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Ten Thoughts on Week 1: Packers, Saints to test preparations

by | CBSSports.com National NFL Insider
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Ten thoughts on Week 1, free of charge ...

It's last summer and quarterback Aaron Rodgers is sitting in front of his locker. We're having a conversation and Rodgers is as he always is: smart, friendly and confident. He suddenly pauses in thought and looks around the locker room.

"I wouldn't trade this group of guys for any other in football," he says.

Players say that all the time and in most instances it's just talk, the obligatory stuff. Not with Rodgers. He meant it, and added: "We're prepared for anything."

Prepared is the key word. Rodgers, of course, would go on to win a Super Bowl despite the Packers losing almost two dozen players to injuries and playing the entire postseason on the road. They made one of the great Super Bowl runs in history all because, as Rodgers said, the Packers were ready for anything -- even for the onslaught of injured players.

Now that preparedness will be again tested when they open the season against the New Orleans Saints on Thursday and in many ways this will be a battle of philosophies.

It all stems from the lockout. The Packers believe their armor was so hardened by the Super Bowl win that team workouts during the nasty and draining lockout weren't needed.

The Saints, led by the uber-prepared Drew Brees, took the opposite approach. The team practiced often during the lockout.

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"We would all be working out somewhere anyway, so why not do it together and why not do it in an organized fashion, where it's very football-related," Brees said at the time. "It's preparing us to have a championship season, and I feel like it's putting us way ahead of other teams around the league, just by the fact that we're so organized."

Thus this will be a nice test of those different mindsets. The Packers, more faith-driven in their abilities and toned by a brutal Super Bowl run, vs. a Saints team that believes its lockout workouts provided an edge.

Too simplistic a breakdown? Possibly. Simple is the media's middle name, but not as simplistic as some might think. The Packers and Saints are evenly matched and it wouldn't be a stunner in any way to see these two teams in the conference title game later in the year.

This is an appropriate question and comparison, particularly if the Packers look sloppy (and I don't think they will) and the Saints look sharp (I think they will).

Prepared is the key word, indeed.

9. Tom Brady's mind games. Sometimes he does this as well as his head coach, Bill Belichick. Make no mistake about it. His open love letter saying he'd welcome back Randy Moss was a direct frontal assault against Chad Ochocinco. Brady is trying to get Ochocinco to step up his game, and I've been told by one person on the Patriots that so far Ochocinco has been average at best. And yes, there is an outside shot the Patriots would welcome Moss back. Very outside, though. Because the Patriots know Moss would revert back to being Moss, which is a petulant child. So they'll likely stay away.

8. Chris Johnson's hamstring. An ex-player says some of the Titans veterans have a joking bet on what week Johnson will pull a hamstring. The prevailing money so far is Week 2.

7. One thing I keep hearing about HGH testing. Concerns from the league about the origin of the drugs. The players have some legitimate concerns over the validity of the test and testing procedures, and the league is worried mostly about cheaters affecting the league's integrity. Both are fair points.

But another concern I'm told is athletes who use performance-enhancing drugs never know the true origin of the substances. In other words, does every user know where the HGH was physically made? Some of these drugs are now being made in labs in China very cheaply. In some of these labs there may be few precautions ensuring that it's really HGH and not, say, a rat poison derivative. Just one of many factors in the HGH battle.

6. Tiki Barber may never play football again. That's my feeling. Unless it's in Central Park with flags.

5. General manager to me: "The Cowboys will advance to the NFC title game." And, no, the general manager wasn't Jerry Jones.

A) Champ of the week: Roger Goodell and the Colts for suspending Jim Tressel.

B) Chump of the week: The person who designed the University of Maryland football uniforms.

C) Tweet of the week: Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson: "Some ppl said I wouldn't make it!! Now them ppl can't take it!! It's real can't fake it!! Ya kno what they say life's only what u make it!!"

4. Speaking of Jackson, he and the Eagles remain far apart in their contract talks. I'm not sure this deal gets done any time soon. Jackson is scheduled to earn $600,000 this year, a disgracefully low amount considering his worth to the Eagles. If Jackson is seriously injured, he's out of luck, and that's the shame of non-guaranteed NFL contracts. Yet he surely shouldn't listen to idiot Terrell Owens, who in an interview with a Philadelphia radio station said if he was in Jackson's situation, he'd hold out.

"I would have to better myself and my family and my situation," Owens said. "That's ridiculous."

Don't listen to him, DeSean.

3. Meanwhile, I continue to hear the contract talks between Brees and the Saints are closer than some believe. But nothing is imminent.

2. Pay close attention to the attendance situation in Florida this weekend. All three Florida teams -- Miami, Jacksonville and Tampa -- have struggled to sell tickets. The most surprising are the Dolphins, who face some big games being blacked out this season. The NFL remains the most popular of sports, but the blackout situation -- and there are other teams facing this issue, about a half-dozen total -- has to be concerning.

It's possible the only team that ends up blacked out is Tampa, but the fact that so many teams struggled to sell tickets in the opening week is not good.

The NFL is making billions and people watch the sport in droves, but we may be seeing the beginning of a league-wide trend where many teams, in the future, don't fill their stadiums because of ticket prices, drunken fools going to the game and HD television. It seems only a matter of time before the NFL is forced to alter its blackout rules.

1. Fred Taylor. He has always been one of the best combinations of class and production the league has ever seen, but trust me on this: there will be Hall of Fame voters who won't select him. Does he deserve it? Taylor is a curious case. He was productive, but missed a number of games due to injury. That will hurt him. But I'd probably still put him in.

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