more acclimated to the Louisiana-like conditions in Jacksonville. Matt LaFleur acknowledged that the heat and humidity would be a factor earlier this week, and it certainly was a test for the Packers in a similarly hot September 11, 2016 win against Jacksonville.

New Orleans also was strategic in picking Jacksonville as a more expensive location for Packer fans to travel. Still, one would assume the number of traveling Saints fans would have to take a sizeable dip with the change in location, and the open-aired stadium will hold considerably less fan noise. Where will the Saints’ minds be with all of the hurricane damage affecting so many people in New Orleans? Although there will be ample time for the team to adjust to having to travel in week one, there is some level of human element involved. What might have initially been a true early road test for the Packers may feel much less dangerous at this point in time, especially as New Orleans breaks in Jameis Winston as its new full-time starting quarterback after many years of Drew Brees.