Green Bay Packers, TIAA Bank Field

Packers vs Saints: How much does the neutral site matter?

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We were all set for the Green Bay Packers to kick off their 2021 campaign in front of a deafening crowd in the Superdome this Sunday. 

That was until the annual issue of a late summer hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico reared it’s ugly head once more, and now the season opener will instead be played at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville, FL. 

When it was announced that the game could no longer be played in New Orleans, the Saints were forced to find an alternative. Initially there were heavy reports of the game being moved to AT&T Stadium in Arlington, TX where the Packers are undefeated, always bring a good crowd and always seem to play well. 

Unfortunately for Green Bay, the much more popular Los Bukis Grupera band are occupying the Cowboys stadium this week (seemingly unbeknownst to Jerry Jones who was planning to host the game), so instead the Packers will jet off to the humid September weather of Florida for their date with the Saints. 

Initial thought: Nobody wins

Obviously the Saints are at a disadvantage here. They’re losing what would’ve surely been an electric atmosphere in the packed out Superdome, where there hasn’t been a capacity crowd since the Vikings knocked them out of the playoffs way back in January 2019.

But I don’t think this really benefits the Packers either. They have routinely struggled over the past two seasons in hot climates. There aren’t many climates in the NFL as severe as that of Florida in the tail end of Summer.

Packers fans will show regardless

Reports from NOLA.com suggest that the Saints chose Jacksonville over other available venues for multiple reasons, one being that Jacksonville is the most expensive NFL destination in Florida for Wisconsinites to travel too. 

This was a cute strategy by the Saints decision makers, but virtually every Packer fan will tell you why this isn’t going to be an issue. Simply, there are Packers fans everywhere

The pocket of Packers fans living in Florida is just as prevalent as the pockets in Southern California and in Arizona. It’s one of the franchise’s great benefits when it comes to playing on the road.

Regardless, Matt LaFleur says he’ll continue to prepare the team as if they were playing in a true ‘road’ environment. He said the Packers offense would make the adjustment in-game if it’s quiet enough to hear Rodgers’ signals at the line.

Will the weather play a factor?

It’s set to be 85°F at the time of kickoff in Jacksonville, the norm for September in Florida. 

As Matt LaFleur said on Wednesday, “You can’t replicate those conditions up here.”

The Packers have only played one game in 85° or higher since 2017. That game was the 38-10 stomping at the hands of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last season. So… yeah, the track record isn’t terrific. 

It’s going to be damp, humid and swampy, quite similar to the conditions many Saints players are acclimated to down in the Bayou. 

It’ll also be easily the hottest weather the Packers will play in all season. They don’t play a 12pm CT game at Lambeau until late October, so rest assured there’ll be no Titletown scorchers on hand.

The Packers probably won’t be in a climate out of their comfort zone for the remainder of the season. Their one trip out to the West coast is a night game with the 49ers, so again no tough conditions there either. 

The Packers will be nestled up in the Rust Belt for the majority of the year with a full slate of matchups against the AFC North and of course the NFC North.

Other notes on the neutral locacation

It’ll be a homecoming of sorts for TE Marcedes Lewis who spent more than a decade with the Jaguars. It’ll be his first time back playing there since he departed in 2017. The same goes for Packers’ OC Nathaniel Hackett who held the same role in Duval from 2015 to 2018.

The Packers are 3-1 in Jacksonville overall including a season opening win five years ago. That win marked the beginning of a 5-0 season opening streak which they will be looking to extend on Sunday afternoon.

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