Way-too-early 2017 Packers predictions

Ryan Wood
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The Green Bay Packers offense huddles up at the start of a drive during their 55-14 victory over the Chicago Bears at Lambeau Field.

GREEN BAY - A year ago, initial reactions after the Green Bay Packers' 2016 schedule was released centered on two thoughts.

It was a schedule filled with favorable opponents. And it was a brutal layout.

You remember the two straight road trips to start the season. And the Week 4 bye. And the three straight road trips in November. The price for having the NFL’s weakest strength of schedule was perhaps the league’s worst of everything else.

This season should be the exact opposite. Coach Mike McCarthy no doubt appreciates the Packers' bye coming at Halloween, the season’s eighth week. The Packers open at home for the first time since 2012. There are no three-game road trips.

It’s a favorable layout.

But, boy, those are some brutal opponents.

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The Packers play perhaps their three staunchest rivals for the NFC title in the season’s opening five weeks: the Seattle Seahawks, Atlanta Falcons and Dallas Cowboys. An October trip to Minnesota will be no cakewalk, either. Early home games against Andy Dalton and Drew Brees will test the Packers' secondary.

All things considered, the Packers will be doing well to start their season 3-3.

It’s silly to make predictions before the draft, but this is April. By definition, it’s the silly season. Here’s a way-too-early look at what the 2017 season could hold for the Packers.

Week 1: Packers vs. Seahawks, 3:25 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 10, Fox

Memories of the 2014 NFC championship game will take a long time to fade, and probably because of that, Packers fans wince whenever they see the Seahawks on the schedule. But this is a lesser Seattle team than the group that went to consecutive Super Bowls, if also still a contender. It won’t be 38-10 like the last time these teams met at Lambeau Field in December, but the Packers should win.

Schedule quirk: Not only will the Packers see Eddie Lacy immediately, but tight end Martellus Bennett also will face his brother, Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett.

Prediction: Win. Record: 1-0

Week 2: Packers at Falcons, 7:30 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 17, NBC

It’s fitting the Packers played the final game ever at the Georgia Dome, and now open Mercedes-Benz Stadium. There won’t be a Super Bowl on the line, but the Packers get a chance to avenge their NFC championship game loss by ruining the christening of the Falcons' new, $1.5 billion venue. This is a game the Packers can win, but shouldn’t. To see the difficulty of winning a prime-time game inside a new stadium, look no further than Week 2 of last season when the Packers traveled to the Minnesota Vikings in the same situation, and lost 17-14 inside a loud and hostile U.S. Bank Stadium.

Schedule quirk: It’ll be the Packers' third trip to Atlanta in less than a year, including a one-point loss to the Falcons last October, a game that prevented the NFC championship game from being at Lambeau Field.

Prediction: Loss. Record: 1-1

Week 3: Packers vs. Bengals, 3:25 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 24, CBS

It has been four years since the Packers squandered a 30-14 lead midway through the third quarter into a 34-30 road loss in Cincinnati. This will be a big, early-season game for the Bengals, their first road trip of 2017. After five straight playoff appearances — the longest consecutive streak in franchise history — the Bengals finished 6-9-1 last season. It’s a sign of a team o the decline, and a game the Packers should win.

Schedule quirk: A rare Sunday afternoon game on CBS for an NFC team.

Prediction: Win. Record: 2-1

Week 4: Packers vs. Bears, 7:25 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 28, CBS/NFL Network

September games between these two rivals — once a rarity — have become more common in recent years. The Packers traveled to Chicago in the first month of the 2014 and 2015 seasons, including the opener two years ago. Now it’s the Bears turn to enjoy a softer, early-fall climate in northeast Wisconsin. This should be the easiest game of the Packers' early season.

Schedule quirk: The NFL must like Packers' games against the Bears at Lambeau Field. For the third straight year, the league picked the matchup for a Thursday night showcase.

Prediction: Win. Record: 3-1

Week 5: Packers at Cowboys, 3:25 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 8, Fox

The Packers certainly will appreciate their mini-bye weekend before traveling to Dallas, giving them a few more days to rest and prepare for an opponent that will be seeking revenge. As if facing Ezekiel Elliott and that offensive line wasn’t tough enough, the Cowboys certainly haven’t forgotten their upset loss in last season’s NFC divisional-round playoff game. Hard to see the Packers being the more motivated team.

Schedule quirk: The Packers were due for another trip to Dallas. Before their playoff game in January, the Packers had hosted the Cowboys three straight games at Lambeau Field, and six times in a seven-game span since 2008.

Prediction: Loss. Record: 3-2

Week 6: Packers at Vikings, noon Sunday, Oct. 15, Fox

Over the course of a season, it’s hard to identify one game being any more important than another. But the Packers' mid-October trip to Minnesota has the potential to be the season’s pivotal game. A win could set up momentum entering the Packers' bye, in addition to paying dividends later. If the Packers want a shot at earning a first-round playoff bye, this might be a game they need to win.

Schedule quirk: If coach Mike McCarthy has one legitimate complaint about how his team’s schedule lays out, it’s probably that the Packers' first noon kickoff won’t come until Week 6. In this case, a noon kickoff inside U.S. Bank Stadium will be much preferable to a prime-time road game.

Prediction: Win. Record: 4-2

Week 7: Packers vs. Saints, noon Sunday, Oct. 22, Fox

By the time Drew Brees comes to town, the Packers should have a good grasp of whether their secondary has improved since last year. In the season’s early weeks, the Packers will be tested against Falcons receiver Julio Jones, Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant and Vikings receiver Stefon Diggs, not to mention quarterbacks Russell Wilson of the Seahawks and Andy Dalton of the Bengals. The Packers will need their secondary to be better in general, but especially against the Saints. A Brees aerial assault is the Saints’ best chance to steal a game at Lambeau Field. In a potential quarterback shootout, the edge goes to the home team.

