The Green Bay Packers’ schedule is out, and now that fans have had some time to process it, let’s get to some predictions. The early home stretches seem to set up well for this team, which also could surprise and get a jump on early-season opponents if they keep their offense under wraps in the preseason.
However, the divisional schedule is clustered tightly this year, as the Packers open and close the regular season with big NFC North matchups. Those stretches may and probably will be the difference between whether the Packers sit at home in January, get in as a Wild Card, or climb back to the top of the division. Despite those games being difficult to predict, it’s worth running through the schedule to predict how it sets up for a possible return to the postseason for the Green and Gold.
The Packers travel down the coast of Lake Michigan for week one, opening with the Bears in Chicago to kick off the NFL’s 100th season. Then they come back home for a three-game homestand, featuring three winnable games. The Vikings make it two straight NFC North contests to start the year, then the Packers host the Vic Fangio-led Broncos before welcoming the Eagles to town on Thursday night.
Divisional games are always difficult to predict, and week one is particularly tough given the new coaching staff in Green Bay and a new defensive staff (and personnel) in Chicago. Vic Fangio’s departure for Denver (more on that in a moment) and the loss of a few key defensive backs suggest a regression for the Bears’ defense. Meanwhile, the Vikings and Packers have a fascinating 2-2-2 record in their last six games at Lambeau Field. Both of those games look like toss-ups to me at this point, so a 1-1 record two weeks in seems reasonable.
Fangio and the Broncos come to Green Bay in week three after what will likely be a tough, emotional game against the Bears in week two. However, Denver’s offense behind Joe Flacco will hardly strike fear in Mike Pettine and company. Finally, the fact that the Packers play at home in week three prior to playing another home game on Thursday night in week four is advantageous. Philly will have to travel on a short week, while the Packers have been comfortable at home for two weeks prior. Edge: Green Bay.
A Sunday afternoon visit to AT&T Stadium, where Aaron Rodgers has never lost a game, awaits the Packers in week five. They’ll follow that up with two more home games, against the Lions and Raiders, then head South to play the Chiefs on Sunday Night Football at Arrowhead Stadium.
Interestingly, Rodgers-led teams have not only won every time they have suited up at Jerry World; they have scored at least 30 points each time, with the low mark coming in the team’s 31-25 Super Bowl XLV victory. The last two wins have both been nail-biters: a 34-31 playoff win in January 2017 and a 35-31 victory the following fall. Dallas was a different team at home last year, however, and they look like they should field a strong team once again in 2019.
Both home games look winnable; Detroit’s shutout victory at Lambeau in week 17 last year came with a concussed Rodgers on the sideline and a checked-out Packers team on the field. The Raiders, meanwhile, should still be a little ways away from contending, even despite having three first-round picks.
However, week eight will be one of the biggest tests of the season, particularly for Pettine and the Packers’ defense. Given the Chiefs’ issues on defense last year, this could well be a shootout, with Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes trading points. A Packers upset is hardly impossible, but without seeing the team’s new offense yet, it’s tough to project that as a win.
Prediction: 2-2 (5-3 overall)
After that game in Kansas City, a tough road week awaits as the Packers head to California for their longest road trip of the year. The Chargers look like a complete team, very good on both sides of the football, and that’s a tough draw after that prime time game in KC. However, the Packers then get a home game against Carolina before a late week-11 bye. That gives them plenty of time to rest up and prepare for another West Coast trip, this time to play the 49ers on the Sunday after Thanksgiving.
The Chargers game is a dangerous one, given the travel and the opponent. Following that, however, I see a motivated team coming home to make a statement against Carolina before an off week. With Jimmy Garoppolo and Jerick McKinnon back, San Fran looks to be improved over last year as well, but I like the Packers’ chances against Matt LaFleur’s mentor, Kyle Shanahan.
Prediction: 2-1 (7-4 overall)
Despite five games in December, three of them come on the road to help minimize the Packers’ home-field advantage in the cold weather. Furthermore, one is against the Bears, another cold-weather team that appears built for that time of year.
First, however, the Packers will fly all the way back across the country after facing the 49ers, as they open up December in New Jersey against the Giants. Will New York have a new quarterback by then? We’ll have a better idea next week in the draft, but I suspect that this Giants team is still going to struggle in 2019.
An Alex Smith-less Washington team comes to Lambeau in week 14, followed by the Bears rematch in Green Bay the following week. The Packers then close it out with road dates at Minnesota and Detroit.
Prediction: 3-2 (10-6 overall)
I wish I felt good enough about the Packers in the division to say they sweep the divisional stretch at the end of the year, but I have a feeling that there’s a slight letdown coming late. I actually feel better about Green Bay’s chances of beating the Bears in week one at Soldier Field than I do about that week 15 game, largely because Chicago will have a tougher time preparing for a LaFleur-Rodgers offense when there’s no tape available. After 13 games, there should be more to work with and Chicago should be better-prepared. Meanwhile, the Packers have yet to win at U.S. Bank Stadium, so I’m not confident in projecting a win there. I will give Green Bay a win in week 17, however, and they’ll need it to clinch a postseason berth.
All told, a 10-6 record would almost certainly be enough to get the Packers into the playoffs, but whether that’s enough for a division title should depend on the Bears and Vikings.
Our Jason B. Hirschhorn discussed this just after the release of the schedule, but it bears mentioning again: getting five of the first seven games at home — and going no more than 200 miles away in the first month — sets up well for a strong start. However, the very beginning and end of the schedule will be critical to determining whether this Packers team can make a run at an NFC North title.
The Packers open up with back-to-back division games in 2019, starting with the Bears on the road and then coming home to play the Vikings. They then close the season with back-to-back-to-back division games in the final three weeks of the season. Those periods will likely be a major determining factor in the divisional race, particularly that final stretch at the end of the year. Getting wins in the division early on can help ease the pressure on the team late in the season, but regardless of the rest of the team’s results, the Packers will almost certainly need to win two of their final three games to have a shot at t division title.