The Green Bay Packers now know not only who they will be facing in 2014, but when. The NFL announced its full schedule on Wednesday, amidst much anticipation from media and fans.
My first thought in looking at the official and non-leaked schedule was “here we go again”. For the third straight season, the Packers face a tough opening quarter to their season. As each team plays 16 games, I’m referring to the first four games.
In 2012, the Packers opened the season with the San Francisco 49ers and Chicago Bears at home, the Seattle Seahawks on the road and the New Orleans Saints at home.
Green Bay fared well over that stretch, considering that the loss to Seattle should have been a victory, and a hard-fought one at that. They emerged 2-2 after the smoke cleared.
In 2013, the Packers again drew the San Francisco 49ers in game one, on the road. They then faced the Washington Redskins at home, Cincinnati Bengals on the road and the Detroit Lions at home.
On paper and right now, that doesn’t seem like a tough bunch of games at all. But before the 2013 season started, the matchup against the Redskins and a potentially healthy quarterback Robert Griffin III loomed larger. Cincinnati has never been an easy place for the Packers to play and the Lions were a division rival looking to end a 20-year drought at Lambeau Field. The Packers managed a 2-2 mark against those teams but, much like the season prior, should have fared better. Had it not been for their late collapse against the Bengals, the Packers would have been a healthier 3-1.
In the case of the 2012 and 2013 seasons, the Packers faced a tough slate and came out having been competitive in every game and with a chance to win. Hopefully in 2014, the Packers can be just as competitive and finish those games that they have a firm hold of.
In week one, the Packers travel to Seattle and face the Seahawks in the NFL season opener on Thursday, September 4th. Besides the very electric and deafening crowd that will be on hand at CenturyLink Field, the Packers may also watch the Seahawks receive their Super Bowl rings prior to the start of that game (some teams hand out their rings in a private ceremony much like the Packers did in January, 2011). That game alone would be enough for me to deem the Packers first quarter “difficult”. Seattle will be looking to establish their dominance in a quest to return to another Super Bowl in 2014 and will not be short on adrenaline and motivation.
In week two, the Packers have their home opener against the New York Jets. The Jets have struggled for the past few seasons but I always caution myself against thinking any AFC matchup is an easy one. The lack of familiarity could make that a closer contest than any of us want to see. At least the Packers will get some extra rest heading into that game, having last played ten days prior in the Thursday opener.
In week three, the Packers face the Lions in Detroit. This has typically been a game that has come later in the season. A divisional road game is anything but a given, regardless of records or point spreads. The Packers were embarrassed in Detroit on Thanksgiving Day last season, albeit without starting quarterback Aaron Rodgers. The Lions will be under the new leadership of head coach Jim Caldwell and the addition of receiver Golden Tate to complement Calvin Johnson will give the Packers secondary an early test.
Week four brings another divisional road game against the Chicago Bears. The return to Chicago of the elephant linebacker/end Julius Peppers. The Bears surely remember the last time the Packers were at Soldier Field and they will be looking to reclaim their home field advantage. This has always been a tough place for the Packers to play, although they have won four of their six games there with Aaron Rodgers at quarterback. The Bears are said to be looking to drastically improve their defense from last season and will surely do so with the Packers and their other divisional opponents in mind.
With two divisional games and a very tough NFC opponent looming early, the Packers won’t want to stumble to a poor start. Having to dig out of a hole throughout the season could prove difficult and there will be plenty of competition for both the NFC North and the high playoff seeds. Head-to-head losses are the devil when it comes to the deciding factors in a close divisional or conference race.
In today’s NFL, no game is a given anymore. We can express all of the confidence and bravado that we want and start circling games that are easy wins, but there’s a reason they still suit up every week. The Packers will tell us that they focus on one game at a time and that they are confident that they can beat anyone. This year, they need to take that added step and get some very important “W’s” early on.——————
Jason Perone is an independent sports blogger writing about the Packers on AllGreenBayPackers.comFollow Jason Perone: