GREEN BAY – It won’t take long for the Green Bay Packers to enter the teeth of their 2018 season.
The Packers open with a pair of home games at Lambeau Field, hosting their NFC North rival Chicago Bears on Sunday Night Football in their opener, followed by the Minnesota Vikings coming to town Week 2. The Packers will end their season hosting the Detroit Lions, marking the fourth time in five years the Lions have been their final opponent.
It sets up intense divisional showdowns early and late in their regular-season schedule, which the NFL released Thursday night. In the middle, the Packers have one of their toughest stretches of games in recent memory.
PHOTOS: Green Bay Packers 2018 schedule
The schedule includes five prime-time kickoffs: Sunday night vs. the Bears in Week 1, Monday night vs. the San Francisco 49ers in Week 6, Sunday night at the New England Patriots in Week 9, Thursday night at the Seattle Seahawks in Week 11 and Sunday night at the Vikings in Week 12.
The Green Bay Packers begin their 100th season playing against the Chicago Bears at Lambeau Field.
Here are five initial thoughts on the Packers' 2018 schedule:
Lopsided home/away schedule: The Packers have three home games in the first and last month of their season, but will be away from Lambeau Field for most of October and November. Three of the first four games will be in Green Bay: vs. the Bears on Sept. 9, vs. the Vikings on Sept. 16 and vs. the Buffalo Bills on Sept. 30. It should help the Packers get off to a hot start, but the price is six road trips in an eight-week span once the calendar flips to October.
Favorable bye week: Teams like having their bye week near the middle of the season. It gives coaches a significant sample size to self-scout in their off week without having to game plan, helping them course correct when needed. It also allows players to rest up for the second half, whereas an early bye week means a long stretch of football to end the season. This year, the Packers get their bye in Week 7. You don’t have to guess whether coach Mike McCarthy is pleased to see that. But the timing of this bye week is especially important, because the toughest part of their season immediately follows.
Coast to coast: Not only are the Packers playing perhaps their two toughest games of the year on consecutive weeks, but they’ll be consuming a lot of flyer miles to do it. The Packers bridge October and November with trips to the Los Angeles Rams (Oct. 28) followed by a prime-time matchup against Tom Brady and the defending AFC champion New England Patriots (Nov. 4). That means in consecutive weeks, the Packers will play on the southern Pacific coast and then the northern Atlantic coast. It’s also the beginning of potentially the most difficult stretch in their schedule not just this season, but in recent past.
A surprise must-win game: When you saw the Miami Dolphins were a home opponent this fall, you probably didn’t think much of it. Now? Look at what’s sandwiched around the Packers’ home game against the Dolphins on Nov. 11. That’s right, four trips to Super Bowl-contending teams: at the Rams, at the Patriots, at the Seahawks (on a short week) and at Minnesota. That very easily could be four losses, far from ideal in late November. The Dolphins are a team the Packers should beat – especially playing the warm-weather team at home in November. Miami was 6-10 last fall in coach Adam Gase’s second season, but that was mostly because of quarterback Ryan Tannehill’s torn ACL in early August. The year before, when Tannehill was healthy enough to start 13 games, the Dolphins were a resurgent 10-6. The point is, while the Packers should beat the Dolphins, it isn’t a given that they will. And they really need to, or else flirt with the possibility of a five-game losing streak.
Snow birds: Each of the three December home games – the snow games, if you will – come against indoor teams, including two against opponents that don’t make the Green Bay trek every year. Detroit, which plays the Packers on the road annually, knows all about playing in cold-weather Green Bay games. But the Arizona Cardinals (NFC West) and Atlanta Falcons (NFC South) are not accustomed to playing in frigid temperatures, which December in Green Bay can present. That should be a nice, built-in advantage for the Packers.
Week 1: Bears at Packers, 7:20 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 9, Lambeau Field, NBC
Week 2: Vikings at Packers, noon, Sunday, Sept. 16, Lambeau Field, Fox #
Week 3: Packers at Washington, noon, Sunday, Sept. 23, FedEx Field, Fox
Week 4: Bills at Packers, noon, Sunday, Sept. 30, Lambeau Field, CBS
Week 5: Packers at Lions, noon, Sunday, Oct. 7, Ford Field, Fox*
Week 6: 49ers at Packers, 7:15 p.m., Monday, Oct. 15, Lambeau Field, ESPN
Week 7: BYE
Week 8: Packers at Rams, 3:25 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 28, Los Angeles Coliseum, Fox*
Week 9: Packers at Patriots, 7:20 p.m., Sunday, Nov. 4, Gillette Stadium, NBC*
Week 10: Dolphins at Packers, noon, Sunday, Nov. 11, Lambeau Field, CBS* #
Week 11: Packers at Seahawks, 7:20 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 15, CenturyLink Field, Fox/NFL
Week 12: Packers at Vikings, 7:20 p.m., Sunday, Nov. 25, U.S. Bank Stadium, NBC*
Week 13: Cardinals at Packers, noon, Sunday, Dec. 2, Lambeau Field, Fox*
Week 14: Falcons at Packers, noon, Sunday, Dec. 9, Lambeau Field, Fox*
Week 15: Packers at Bears, noon, Sunday, Dec. 16, Soldier Field, Fox*
Week 16: Packers at Jets, noon, Sunday, Dec. 23, MetLife Stadium, Fox*
Week 17: Lions at Packers, noon, Sunday, Dec. 30, Lambeau Field, Fox*
*Game time subject to NFL flexible scheduling
All games broadcast on Packers TV Network
Week 1: Titans at Packers, 7 p.m., Thursday, Aug. 9, Lambeau Field
Week 2: Steelers at Packers, 7 p.m., Thursday, Aug. 16, Lambeau Field #
Week 3: Packers at Raiders, 9:30 p.m., Friday, Aug. 24, Oakland Coliseum
Week 4: Packers at Chiefs, 7:30 p.m., Thursday, Aug. 30, Arrowhead Stadium
# Gold package game