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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Thursday, September 8, 2011 at 11:11 AM

The NFL regular season kicks off Thursday Night with a meeting of the last two Super Bowl winners. The New Orleans Saints and Drew Brees travel to Lambeau Field to face the Green Bay Packers and Aaron Rodgers.

Both of those teams are similar enough in terms of remaining talent and coaching staffs to consider this meeting a referendum on which was the better champion. It's not ideal because this isn't 'really' the 2009 Saints taking the field. And, maybe last year's relative stumbles (making the playoffs but losing badly to a poor Seattle team) will foreshadow a similar Super Bowl hangover for Green Bay that will start Thursday Night. But, just for fun…let's run through some numbers quickly and see how the teams match up from their championship seasons.

2009 Saints: +169 (510-341)
2010 Packers: +148 (388-240)

The Saints hold an edge here thanks to a much more explosive offense (they scored 123 more regular season points!). But, it's important to remember that Green Bay suffered through some injury drama that didn't hit the Saints. Green Bay may have been a little better than those numbers would suggest…and those numbers were plenty good as it is. Let's call this a slight edge for the 2010 Saints. You regulars know that we value defense more than offense though. Defense wins championships! The fact that Green Bay was 101 points better on the defensive side of the ball will loom large in our considerations.

2009 Saints: +11
2010: Packers +10

This one's kind of a wash. That Saints team actually forced a lot of turnovers as teams tried to play catch up against Drew Brees. The offense was a high risk/high reward unit that overcame its miscues with additional scores. Green Bay played cleaner football. New Orleans played wilder games. Can't see giving either team an edge based on those numbers. If one was lucky in the stat, both were lucky. Tough to say one 'earned' their advantage while the other was lucky. Tie.

2009 Saints: 44% on offense, 38% on defense
2010 Packers: 42% on offense, 36% on defense

It's exactly six percentage points in positive differential for each team. Again, that's a wash. But, again…if you prefer defense to offense, then the Packers have more going for them. The Saints hit 44%, but in a high risk offense that you can't be certain will avoid giveaways when it matters most. Green Bay did a better job of shutting people down. Good data however you slice it. The New Orleans defense deserved more credit than it got back in the 2009 season. They took the ball away and shut you down on third and long. It's just that Green Bay's defense was REALLY terrific last year, giving them the edge in a defensive comparison.

2009 Saints: 15th according to Sagarin at USA Today
2010 Packers: 7th according to Sagarin at USA Today

Green Bay was really behind the eight ball last year. They were suffering multiple key injuries while playing a very tough schedule. That's why they seemingly took flight in the postseason once they got their ducks in a row. They were used to facing playoff caliber opposition…they accumulated good point differential, turnover, and third down stats vs. playoff caliber opposition. When, they got healthy, BOOM!

New Orleans was far from a fluke in 2009. they accumulated great numbers against a league average schedule. You do that, and you're great! This wasn't a case of a team abusing a soft schedule in the regular season than catching some breaks in the playoffs. Well, beating Minnesota and Brett Favre was kind of lucky. And, they needed a pick six to ice the Super Bowl. Some luck! Still, great stats vs. a league average schedule.

We'd have to say that Green Bay of 2010 wins the comparison in a tight one over New Orleans of 2009. The stats are close to being even…but Green Bay was playing shorthanded much of the time vs. a tougher schedule.

The Vegas betting markets seem to agree with that general assessment. As we write this, Green Bay is -4.5 Thursday Night over New Orleans. Home field is worth three points. The Packers grade out to 1.5 points better on a neutral field. Given the similarities in rosters over the last couple of years here…that all makes sense.

But then again…the New Orleans Saints may have been a one-year wonder in terms of being championship material. If last year wasn't a hangover, but a new level of play…then Green Bay may deserve to be a bigger favorite.

Point Differential: +77 (good, but not championship level)
Turnover Differential: minus 6 (very sloppy)
Third Downs: 49% on offense, 35% on defense (fantastic)
Schedule: 25th (uh oh)

The Saints had a very easy schedule last year, but could only manage an 11-5 record. They looked awful in a playoff loss to Seattle…who was 7-9 entering the game. The third down performances were truly great (against a weak schedule). Turnovers were a big problem.

What would the Green Bay team that went 4-0 in the playoffs done against the New Orleans squad that lost 41-36 to Seattle? Would THAT Packers team have offered value at -4.5 in a home game?

Handicappers will basically be answering one of two questions when they pick Thursday's encounter:

*Will the 'World Champion' Packers show up and dominate a visitor that's gradually fading toward irrelevance?

*Will New Orleans re-assert its championship credentials as a live underdog against a team suffering a Super Bowl hangover?

That's Packers by 10 or more one way…Saints outright the other.

JIM HURLEY knows how important this game is to his clients. So, he's been working around the clock this week to figure out the right way to go (and, maybe the 'right way' is a total!). He's talked to his SCOUTS and SOURCES around the league for the lowdown on both teams (amazing what you can learn from Preseason opponents!). He's looked over the STAT breakdowns for these quarterbacks in big games. He's studied all the trends and angles involving defending Super Bowl champs. He's run COMPUTER SIMULATIONS that reflect 'starter vs. starter' projections. And, he's checked in repeatedly with his WISE GUY CONNECTIONS offshore and in Las Vegas to see what the smart money is doing…and what the dumb money is doing in the first big TV game of the new season.

You can purchase tonight's play here at the website with your credit card. Or, sign up for the full weekend and start building your bankroll this evening with Saints-Packers and Arizona-Oklahoma State in the colleges. We also have great rates for the full season.

Back Friday to talk about Missouri-Arizona State in a special Friday Night showdown on ESPN. Saturday we'll focus on the prime time action…with an emphasis on either Notre Dame-Michigan or BYU-Texas (three of those four teams may officially be independents a year from now). Sunday we'll preview the Dallas-NY Jets game that kicks off NBC's Sunday night card this year. Monday, we'll preview the ESPN doubleheader that features New England-Miami and Oakland-Denver.

It's a great weekend to be a football fan. You've been waiting all summer for the NFL to get here. THE DAY HAS ARRIVED! Be sure you link up with JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK!


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