Schedule quirk: A year prior to this point, the Packers were entering a game at Atlanta with Clay Matthews, Damarious Randall, Quinten Rollins, Randall Cobb, Ty Montgomery and Jared Cook all dealing with injuries that would keep them inactive. This season, they’ll be entering their bye.

Prediction: Win. Record: 5-2

Week 8: Bye

Week 9: Packers vs. Lions, 7:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 6, ESPN

The Packers prevented the Lions from achieving a winning streak inside the state of Wisconsin early last season, winning 34-27 at Lambeau Field in a game that really wasn’t that close. They should resume their own winning streak this season.

Schedule quirk: A Monday night game out of the bye will give the Packers 15 days between games, a nice midseason bonus.

Prediction: Win. Record: 6-2

Week 10: Packers at Bears, noon Sunday, Nov. 12, Fox

Things could get messy for coach John Fox if the Bears once again get swept against their division rival this season. This will be an important game for the Bears, no matter their record. And potentially a trap game if the Packers are sitting fat on a four-game win streak. But the Packers are clearly the better team and should win.

Schedule quirk: In almost one calendar month from Oct. 22 to Nov. 19, this will be the Packers' only game away from Lambeau Field — and it’s not exactly a West Coast trip.

Prediction: Win. Record: 7-2

Week 11: Packers vs. Ravens, noon Sunday, Nov. 19, CBS

It’s hard to know what kind of Ravens team the Packers will host before Thanksgiving. They certainly have playoff-caliber talent, but it hasn’t come to fruition the past two seasons with a 5-11 finish in 2015 and 8-8 record last year. Even if the Ravens are slightly better than 2016, it’s a stretch to see them beating what could be a hot Packers team inside Lambeau Field.

Schedule quirk: Here’s the second Sunday afternoon game on CBS.

Prediction: Win. Record: 8-2

Week 12: Packers at Steelers, 7:30 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 26, NBC

In a season with plenty of opponents that will test the Packers' defense, this could be the toughest. If healthy, the Steelers' vertical passing game with Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and company will give the Packers a long night. Not that the Steelers will get many stops themselves. Applying the logic from Week 7, the edge goes to the home team in a shootout.

Schedule quirk: It will be the Packers first regular-season trip to Pittsburgh since they beat the Steelers in Super Bowl XLV, but not their first time in that city since that title game. They last played at Heinz Field in the second week of the 2015 preseason, a game remembered for Jordy Nelson tearing his ACL.

Prediction: Loss. Record: 8-3

Week 13: Packers vs. Buccaneers, noon Sunday, Dec. 3, Fox

This could be the season Tampa Bay breaks through in the NFC playoff picture. Behind quarterback Jameis Winston, the Buccaneers slowly have gotten better since bottoming out at 2-14 in 2014. At 9-7, they were one game behind the Lions for the NFC’s sixth seed last season. With that in mind, there could be playoff implications on the line for both teams when the Bucs travel to Lambeau Field on the first Sunday in December. The Packers are the more experienced team and will have plenty to play for themselves.

Schedule quirk: One of two potential cold-weather home games, which is worth mentioning because the last time Tampa Bay played a December game at Lambeau Field was Christmas Eve in 2000. The Packers won that game in overtime, 17-14.

Prediction: Win. Record: 9-3

Week 14: Packers at Browns, noon Sunday, Dec. 10, Fox

Will the Browns be winless when they host the Packers two weeks before Christmas? They were at the same point a year ago. Chances are the Browns will be better than they were in 2016, because it’s really hard to be worse than 1-15. They won’t beat the Packers.

Schedule quirk: More of an observation than quirk, but Cleveland may be the one NFC city where weather has a real chance to be even more miserable in December than Green Bay. You can thank Lake Erie for that.

Prediction: Win. Record: 10-3

Week 15: Packers at Panthers, noon Sunday, Dec. 17, Fox

A 6-10 record is not what the Panthers had in mind last season after losing Super Bowl 50. Clearly, releasing cornerback Josh Norman was a mistake last offseason. The Panthers should rebound. Quarterback Cam Newton still represents one of the toughest matchups in the league. Warm weather also could be a factor.

Schedule quirk: Southern weather will be worth watching, even this late into the fall. The average high temperature in Charlotte during December is 53 degrees, but that could be higher on the right day.

Prediction: Loss. Record: 10-4

Week 16: Packers vs. Vikings, 7:30 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 23, NBC

The schedule makers did not do any favors for the Vikings. Starting Oct. 29, the Vikings will play six of their eight games on the road. This is the final road trip in that stretch. So the Packers will host a well-traveled Vikings team two days before Christmas.

Schedule quirk: For the third straight year, the Packers and Vikings will meet in the season’s final two weeks. It’s becoming a trend to see the Packers and Vikings play around the holidays.

Prediction: Win. Record: 11-4

Week 17: Packers at Lions, noon Sunday, Dec. 31, Fox

The Packers have played in a de facto NFC North title game four straight seasons: 2013 at Chicago, '14 against Detroit, '15 against Minnesota, '16 at Detroit. With the Lions last on the schedule, it’s possible the Packers could face a fifth straight — and a third against Detroit. The Lions should be their stiffest competition in the NFC North, and a road game with the division on the line is never easy. But it’s something the Packers handled last season. Here’s guessing they’ll do it again.

Schedule quirk: The Packers have never lost on New Year’s Eve. They’re 5-0 all-time. The most famous of those games was the 1967 Ice Bowl. They also beat the New York Giants in the 1961 NFL championship game on the same date. Their last New Year’s Eve game came in 2006, a 26-7 win at Chicago.

Prediction: Win. Final regular-season record: 12-4

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