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NFL: Saints, Packers set for unique encounter in Jacksonville

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Recent meetings between the New Orleans Saints and the Green Bay Packers were defined by meetings between future Hall of Fame quarterbacks Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers.

But things will be different when the Saints and the Packers open the season Sunday afternoon with Jameis Winston starting for New Orleans in his team’s home opener played in Jacksonville, Fla.

Brees has retired to the broadcast booth and Rodgers is back with the Packers after an offseason of acrimony.

New to the equation is a neutral-site feel with the clash of expected NFC contenders moved from the Superdome after the Saints evacuated New Orleans ahead of Hurricane Ida late last month.

“Every time you go into New Orleans you know it’s going to be rocking and you know you’re going to have to have a silent count and hand signals in critical situations like third down, red zone and two minute,” Green Bay coach Matt LaFleur said. “We might alter our process in that regard depending on how loud it is in Jacksonville.”

Both fan bases have a history or traveling well to see their teams away from home. The location and the weather conditions could favor New Orleans.

“You can’t replicate those (hot and humid) conditions (in Wisconsin),” LaFleur said. “I guess we could go inside and crank up the heat, but I don’t want our guys practicing on turf all week long.”

Rodgers’ public dissatisfaction with the Packers organization — namely general manager Brian Gutekunst — seems to have been at least diluted since the two sides agreed to an adjusted contract during the offseason.

“He’s playing at a really high level,” LaFleur said of Rodgers, the 2020 NFL MVP. “He’s in a really good mindset and has the right mentality. He’s done a really good job of leading these younger players.”

For the first time since 2005, the Saints are being led by a quarterback other than Brees. Winston, signed as a free agent before last season, beat out former Packer Taysom Hill in a preseason battle.

“He’s done a great job and he’s earned that spot,” coach Sean Payton said of Winston. “I know I’ve seen growth and someone who was extremely vested in this process and is excited about the start of the season.”

Hill, who slimmed down during the offseason in anticipation of focusing on being a quarterback, shifts back to the jack-of-all-trades role in which he has thrived since being claimed off waivers from Green Bay at the end of the 2017 preseason.

He has seen snaps at quarterback as a dual threat, also aligning at running back, wide receiver, tight end and on special teams during his career.

“We’ll look closely into finding ways to help Jameis play well and we’ll also look closely at finding ways to utilize Taysom and finding where to play him,” Payton said. “They’re both real good football players and we’re going to need both of them this year.”

The Saints canceled their final preseason game, which was scheduled against Arizona in the Superdome on Aug. 29, the day before Ida made landfall. They have been in the Dallas-Forth Worth area and conducted their game-week preparations at TCU.

–Field Level Media

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