Our NFL experts predict how the 2022 season will unfold
The 2022 NFL season is about to kickoff but why not predict how it all ends. Our NFL experts share their picks for the biggest surprise team, disappointment, MVP and Super Bowl.
MINNEAPOLIS — At least it wasn’t 38-3.
That’s about as far as any positives extend for the Green Bay Packers in their 2022 opener against the Minnesota Vikings. The Packers lost 23-7 before a SKOL-craved crowd of 66,959 at U.S. Bank Stadium, and if they weren’t as sloppy as last year’s historic blowout loss in the opener, they certainly fell short of being competitive.
The Vikings jumped on top with a 78-yard touchdown drive the first time they touched the football and didn’t trail again as Green Bay fell behind 17-0 at halftime. The Packers rallied once the rust of not playing this preseason wore off, but it wasn’t enough to ever cut the game within a single possession in the second half.
It was always going to be an uphill battle for the Packers without David Bakhtiari, Elgton Jenkins and top receiver Allen Lazard. Aaron Rodgers was sacked four times and pressured heavily throughout, finishing 22-of-34 for 195 yards, no touchdowns, one interception, one fumble and a 67.6 passer rating. It’s unlikely Bakhtiari and Jenkins will be available for next week’s home opener against the Chicago Bears.
The Packers will need to flush this loss and start their season anew in Week 2, just like they did last season.
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Here are some observations from the Packers second straight lopsided loss in a season opener:
Justin Jefferson obliterates Packers secondary
If there’s one thing that should trouble the Packers from Sunday’s opener, it’s that they still can’t cover Justin Jefferson. It wasn’t that the Vikings two-time Pro Bowl receiver had nine catches on 11 targets for 184 yards and two touchdowns. It’s how easy it was as the Packers often simply didn’t cover one of the NFL’s best receivers. Jefferson’s dominance was so clear, he had 158 yards — and both touchdowns — in the first half. The Packers entered halftime with 100 yards total. They also had one of the NFL’s best cover corners in Jaire Alexander, but defensive coordinator Joe Barry never matched Alexander against Jefferson. Instead, he kept Alexander on the right side of the field, with Eric Stokes on the left. And Jefferson feasted. His dominance was reminiscent of his eight catches for 169 yards and two touchdowns last season when the Packers traveled to Minnesota. Jefferson crossed 100 yards in the first half of that game, too. Next time, the Packers might want to put their best cornerback on him.
Rough rookie receiver debuts
The Packers were always going to experience some growing pains with their rookie receivers this season, especially Sunday when top wideout Allen Lazard’s absence forced Aaron Rodgers to rely on Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs. Those frustrations started immediately. On their first play, Rodgers aired out a deep ball down the right sideline to Watson. The second-round rookie blew past Vikings cornerback Patrick Peterson off the line of scrimmage, and Rodgers dropped his pass perfectly to Watson. Instead of a 75-yard touchdown, Watson dropped it. The opening drive ended when Doubs, the fourth-round rookie, cut his third-down route inside. Rodgers threw to the outside incomplete. The quarterback gave Doubs a pat on the back when they arrived at the sideline. With a lack of veteran depth at the position, Rodgers will need to stay patient with his rookie receivers early this season. Together, Watson and Doubs combined for four catches and 45 yards in their debut.
Too much balance
It wasn’t surprising the Packers passing game struggled Sunday. Their lack of a run game wasn’t expected. Coach Matt LaFleur called more pass than run plays even early when the score was within hand, and it wasn’t because the Packers couldn’t generate yards on the ground. Aaron Jones’ fourth carry of the game went for 29 yards. The problem is it came midway through the third quarter. The tailback duo finished with 94 yards on 15 carries, a healthy 6.2-yard average. Given more touches, the Packers offense might’ve generated more production.
Za’Darius Smith making plays
Za’Darius Smith didn’t hide his zeal to play his former team. He spoke about it during the week, then showed it on the field. Smith sacked quarterback Aaron Rodgers on third down in the first quarter, and another pressure led to a sack for defensive lineman Dalvin Tomlinson in the second half. Perhaps his biggest play of the game came on fourth-and-goal in the first half. Smith crashed hard off the right edge, stuffing AJ Dillon at the 1-yard line. It didn’t all go Smith’s way. On an 11-yard end-around for Doubs in the third quarter, Rodgers got a chance to throw a block at his former teammate. The quarterback ended up on his back, but he got in Smith’s way enough to help seal the edge. Rodgers trotted right up to Smith and let him know about it after the play. Unfortunately for him, Smith had plenty more to let the Packers know about during Sunday’s game.
Expect a Matt LaFleur rebound
If there’s one thing coach Matt LaFleur hasn’t done much in his tenure, it’s win the season’s first or last game. LaFleur is now 2-2 in season openers. He’s 2-3 in the playoffs, never reaching the Super Bowl despite home-field advantage the past two seasons. Of course, he’s won a whole lot of games in between, and almost never has a losing streak. The only time the Packers have lost two straight games under LaFleur is late last season, when they dropped the finale at Detroit in a game the starters played only partially and then bowed out two weeks later in the playoffs. That bodes well as the Packers move on in their season.