Opening with a trip to Chicago. Visiting back-to-back AFC West powers. A three-game gauntlet against each team in the NFC North to end the season.
It’s safe to say Green Bay Packers fans have no shortage of interesting matchups to anticipate for the upcoming season. Sources such as CBS Sports and Newsweek figure the strength of schedule for the Packers falls in the middle of the pack, while a resurgence could be on the way under first-year head coach Matt LaFleur after last season ended outside of the playoffs.
To reclaim the conference from the Bears, though, it will take the Packers proving their mettle against some of the toughest opponents along the way, including their rivals in the Windy City.
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Week 1 at the Chicago Bears
What better way to form than with knocking off the reigning NFC North champions? The Packers were bested 24-17 when they visited Soldier Field in Week 15 last year, but the rare defeat is perhaps better represented as a blemish on an otherwise-strong last decade in the rivalry.
Aaron Rodgers is 16-5 in his career against the Bears and had helped the Packers win eight straight in Chicago prior to last season’s loss while totaling 5,156 passing yards and 45 touchdowns to just 10 interceptions.
While Rodgers will need to be on his guard against last year’s league-leading defense, the real battle must be won on defense, where the Packers’ offseason upgrades and budding talent stand a chance of making a statement against Chicago third-year quarterback Mitchell Trubisky.
Week 4 vs. the Philadelphia Eagles
Carson Wentz wasn’t on the field when the Eagles won their 2018 Super Bowl title or during either of their playoff games last season. But should the superstar-caliber quarterback return to form, he could be a top-of-the-league passing threat with an arsenal that includes wide receivers DeSean Jackson, Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor as well as star tight end Zach Ertz.
Behind a healthy Wentz also stands the running talents of both Darren Sproles and traded-from-Chicago Jordan Howard, which pose a well-rounded challenge for the Packers defense in prime-time. Regardless of how the defenders handle Chicago, this game could serve as a truer measuring stick to see whether the unit can ascend to the best in the league.
Expect pass rushers such as Rashan Gary, Preston Smith and Za’Darius Smith to be just as instrumental in stopping the Eagles’ formidable run game.
Week 5 at the Dallas Cowboys
The Packers won’t sit in the usual prime-time glow when they visit Dallas this season, but the second road game of the season will challenge as much in its environment as it will in the quarterback opposite Aaron Rodgers.
Ezekiel Elliott or not, Dak Prescott is a mobile quarterback who can step off with as much power as he throws when the situation calls for it with terrific instincts. Just a few of the many reasons why the franchise passer is reportedly asking for a $40 million contract. But the Packers could put a dent in his reputation with a victory at AT&T Stadium just a week after the Cowboys travel to New Orleans.
A speedy secondary could shine brightly if they play their cards right against Prescott on the move, with potential for cornerbacks Jaire Alexander, Kevin King and Josh Jackson as well as safeties Adrian Amos and Darnell Savage to cause him trouble.
Week 8 at the Kansas City Chiefs
OK, OK, enough with the defense. Let’s talk about the quarterbacks.
Rodgers threw for more than 400 yards three times last season, while Mahomes didn’t play a single game in his breakout season for the Chiefs where he wasn’t the leading passer and maxed out at 5,097 passing yards on the season — throwing for at least 300 yards in 10 games. Need more proof at how quickly this one could develop into a shootout?
The good news: Rodgers isn’t coming off his breakout year. He has been a member of the elite quarterback club for many seasons now and, despite the Packers down 2018, seems poised to retain that role. By the middle of the season, he also should have more than just top-target Davante Adams to rely on in his receiving corps.
Week 16 at the Minnesota Vikings
This was a tough final choice, as the Week 9 road matchup with the Los Angeles Chargers could very easily be a must-see contest, but given the Packers settled for a tie and a loss to the Vikings last season, this one has some teeth.
There are few experts out there that project either of these two teams far apart, but their first meeting is far more winnable during Week 2 in the Lambeau Field home opener. What makes the later-season matchup more appealing is the potential playoff implications it could have for both sides, especially for the Packers when sandwiched between a home game against Chicago and a regular-season-ending trek to Detroit.
The Vikings used their first four picks on offense, acquiring a few more weapons for quarterback Kirk Cousins as well as bolstering his protection with two offensive linemen. Early in the season, there may be some kinks to work out with the group, but the new pieces seem likely to have added up to an improvement Minnesota offense by the time Week 16 rolls around.
Will the Packers shine under LaFleur’s first season at the helm? Can they fight their way to the top of the pack and reclaim the NFC North once again? It all begins in 23 days.