The 2013 NFL schedule is out and this year’s slate of games is probably the most unique and potentially challenging the Packers have seen in a long time.
The schedule is unique for its lack of any long road trips or homestands. The Packers only have consecutive games at home once – in Week 9 (Chicago) and Week 10 (Philadelphia) – and they have no consecutive road games. Green Bay also has the earliest bye week (Week 4) that they have had in the past 20 years (Week 3 in 1993). And, with seven games against playoff teams from last year and a Thanksgiving Day trip to Detroit on the docket, the challenges for this year’s Packer team will come early and often.
Head coach Mike McCarthy likes to look at the schedule in quarters, and the first quarter of the schedule for the Packers is incredibly challenging. Green Bay opens the season where its previous season ended, on the turf of Candlestick Park against the 49ers.
The Packers follow that with a home game against Washington and a trip to Cincinnati in Week 3, while will make it three consecutive games against playoff teams from last year to open the season. They then get a respite with a bye in Week 4, before finishing the first quarter of the season at home game against an improving Detroit team.
As much as McCarthy may want to get out to a hot start, the challenges of the opening quarter of the schedule are going to make that difficult. A 3-1 start is probably be the best that could be hoped for, with a 2-2 start more likely.
The second quarter is only slightly less challenging than the first, starting with a trip to face the defending world champion Baltimore Ravens. The Packers then return home to face the Cleveland Browns before heading back out on the road to face former Packer Greg Jennings and the rival Minnesota Vikings on Sunday Night Football.
The second quarter closes with the Packers’ lone appearance on Monday Night Football this season, a date at home against the arch-rival Chicago Bears. A 3-1 record through the second quarter should be achievable leaving Green Bay at 5-3 halfway through the season. That’s not bad considering that over the first eight weeks they play five games against last year’s playoff teams, and four of those are on the road.
To open the third quarter of the season, the Eagles and Chip Kelly pay a visit to Lambeau Field in the second game of the Packers’ only homestand. That game is followed by the Pack’s second appearance on Sunday Night Football (as well as their second consecutive NFC East opponent) as they travel to MetLife Stadium to face the New York Giants.
The final two games of the third quarter are against division rivals with Jennings returning to Lambeau for the first time as a Viking, followed by a short turnaround for Green Bay’s Thanksgiving Day game at the Lions. The third quarter is likely to yield another 3-1 stretch, putting the Packers at 8-4 coming into the final quarter of the season.
The Packers close the season with four winnable games, leading off with their final Sunday Night game, a home clash with the Atlanta Falcons. Next up is a trip to Dallas to face the Cowboys, then they head back home for the final home game of the season against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Green Bay then closes the regular season with a trip down US Highway 41 to put the Bears into hibernation.
The Packers are fortunate that the two most difficult games of this closing leg of the season are at home. Bringing the Falcons out of the Georgia Dome and outside in December is a huge advantage for that game, and while the conditions won’t work in their favor as much against Pittsburgh, the home crowd will. Dallas and Chicago are both good teams, but considering Tony Romo’s 6-6 career record in December and McCarthy’s record as coach in Chicago, there is reason to be confident the Packers can close the season on a 4-0 roll and head into the playoffs with momentum.
So that projection leaves the Packers at 12-4 and likely with another NFC North championship in the trophy case and at least one home playoff game. The last several Super Bowls have not been won by the best team, but by the team that was the hottest headed into the playoffs. That means having momentum at the end of the season will be huge for the Packers. At this point, anything short of a 14th world championship will be a disappointment for the Packers and their fans.