Packers' schedule makes fast start essential for rookie coach Matt LaFleur

Jim Owczarski
Packers News
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In late March, the NFL announced that Green Bay would be part of the league’s opening night to mark its 100th season, sending the Packers on the road to play the rival Chicago Bears on Thursday, Sept. 5.

On Wednesday, the league unveiled the rest of the Packers’ 2019 schedule and revealed they will open their home slate Sept. 15 against the Minnesota Vikings at Lambeau Field.

It will be the first of three straight home games for the Packers and five in the first seven weeks, providing an opportunity for a strong start under first-year head coach Matt LaFleur.

The Packers have also been scheduled for the maximum number of five prime-time games, with another Thursday night clash against Philadelphia on Sept. 26 and a Monday night game against Detroit on Oct. 14. Both of those games will be in Green Bay.

RELATED: 2019 Packers schedule

The final two showcase games for the Packers will be on Sunday night, Oct. 27 at Kansas City and then at Minnesota for "Monday Night Football" on Dec. 23.

The Packers will end the regular season against Detroit for the fourth straight year, traveling to Ford Field on Dec. 29.

Beat writer Jim Owczarski takes a look at the best and worst elements of the Packers’ 2019 schedule:

Overall analysis

How do you feel about the NFC East and the AFC West? Matt LaFleur got a tough draw in his first season as a head coach. The Kansas City Chiefs and 2018 league Most Valuable Player Patrick Mahomes will be difficult, especially on the road, as will the 12-win Los Angeles Chargers. Dallas won its division a year ago and Philadelphia made a late playoff surge and feels it is still in its championship window. The Packers may need to run the table against bottom feeders Denver, Oakland, Washington and the New York Giants to even things out.

As for the NFC conference crossovers, Carolina and San Francisco were losing teams with beat-up quarterbacks a year ago. But what if Cam Newton and Jimmy Garoppolo are healthy? And since 2012 under head coach Ron Rivera, the Panthers have followed up a losing season by winning at least 11 games. This is that odd-numbered year for “Riverboat Ron.” And the 49ers gave the Packers all they could handle at Lambeau a year ago with C.J. Beathard under center.

The benefit of being 6-9-1 is a third-place schedule, but many of these teams seem poised for a bit of a rebound while the toughest teams don’t look like they’ll falter too much in 2019. We’ve known about these teams for quite some time, but it looks like tough sledding for LaFleur in his freshman season on the sidelines at Lambeau Field.

Best schedule break

Having two Thursday night games in the first four weeks of the season.

First, let me say no team wants to play Thursdays. It’s a grind on the players and on the coaching staff. But this worked out beautifully for the Packers. All of their starters will be rested before the opener and will have had all preseason to game plan for the Bears. It’s a short trip, and then they get a mini-bye. Then they’re home for the second Thursday night game against Philadelphia on Sept. 26 and get another mini-bye. While playing four games in 22 days is not ideal on paper, the opener isn’t like playing two Thursday games in the middle of the season. I would say getting the two extended byes before the actual bye week can help this team in year one under LaFleur.

Worst schedule break

Playing the Chiefs and Chargers in back-to-back weeks.

On the one hand, you could argue getting these games out of the way in one short period is a good thing. But these, on paper in April, are the two of the three best teams the Packers will play in 2019 and it’s not out of the realm of possibility they take consecutive losses in those weeks. First, they must zig-zag from Missouri late Sunday night or Monday morning to Wisconsin and then out to California in a five-day period. But it’s not just that — it’s who they’re playing. Depending where you look, the Chiefs and Chargers are two of the top seven-to-10 betting favorites to win the Super Bowl and were a combined 12-4 at home last season.

What sticks out most

The need for a hot start with five of the first seven games at home.

This is even more magnified because of all the change this offseason. Aaron Rodgers is 64-17-1 in his career at Lambeau Field, and the home-field advantage is tremendous — but the cold-weather aspect of that has been mitigated. One could argue playing at home so much so early gives the offense a bit of latitude in figuring it all out, but Minnesota and Philadelphia will be tough and believe it or not, the Lions have won two straight at Lambeau. And with difficult road games in Kansas City and L.A. looming right after that, there will be pressure to beat up on Denver and Oakland coming in from different time zones. Rodgers has already put down the gauntlet that there is no grace period for 2019 — and that starts out right away at Lambeau Field.

Game that got tougher

The Week 13 trip to New York to take on the Giants.

Few teams have had an offseason like the Giants, an already bad team that jettisoned its best player on offense (Odell Beckham, Jr.), traded one of its best pass rushers (Olivier Vernon) and let a franchise-type safety walk out the door (Landon Collins) only to commit to a declining quarterback (Eli Manning) and an aging slot receiver (Golden Tate). They also have perhaps the best running back in the game in Saquon Barkely. But what made this a tougher game isn’t the roster. It’s the schedule maker. The Packers will be traveling from San Francisco on Nov. 24 to Green Bay and then heading to the Eastern time zone to face the G-Men. As they say, “any given Sunday,” and cross-country, back-to-back road games is not easy no matter how soft the opponent looks in April.

Game that got easier

Since taking over as the Dallas Cowboys starting quarterback, Dak Prescott is 17-7 at home in AT&T Stadium, aka “Jerry World.” And with a strong running game featuring Ezekiel Elliott along with the No. 7 overall defense in the NFL last year, the Cowboys will be a tough test. But, coming off a home Thursday game the week before, the Packers get nine days to heal up and prepare for that road trip.

Best road trip

To Carson, California to see the Packers take on the Los Angeles Chargers.

Yes, the Packers just made a West Coast trip a year ago to play the Rams. But while that game was in the historic, 90,000-seat Coliseum, this one will be arguably the most unique Packers game anyone could watch live. First, it’s close to L.A., which is great (Carson is about 20 miles south). But it’s also in a mere 27,000-seat soccer stadium now called Dignity Health Sports Park. And the Chargers have no fans of their own, so it’ll be essentially a Packers home game in the sun in a very intimate, close setting. Oh, you’re also going to wind up watching a really good game.

Best game to watch at home

Telling a Packers fan to stay home over the live experience perhaps is sacrilege, but the NFL does a great job of broadcasting games — and you don’t have to wait in line for the bathroom. So if you’re going to try and make one or both of the trips west, or even to Kansas City for some barbecue, might as well skip the trip to New Jersey and the Giants game on Dec. 1. MetLife Stadium doesn’t have much character and you’ll have to deal with New York fans and prices … or hanging out in Jersey.


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