One Storyline for Each 2021 Opponent (Part I)

Rosters and coaching staffs change every season. Here's one thing to think about for each of Green Bay's 2021 matchups. 

Last offseason, I wrote about one storyline for each of Green Bay’s 2020 opponents, and it was a lot of fun to read those storylines back. For example, the Lions storyline was about Matt Patricia’s seat and its increasing warmth (we know how that ended). So I thought we could do the same thing this season with the Packers’ 2021 opponents. Just like last year, it’ll be split into two parts, and division rivals will only be mentioned once. 

New Orleans Saints

The Saints will march on without Drew Brees at quarterback. While the last few seasons have given fans glimpses as to what the team could look like without Brees under center, no decision has been made yet as to who the starter will be at quarterback Week 1 in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Both Taysom Hill and Jameis Winston will be competing for the job, with Hill taking over in Brees’ absence last season. However, early betting lines seem to think Winston is the favorite to at least start the season as QB1.

Detroit Lions

Protect your kneecaps, Dan Campbell is coming. The Lions completely overhauled their coaching staff after Matt Patricia was fired mid-season. Campbell brought in Anthony Lynn as offensive coordinator and Aaron Glenn as defensive coordinator. While the coaching changes leave plenty of questions, the biggest question facing the Lions right now might be “is this team any good?” Wait, no. We know that answer. Can they be any good? That’s the better question. Obviously, losing Matt Stafford is a blow to any roster, as he was easily the second-best quarterback in the NFC North. But there’s young, ascending talent on the roster, especially on defense. What Campbell does with it will tell the tale for the Lions this season. 

San Francisco 49ers

Health might be the biggest storyline for the 49ers this season, and of course it’s the most unpredictable part of the game. San Francisco’s roster was decimated by injuries for much of 2020, losing quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, defensive end Nick Bosa, tight end George Kittle, and cornerback Richard Sherman for large chunks of the season, and that’s only naming a handful of players. If the 49ers can stay healthy, they still have one of the most talented rosters in the NFC and could make a deep playoff push once again, but the NFC West is loaded with some of the Conference’s toughest teams. Also noteworthy, Head Coach Kyle Shanahan will have some new faces on his coaching staff this year with defensive coordinator Robert Saleh leaving for the New York Jets and taking passing game coordinator Mike LaFleur with him.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Just like the 49ers are in a tough division in the NFC West, the Steelers are fighting off an incredibly strong AFC North that had three playoff teams in 2020. That’ll be the real test for the Steelers in 2021. As the Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens continue to get better (two teams we’ll talk about next week!) can the Steelers do enough to capitalize on what will likely be Ben Roethlisberger’s last season? In 2020, the defense told the story for Pittsburgh, ranking third in the NFL in points against allowing only 19.5 points per game on average. They also had the league’s best defense on fourth down. The roster hasn’t changed dramatically, but the Steelers offense saw plenty of struggles last season and did very little to improve anything for Big Ben in 2021. 

Cincinnati Bengals

Keep. Joe Burrow. Upright. That’s it. That’s the storyline. The Bengals allowed 48(!!!) sacks in 2020, and Burrow suffered 32 of them before tearing his ACL. Going into his second season as the face of the franchise, he needs better protection along the offensive line. The team did hire a new offensive line coach for this season, and the return of running back Joe Mixon should also help Burrow succeed in 2021. If the offensive line doesn’t look better and Burrow is still running for his life under center, the first-round selection of wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase will be scrutinized even further, even if he is close friends with Burrow. 

Chicago Bears

I hate that we have to talk about the Bears, and I hate that they had a competent draft. While Chicago claims to be committed to Andy Dalton at least initially, Justin Fields has all the potential in the world to be the long-awaited franchise quarterback for the Bears, and we hate that for them. Really though, Chicago improved where it needed to, grabbing one of the draft’s best tackle prospects in Teven Jenkins and helping to solidify an offensive line that gave up 36 sacks in 2020. Still, the biggest storyline is without a doubt whether or not Fields will be under center by the time the Packers play the Bears for the first time in Week 6 at Soldier Field. 

Washington Football Team

Did you know Ryan Fitzpatrick went to Harvard? And now he’s the quarterback for the Washington Football Team? Nobody can take away from the miraculous comeback Alex Smith made in 2020, but I’m happy he’s decided to retire as healthy as possible. The WFT struggled with quarterback productivity for much of last season, and there was never really a true starter at the position. Fitzpatrick offers stability to an offense that’s poised to break out with receiver Terry McLaurin and new addition Curtis Samuel. The defense is already loaded, and any type of reliability behind center could dramatically improve Washington’s chances in a weak NFC East. 

 

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Maggie Loney is a writer for Cheesehead TV and podcaster for the Pack-A-Day Podcast and Pack's What She Said. Find her on Twitter at @MaggieJLoney.

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Comments (3)

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Sapgooey's picture

June 29, 2021 at 12:28 pm

Good stuff.

Thanks Maggie.

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splitpea1's picture

June 29, 2021 at 01:56 pm

Since we got robbed of playing SF at full (or any kind of) strength last season, this time around we'll see what kind of progress we've made in the run defense department from 2019.

Steelers: Haven't beaten them in the regular season since 1995 and Yancey Thigpen's butterfingers.

Saints: Another good test for the defense; let's see if we can do a better job of tackling this time.

WFT: Is it really that difficult to come up with a new name already? Jeez....How about one of those quaint pastoral names from centuries past, like "Dan's Folly"?

Everyone else on the list: we should be able to handle 'em no problem if our starting QB decides to return.

The back half of the schedule is much more daunting.

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Spock's picture

June 30, 2021 at 08:45 am

Thanks for the article, Maggie. I have to say the picture you chose shows SF with far better "Pad Level" than the Packers, lol.

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