1. Will conditioning be a factor?
Mike McCarthy kept his veterans out for practically all of the pre-season hoping to avoid another significant injury to a veteran starter. Knock on wood, he seems to have accomplished that goal. The flip side of that is that the Packers’ veteran starters will be getting their first true test of “game shape” in a game that counts toward the regular season wins and losses. As mentioned above, this could be the third hottest game the Packers have played and the fact that they have had little to no live action could be a bad combination for a team that wants to start off with a win. I think conditioning becomes a factor if the Packers can’t run the ball effectively. Look for coach McCarthy to avoid the hurry-up (save maybe very early) and try to pace the game with the run. A solid running game and consistent, extended drives will be critical in making sure conditioning does not become a factor in this game. We don’t want to see any more cramps and hammies out there today.
If the Packers play this game and can do it without any players limping off the field, and they can control the clock and maintain drives, it bodes well for a big win. In that event, however, kudos to the strength and conditioning staff who are generally only mentioned when something negative happens.
2. How will rookie Blake Martinez do with the headset?
The Packers are putting a lot on rookie linebacker Blake Martinez and thus far, Martinez has performed admirably. Now it gets real. In particular, I will be watching what happens when Martinez finds himself stacked directly behind Kenny Clark in formation. This would be a spot to test if I was the offensive coordinator of the Jags. Martinez will have a chance to get off the ground with Jags’ new thumper Chris Ivory dinged with a calf injury. He is certain to get a heavy dose of Yeldon who is not the scariest back in the league but is “nifty”. How Martinez handles getting the defense into position and how he plays in this, his very first NFL regular season game, could be a touchstone for how this entire defense will be as the season goes along.
I look for Martinez to have 7-9 tackles today and that against a Jacksonville team that loves to put the ball up in the air. If Martinez can hold his own, look for this defense to hit the ground running in it’s late 2015 form.
3. Jordy, Jordy, Jordy
Jordy Nelson will be seeing his first live action since last pre-season and his first meaningful game in…well…forever. This in the Jacksonville heat. But Jordy is a Kansas kid and the heat isn’t going to
Jordy needs to be full strength and full go for next week’s matchup against the Vikings so I wouldn’t be upset if coach McCarthy manages him a little bit in this first game against the Jags.
4. Will the O-line continue where it left off in the pre-season?
The Packers’ offensive line is not the same as last year in a couple ways. First, it is healthy. Second, it is deep. Third it is fielding a group that has not had time to gain continuity and becomes one of the biggest question marks of this game. If the Packers had let Josh Sitton play out his contract, they would have been deeper still, but now the guard position seems thin. All eyes will be on Lane Taylor and JC Tretter is also a bit of a question mark at center though less-so than Taylor. The Packers’ offensive line will be critical to getting the running game going this afternoon and it will be interesting to see how Tretter and Taylor fare. My guess is that a proud Mike McCarthy runs Eddie Lacy off Lane Taylor’s hip the very first play from scrimmage.
5. Is the offense ready to play like it has something to prove?
I predicted that this would be one of Aaron Rodgers’ most prolific years. He may in fact have less gaudy numbers than in the past but that is because I am also predicting that this will be Eddie Lacy’s most prolific year. If Lacy comes on like I think, the Packers’ offense could be a juggernaut, so Aaron could have his best year without having his best numbers. The thought of the running game pounding defenses into submission and Jordy, Randall, Cook et-al gashing db’s when the defense is forced to stack the box is the kind of thought that can keep one warm on a cold Wisconsin Winter night. This game against the Jaguars is perfect for getting it all off the ground.
Prediction: Packers 28, Jaguars 13
So that is what I will be watching for…how about you? Leave your thoughts below or back on the Facebook Fanpage.