Here's my initial breakdown of how I see the Packers' regular season schedule going down.
I'm projecting an 11-5 season for the Green and Gold, obviously a 5-win improvement over last season. 11 wins should be enough to win the NFC North, and would be a lock for at least a Wild Card spot (barring a crazy situation like that in the AFC last year).Week 1: vs. Chicago (W, 1-0)
Lovie Smith made it his mission to beat the Pack when he was hired as the Bears' head coach, and he has done well, going 7-3 in his five-year career. My money is on Green Bay in this game, as the Bears' defense is not the dominant unit it once was, and a lack of receiving options will hinder Jay Cutler's regular-season debut. This will be the first test of the new 3-4 defense, as Matt Forte is one of the better young playmaking RBs in the league.
Week 2: vs. Cincinnati (W, 2-0)
If the Packers lose this game, I'll eat my hat. I expect Carson Palmer to put up good numbers this season, but mainly because the Bungles will be behind early and often. Their defense has more holes than a block of Wisconsin Swiss, and the running game is still suspect with Cedric Benson as the starter. There are still receiving options for Palmer despite the departure of leading receiver T.J. Hoosyourmama, err, T.J. Houshmadilli...um, that guy. Chad Ochocinco (we can call him that now) and Chris "Pull Me Over" Henry will still be legitimate threats, but they won't be enough against Al Harris and Chuck Woodson. Packers win by 10.
Week 3: @ St. Louis (W 3-0)
Steven Jackson is the only player for the Rams who worries me in the slightest, although it could be mildly interesting to see former Packer Samkon Gado on the field. The Rams first year under Steve Spagnuolo will be a rough one. The biggest scare here is that this is a trap game, with the upcoming matchup in week 4 looming.
Week 4: @ Minnesota (L 3-1)
I just have a terrible feeling about this game. The Vikings running game will outplay the Pack's, and Rodgers will have a far better game than He who Shall Not Be Named. The defense will win this game for either side, but I am not looking forward to watching Adrian Peterson on the Humpty-dome turf. I see Ryan Longwell kicking a last-second field goal for a tough Vikings win.
Week 6: vs. Detroit (W 4-1)
After the bye, the Packers defense will rebound with a solid performance against Kevin Smith and the Lions' running game. The Lions won't be able to contain Ryan Grant, who will have his best game of the season in a Packers rout.
Week 7: @ Cleveland (W 5-1)
It's another trap game for the Pack. But we saw what the 3-4 defense did in its debut two weeks ago against this Browns offense. I don't see a shutout in the works, but a convincing Packers win should be in the cards.
Week 8: vs. Minnesota (W 6-1)
I don't see any way either team sweeps the season series. The defense willl be better able to handle Peterson on the grass at Lambeau, and the Packers' receiving corps will provide the big plays to carry the day.
Week 9: @ Tampa Bay (L 6-2)
This is a letdown game if I've ever seen one. After a big, emotional win over a division rival (and a former hero), I see the Packers coming out flat after a long flight to Tampa. (On an unrelated note, Raymond James Stadium is a cool place to see a football game. Some of you may have seen me on TV during the Outback Bowl on New Year's Day 2008.)
Week 10: vs. Dallas (L 6-3)
I don't like this game. Tony Romo will undoubtedly be pumped up to play in his home state at Lambeau, and Jason Witten is still a monster. If the secondary can take advantage of Romo's energy level and pick off a few passes, the Packers win this game. I'm just not comfortable predicting that it will happen.
Week 11: vs. San Francisco (W 7-3)
Aaron Rodgers will light up the Niners' secondary in this game. The most intriguing aspect of this game for me comes if former Badger FB Bill Rentmeester makes the Niners' roster and returns to Wisconsin in the game that the UW Band is scheduled to attend.
Week 12: @ Detroit (W 8-3)
When was the last time the Lions won a game on Thanksgiving? 2003, against the Packers. That will still be the case after this year.
Week 13: vs. Baltimore (W 9-3)
I'm flipping back and forth on this game. Bad weather probably favors the Ravens, as their run defense is more solid than their secondary (there was some discussion about whether Haloti Ngata would have been a better draft pick than A.J. Hawk here). I think Aaron Rodgers can make some big plays against the Ravens' D as long as the pass protection is solid. Packers by a nose.
Week 14: @ Chicago (L 9-4)
Once again, the Bears will play their best against the Green and Gold. Much like the Vikings matchups, I don't see one team winning both games this season.
Week 15: @ Pittsburgh (L 9-5)
The Steelers are seen as the team to beat in the NFL, and rightfully so. It should be interesting to see how the Steelers are faring at this point in the season. I unfortunately think their defense will probably be the ones to show the Packers' front seven how a 3-4 is supposed to be played. Steelers win by a touchdown.
Week 16: vs. Seattle (W 10-5)
Seattle's linebackers are excellent. But that's the only position on the team that you can say that for. The aforementioned T.J. Houshmandzadeh may bring a consistent presence to the passing attack, but it's still the bald one throwing the ball. Seattle isn't a .500 team this year, and they won't beat the Packers in Lambeau.
Week 17: @ Arizona (W 11-5)
For now I'm penciling this in as a Packers win, but I'll be curious to see how the first-teamers look against each other tonight. Whichever pass defense plays better will win this game, and I feel good about Harris and Woodson at least keeping Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin to reasonable games.
Let me know what you think of my analysis.