Is it possible for a team's season to be defined only two games in?
For the Green Bay Packers, it very well could happen.
Of course, they still will inevitably face adversity and various bumps in the road throughout the rest of the schedule. Every team goes through it.
Given the two opponents the Packers opened the season against, however, they have the rare opportunity to make their mark only one-eighth through their 16-game slate.
When the schedule was released in April, everyone circled Green Bay's first two games as perhaps their toughest stretch of the season: at home against the Seattle Seahawks then on the road against the defending NFC Champion Atlanta Falcons to open their new stadium.
The Packers' track record against the Seahawks was well known, from the Fail Mary in 2012 to the Packers' infamous collapse in the NFC Championship in January 2015. Even though Green Bay did beat Seattle in both the 2015 and 2016 regular seasons, Packers fans are still wary whenever their team plays the Seahawks.
Green Bay was able to beat the Seahawks 17-9 last Sunday at Lambeau Field. They passed their first test. Now, to paraphrase Bill Belichick, it’s "on to Atlanta."
The Falcons ended Green Bay's season in embarrassing fashion with a 44-21 victory in last year's NFC Championship. The Packers famously "ran the table," winning their final six regular season games to make the playoffs before knocking off the New York Giants and the Dallas Cowboys to make their second NFC title game appearance in three years.
When Green Bay got to Atlanta, two things were clear. One, they were out of gas from their eight game winning streak. Second, they ran into a buzz saw that was the Falcons offense and the Packers' weakened secondary was no match for it.
The Packers rarely get blown out, which made the ending to last season sting even more. It wasn't the collapse against the Seahawks, but it still hurts to lose one step away from the Super Bowl, regardless of the final point spread.
That brings us to this weekend's game. The Falcons are opening Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Sunday night in front of a national television audience. The last time the entire country saw the Falcons, Atlanta famously blew a 28-3 lead in Super Bowl LI.
Needless to say, the Falcons will be pumped for this one.
For the second straight season, the Packers open an opponent's stadium the second week of the season (they opened US Bank Stadium against the Minnesota Vikings last year). There's a lot at stake for Green Bay too, despite being only the second game of the season. They can avenge their loss in the NFC Championship as well as serve notice they are the team to beat in the NFC with a win.
Throw in that they would also own the tiebreaker over both the Seahawks and the Falcons and the Packers can set their sights on the number one seed in the conference. Green Bay has not lost a home game against the Seahawks since 1990, and does anyone think the Falcons (a dome team) want to play at Lambeau Field in January?
That's why even though it's hard to call the second game of a season a "must-win" game, this in hindsight could end up being a season-defining game for the Packers. Had the Fail Mary gone the other way in 2012, the Packers would have faced the San Francisco 49ers at home in the playoffs instead of on the road. Would Colin Kaepernick have still run all over Green Bay? It’s possible, but the elements would definitely have had an effect.
Oh, and the "Fail Mary" game was in Week 3. Every game counts, from Week 1 to Week 17.
The Packers can set the pace for their remaining slate against the Falcons. A win could pay dividends in January, just like a loss could come back to haunt them.
There still may be 14 games after this, but this is arguably the biggest non-divisional game the Packers will face all year. They cleared their first hurdle against the Seahawks last week.
Now is the time for the Packers to clear the next one or else risk a potential very tough road game come playoff time.