Amid 'a lot of unknowns,' Aaron Rodgers prepares to begin 17th season with Green Bay Packers

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The Green Bay Packers and Aaron Rodgers had high expectations entering last season because of their appearance in the NFC Championship Game. That feeling hasn't changed after a second straight loss with a Super Bowl spot on the line.

What has changed is Rodgers' situation, and given all the uncertainty about his future with the Packers, the reigning NFL MVP admitted Wednesday that Sunday's season opener against the New Orleans Saints has a different feel to it ... and not just because Hurricane Ida forced the game to Jacksonville, Florida.

"Yeah, it does; it definitely does," Rodgers said. "There is a lot of unknowns."

Rodgers being chief among the unknowns.

His return for a 17th season was uncertain until the eve of training camp, when he ended his offseason-long holdout and set aside his differences with the organization. Part of his return included a restructured contract that makes it easier for both sides to part ways after this season.

The season has a "Last Dance" feel to it not only because of Rodgers but also the fact that the Packers have significant salary-cap issues next season that could force them to overhaul the roster.

"I think we don't feel pressure ... I'm speaking personally and I can't speak for everybody," Rodgers said. "But the feel that I get with the energy in the locker room is not pressure. It's focus. I think it's the right perspective and the right type of focus.

"We know we have a talented team. We know what the expectations are. We're just focusing on accountability and holding each other accountable because regardless of what happens with any of our situations, this group will not be together the way it is now in years down the line. So we're going to enjoy this year for all that it has to offer, and each other, and I think that's the right perspective to have when you get in this situation."

The Packers' 31-26 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in last season's NFC title game had a different feel than the blowout loss to the San Francisco 49ers in the same game a year earlier. The Packers feel they should have won that game. It marked the first time the Packers hosted a conference championship game in Rodgers' career as a starter.

Most of last year's team returns, although Green Bay will start the season without All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari (who is out for at least the first six weeks while recovering from ACL surgery) and will have two rookies starting on the offensive line.

"This is probably the hungriest team that I've ever been around, honestly, just because we have been so close a number of times now," Packers receiver Davante Adams said Wednesday. "So I feel like everybody in the back of their mind, they know how reachable it is and realistic we are to getting to that final step."

Like Rodgers, Adams' future also is in doubt. He's in the final year of his contract and wants to be the highest-paid receiver in the league.

Negotiations broke down before training camp, and even though the Packers have a history of getting deals done right before the season opener, that looks unlikely.

"No, no chance," Adams said when asked whether that was possible. "No."