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Packers’ 2020 season should hinge on 4-game stretch from weeks 6 to 9

The Packers’ return engagement in San Francisco closes out a critical four-game stretch for the team that should determine if the postseason is in their future once again. If they can emerge at .500 after that stretch, it’s full speed ahead to the playoffs.

NFL: JAN 19 NFC Championship - Packers at 49ers Photo by Kiyoshi Mio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

One look at the Green Bay Packers’ schedule for 2020 shows a slate of games that is front-loaded with challenging competition. The Packers play a first-place schedule of games thanks to their division title in 2019, but that really only dictates two matchups on the schedule. Instead, it is the grouping of the games and the order that they will be played that will provide some narratives for the team’s season.

The second four-game quarter of the schedule is clearly the toughest and will probably be the defining sequence of the Packers’ 2020 campaign. That stretch features the Packers’ only back-to-back road games all year and will see them face three playoff teams from a year ago plus one of the hottest picks for the most improved team in the league.

As always in 2020, an important caveat applies: all of this analysis assumes that the NFL season starts on time and with fans in the seats. Obviously, this is hardly a sure thing at this point, and any adjustments to the schedule or games without fans will affect the environments and challenges of both road and home games.

Without further ado, here’s how the 2020 schedule breaks down.

Quarter 1

Week 1: @ Vikings
Week 2: vs. Lions
Week 3: @ Saints (SNF)
Week 4: vs. Falcons (MNF)

If all goes well, the Packers will get the season started off right, with a divisional game at U.S. Bank Stadium against the Vikings. This should be a top matchup for FOX in week one, as it’s the only early game putting a pair of 2019 playoff teams. The Packers’ drubbing of the Vikings last year in week 16 will surely be a topic of discussion heading into this one. Week two is another divisional tilt, with the Lions looking to demonstrate that they are significantly improved after this offseason. Then the Packers have a pair of games against NFC South teams, traveling to play the Saints on Sunday night before coming home to host the Falcons on Monday Night Football.

The first quarter features two road games against playoff teams from a year ago. Those will be intense, difficult matchups, and should make for a tough first month. The Packers get their bye week early, in week five, which is probably a good thing given that they follow it with their only back-to-back road games in 2020 and a brutal four-week stretch to close the first half. Getting out of the first quarter at 2-2 would be acceptable; anything over .500 will be a great start.

Quarter 2

Week 6: @ Buccaneers
Week 7: @ Texans
Week 8: vs. Vikings
Week 9: @ 49ers (TNF)

This is where things really get dicey. Coming out of the bye, the Packers face a vastly improved Buccaneers team that now features Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski. Green Bay’s bye advantage will be mitigated a bit as well, with the Bucs coming off a Thursday night game in Chicago the week before. Following that up are contests at the Texans, the AFC South champions from a year ago, and the home game against the Vikings before the Packers take a long trip across the country to play in San Francisco on Thursday night.

Again, that’s three playoff teams plus the Brady-led Buccaneers in this stretch, with three of those games coming on the road and a Thursday night game against the defending NFC champs who drubbed the Packers in both meetings a year ago. If the Packers manage to come out of the first half of the season above .500, that should be a tremendous accomplishment. Even a 4-4 record after week nine would set them up well, given the second-half schedule.

Quarter 3

Week 10: vs. Jaguars
Week 11: @ Colts
Week 12: vs. Bears (SNF)
Week 13: vs. Eagles

Finally, as the second half begins the Packers’ slate appears to lighten up a bit. Facing the 6-10 Jaguars at home with extra rest should get this stretch off to a good start. The Colts game should be intriguing, especially with Philip Rivers on board. By the time the first Bears-Packers game of the year rolls around, fans will already have their Thanksgiving leftovers on the table and should know both what kind of team the 2020 Bears are — surely driven in large part by whether Nick Foles or Mitchell Trubisky is under center. Philadelphia then returns to Lambeau to close out quarter three after their win in Green Bay early in the 2019 season.

Last year’s records and three of these four games coming at Lambeau suggest that the Packers should be in good shape for this stretch. The Eagles won the NFC East last year, but with just a 9-7 record; still, they loaded up on speed in the 2020 Draft, grabbing Jalen Reagor and John Hightower to help Carson Wentz. 3-1 in this stretch looks achievable, however.

Quarter 4

Week 14: @ Lions
Week 15: vs. Panthers (Saturday or Sunday)
Week 16: vs. Titans (SNF)
Week 17: @ Bears

The Packers close the season with a pair of road divisional games in December, finishing the season against the Bears for the first time since a thrilling 2013 victory gave Green Bay the division title. Before that it’s a game in Ford Field — their only indoor or warm-weather game after Thanksgiving — and contests against a Teddy Bridgewater-led Panthers team (which Football Outsiders currently project as the worst team in the NFL in 2020) and the run-heavy Titans.

That week 16 game should be fascinating if both teams are still in contention, as fans will get to see Matt LaFleur’s new offense opposite another run-heavy team with a big, powerful running back. It’s games like that where LaFleur surely will want to match physicality with physicality, particularly in Green Bay shortly after Christmas.

All four of these games project as winnable, however, potentially giving the Packers a strong close to the season.

Given this schedule, it is well within the realm of possibility that the Packers start out the season 3-5 in the first half before running off a 7-1 stretch to get to ten wins and a playoff berth or even a division title. This writer will be content with a 4-4 record after week nine or thrilled with anything over .500, knowing that sportsbooks currently favor the Packers in six out of eight games in the second half — the other two finding them as 1.5-point underdogs in Indianapolis and in a pick ’em with the Bears in week 17.

The real inflection point of this season will be that second four-game stretch. If the Packers can overachieve from Mid-October through early November, that should put them in a tremendous position to earn one of the NFC’s top seeds, and perhaps even the NFC’s sole playoff bye. If they can emerge from that stretch with a 4-4 record, an NFC North title should still be well within their grasp.

As many have suggested, the Packers could be a better team in 2020 than in 2019 despite a worse record. Hopefully they have a chance to prove that sentiment right in the fall.