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Mike Vandermause column: Few gimmes among Packers' 2013 opponents

Apr. 18, 2013
 
Super Bowl XLVII - Baltimore Ravens v San Francisc
The Packers will see Joe Flacco and the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens in an Oct. 13 road game. / Getty Images
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If the Green Bay Packers want to earn a fifth consecutive playoff berth and third straight division title, they will have to earn it, because their 2013 schedule is brutal.

This is no time or place for the timid. The Packers’ schedule was announced Thursday, and here are a few of the challenges that await them this season:

■ They must play reigning Super Bowl qualifiers Baltimore and San Francisco on the road during the first five weeks of the season.

■ Only four of their games feature opponents that posted losing records last season.

■ The combined 2012 record of their opponents is 136-119-1, a .533 winning percentage that ranks sixth-toughest in the NFL.

■ Division rival Detroit is the only road opponent on the schedule that had a losing mark in 2012.

Don’t expect the Packers to complain about their plight. They live by the maxim, “If you want to be the best, you have to beat the best.”

They will get that chance from the get-go with a season-opening matchup at reigning NFC champion San Francisco, which lost just once at home in 2012 and pummeled the Packers 45-31 in the playoffs.

A month later, the Packers will be severely tested again with an Oct. 13 date at the Super Bowl champion Ravens, who lost only twice at home last season.

If that wasn’t enough for the battle-tested Packers, on Dec. 8 they will host Atlanta, the NFC’s No. 1 seed last year with a league-best 13-3 record.

All told, seven of the Packers’ games are against 2012 playoff qualifiers. Another four games feature opponents that barely missed the postseason — the New York Giants, Pittsburgh and a home-and-home series against Chicago.

The only gimmes on the schedule might be home games against Cleveland (5-11) and Detroit (4-12), which hasn’t won on Wisconsin soil since 1991.

Packers coach Mike McCarthy loves to break down the schedule in quarters, which means he might lose some sleep in September when the Packers open the season with consecutive games against three playoff teams — at San Francisco, Washington and at Cincinnati.

But the final month of the season will be no picnic either, according to McCarthy. That stretch includes the Atlanta matchup in addition to games at Dallas, vs. Pittsburgh and at Chicago.

“I think we have a really tough finish on paper with the teams we’re playing down the stretch,” McCarthy said.

The schedule maker was kind to the Packers by not burdening them with back-to-back road games the entire season.

Another perk is that factoring in the Thanksgiving game at Detroit, the Packers received the equivalent of two nicely spaced bye weeks — one in late September and another in early December.

The good news for the Packers is it might take only 10 wins to get invited to the playoffs. And once there, anything can happen. Four of the last six Super Bowl champions, including the Packers in 2010, posted a 10-6 regular-season record or worse.

The bad news for the Packers is in the highly competitive NFC, 10 wins might not be good enough. Three NFC teams with 10-6 records didn’t make the playoffs since 2010.

The Packers are the only NFC team to qualify for the playoffs in each of the past four years, but they will be the first to admit it’s never easy. Their schedule this season is proof of that.

mvandermause@pressgazettemedia.com and follow him on Twitter @MikeVandermause.

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