The NFL released the full 2014 schedule on Wednesday night, blazing a 16-game path for the Green Bay Packers and their quest of a fourth straight NFC North title.
Here are some quick takeaways from Green Bay's 2014 schedule:
1. Potentially Brutal Start
The Packers play three of their first four games away from Lambeau Field, with trips to Seattle on opening night, Detroit in Week 3 and Chicago in Week 4. A Thursday night home game against the Vikings looms just four days after the Packers return from the Windy City. A 2-3 start over the first five games—not unthinkable given Green Bay started 2-3 in 2012—is very much a possibility. In fact, the Packers have started slow in each of the last two seasons (4-4 in September since 2012). Beating the Seahawks in Seattle is maybe the toughest assigment in football and both the Lions and Bears are plenty good enough to defend their home turf.
2. Home Cookin' After the Bye
Four of the five games after Green Bay's Week 10 bye will be played at home. The lone road game is a trip to Minnesota, a short flight away and where the Packers have fared well in recent years. The four home games aren't easy—the Patriots and Eagles went to the postseason in 2013, and the Bears and Falcons are both playoff caliber when healthy—but the Packers are 37-10 in Green Bay with Aaron Rodgers under center. This team will have a chance to make a real statement coming out of the bye, with the push toward the playoffs coming over a five-game stretch from November 9 to December 8.
3. In Prime Time
The Packers are a national product with a strong following and plenty of wins in recent years, so it's not hard to believe the schedule makers gave Green Bay five primetime games. The Packers will play twice on Thursday night (at Seattle, Minnesota) and Sunday night (New Orleans, Chicago) and once on Monday night (Atlanta). It's certainly possible games against Carolina, New England or Detroit in the season finale could get flexed to primetime spots. That said, the Packers were flexed out of two primetime games last season, so the five total is subject to change. Games against New Orleans and Chicago should stick, however. Prepare to watch the Packers under the bright lights.
4. Divisionally Light to Close, Again
The Packers close with the Lions at home, but all teams are scheduled to finish with a division opponent. For the second straight year, Green Bay will play just one divisional rival over the final month of the season. In 2013, the Packers faced Atlanta, Dallas and Pittsburgh before closing in Chicago. This year, Green Bay has Atlanta, Buffalo and Tampa Bay before welcoming Detroit to Lambeau Field. It's probably nothing more than an odd scheduling quirk. Two years ago, the Packers played four division games in the month of December alone. This year, they'll face a string of three-straight games against the division from September into October. Winning the division games is always the easiest step to making the postseason.
5. Quarterback Matchups
A healthy Aaron Rodgers should mean some tasty quarterback matchups in 2014. The Packers will play Russell Wilson, Matthew Stafford (x2), Jay Cutler (x2), Cam Newton, Drew Brees, Nick Foles, Tom Brady and Matt Ryan. There are two Super Bowl MVPs, the reigning champion and a few of the game's bright young stars in that group, and both division rival quarterbacks have scary supporting casts. The trip to New Orleans and the first meeting between Rodgers and Brady are especially attractive. Champions have to find a way to beat the best quarterbacks, and the Packers will be tested plenty by strong signal callers in the regular season.
Way Too Early Prediction: 11-5 (Link to full predictions here; for extra fun, check out the comments section)
Zach Kruse is a 25-year-old sports writer who contributes to Cheesehead TV and is the Lead Writer for the NFC North at Bleacher Report. You can reach him on Twitter @zachkruse2 or by email at [email protected].
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