The first seven games of the 2015 season are no cakewalk for the Green Bay Packers, but they’re mostly at home.
From Sept. 13 to Oct. 18, the Packers will play four of their six games at Lambeau Field. One of their road games is in Chicago for the opener, so the Packers’ only lengthy road trip will be Oct. 4 at San Francisco.
That’ll change when the calendar flips to November. The Packers will return from their late-October bye week to travel to the Denver Broncos on Nov. 1, a game that will be broadcast as Sunday Night Football on NBC. There’s a good reason the game got a primetime slot. It’ll showcase Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers against Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning.
Starting with Denver, the Packers will play three of their next four games on the road. It could be a critical stretch for a team that figures to start the season well in their home stadium. Here’s what to expect from the Broncos.
Three things to know about the Broncos
» The MVPs: Between them, Rodgers and Manning have won five of the past seven MVPs. They are two of the dominant players in the league, but they’ve only met on the field once. That was in 2008, Rodgers’ first year as a starter. The Packers beat Manning’s Colts 34-14 at Lambeau Field in what was one of the biggest wins of Rodgers’ young career. With Manning possibly in the final year of his illustrious career, the sequel promises to be worth the wait.
» Super Bowl or bust: After winning two playoff games in his eight seasons with the Houston Texans, new Broncos coach Gary Kubiak faces an uphill climb. Kubiak just replaced John Fox, who won four straight AFC West titles and led the Broncos to Super Bowl XLVII. For Fox, no Super Bowl ring meant a permanent hot seat before being fired. That’ll be the expectation for Kubiak so long as Manning is under center. If the Broncos underachieve — if Kubiak doesn’t win three games in a single postseason, for example — things could get bad in a hurry.
» Ray of sunshine: Need proof the Broncos are in full-fledged “win now” mode? Look no further than the draft. After he fell to the late first round, the Broncos selected Missouri defensive end Shane Ray with the 23rd overall pick. Ray was expected to be a top 10 — if not top 5 — overall selection, but he dropped after being cited with marijuana three days before the draft. It’s the kind of gamble a team takes when they feel confident about their locker room culture, but also when they’re desperate to find whatever edge will put them over the top. The Broncos hope Ray will do that.
Packers schedule glimpse
Week before: bye week, Oct. 25
Next week: at Carolina, Nov. 8
On the horizon: Detroit, Nov. 15
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Coach: Gary Kubiak (first season)
2014 record: 12-4, 1st AFC West
Scoring offense: 30.1 points per game (2nd in NFL)
Total offense: 402.9 yards per game (4th)
Scoring defense: 22.1 points allowed per game (T-16th)
Total defense: 305.2 yards allowed per game (3rd)
Series: Packers are tied 6-6-1 (0-1 postseason)
Last meeting: The Packers have won three straight games against the team that beat them in Super Bowl XXXII, the last coming Oct. 2, 2011. The Packers beat the Broncos 49-23 at Lambeau Field in a game that kick-started quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ first MVP campaign. Rodgers completed 29-of-38 passes for what was then a career-high 408 yards, four touchdowns, and two additional rushing touchdowns.