Earlier this morning, we broke down the Green Bay Packers' opponents for the 2016 season as we await the release of the NFL's 2016 schedule. While trying to predict the entire schedule is an exercise in futility, we can get some ideas as to who the Packers might play to open the season, in the final regular season game, and in prime time.
Here are a few thoughts we have about how the schedule might - or should - play out.
The Packers have a couple of intriguing possible matchups for week one. They host the Seattle Seahawks this year, and the recent history between the two franchises would make for some good opening-week drama. The NFL could also choose to schedule a playoff rematch between Green Bay and Washington at FedEx Field, the site of the Wild-Card game between those two teams in January, or hearken back to the 2014 playoffs with either Seattle or the Packers hosting Dallas in a rematch of that year's Divisional round game.
However, our belief is that the best and most likely scenario is that the Packers open the season on the road in Minnesota. The Vikings will be christening a new stadium this fall, and who better to schedule as the opponent for the first game than their most hated rivals? It also would come on the heels of the Vikings' victory at Lambeau Field in week 17 last year, which earned them the NFC North title. Of course, they ended their season a week earlier than the Packers did, but that would make for an interesting storyline as well.
Speaking of Week 17, there's really only one realistic opponent who the Packers could end the season against in 2016: the Chicago Bears. Since the NFL started scheduling exclusively divisional games in week 17 a few years back, the Packers' final regular season opponent has rotated each year in the order of Bears, Lions, and Vikings. The Packers won the division in 2013 on Aaron Rodgers' last-minute bomb to Randall Cobb at Soldier Field, then beat the Lions at home in 2014 before last year's loss to Minnesota.
This rotation would The Bears are obviously next up, and considering the fact that the last time the two teams played in week 17 it was in Chicago, we're betting that the final game is in Lambeau this season. (We're also guessing that the game will not decide the NFC North, and therefore will not end up being the Sunday Night game.)
Prime Time Games
This is where predictions start to be a little more unsure, especially given the NFL's flexible scheduling in the second half of the season. However, there are a couple of matchups that are likely to be scheduled as night games at some point. Note also that every NFL team is going to play at least one Thursday game following a Sunday game, so that will need to be factored in as well.
One obvious prime-time matchup would be Packers-Seahawks. That game was played on Sunday Night Football in week two last year, and for the reasons discussed earlier, it seems an easy choice to get that kind of attention again. Either Packers-Vikings game could also be in the mix, since both teams earned playoff berths a year ago, and the idea of not only opening the season with Packers-Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium, but also putting it on Sunday Night is awfully tantalizing.
Any of the games against NFC East teams could draw a lot of eyeballs as well, given past playoff games and large fanbases for all four teams. Don't be surprised if Packers-Giants or Packers-Cowboys gets a Monday Night time slot, nor a repeat of Washington-Green Bay at some point.
With the Packers playing the AFC South as well, the Texans and Colts pop out as Prime-Time fodder. The Texans in particular could draw some interest, with it being Pewaukee native and former Wisconsin Badger J.J. Watt playing his first game at Lambeau Field. The league could also play up the "elite quarterback" angle with Colts-Packers matching up Andrew Luck and Aaron Rodgers.
And then there's the Thursday ugliness. The Packers played the Lions on a Thursday night last year (remember that Hail Mary?), so it seems unlikely that they would get the "honors" of doing so again - unless they play in Detroit on Thanksgiving Day. We're betting that won't be the case, though, and instead the Packers-Bears game at Soldier Field gets played on a Thursday night sometime in the first half of the season.
With all that said, here is my official prediction for Prime Time games:
- Packers @ Vikings (SNF, week 1)
- Texans @ Packers (MNF)
- Seahawks @ Packers (SNF)
- Packers @ Bears (TNF)
What are your picks for the Packers' first, last, and prime time games?