GREEN BAY – A year ago, the Green Bay Packers entered the last weekend of October with a winning record that felt underwhelming, if not downright disappointing.
With the teeth of their schedule upcoming, a five-week stretch that included four road games to playoff-caliber teams, the Packers knew entering the season they needed to rack up wins early. They needed a cushion entering November, and their 3-2-1 record through the first six games didn’t provide that.
So when the Packers lost each of their four road games in that midseason stretch, despite having a chance to win each of them, the blow effectively knocked out their playoff hopes before December.
The Packers face a similar imbalance of home and road games in 2019. With five home games in the first seven weeks, offset by four road trips in the final six weeks, the Packers would benefit from winning early. They’ll also need to perform better on the road than their 1-7 mark from a year ago.
Still, this is not last year.
You might hear over the coming months how Matt LaFleur's first season depends on the Packers piling on wins early. That's not necessarily the case. A year ago, each of the Packers' four midseason road trips in five weeks were against clear-cut, quality opponents. This season, they'll only face one such opponent on the road late in the season, at least with how it looks now on paper.
Put another way, the Packers' road opponents in that five-week stretch last year were coming off a combined 46-18 record in 2017. Each made the playoffs in 2018. This year, the Packers' final four road opponents are coming off a combined 23-40-1 record. They will play in Minnesota, but otherwise their hardest game over the final six should be against the Bears, which will be played inside Lambeau Field.
As challenging as it is to have so many road games stacked late in the season, it certainly seems the Packers should have an easier 2019 schedule than they had in a 2018 slate that really couldn’t have been much tougher.
There’s also a renewed energy within the team, a fresh start under LaFleur that could help spark a comeback season. General manager Brian Gutekunst did his part in hitting free agency hard this spring, shoring up his defense and especially the defensive front. The Packers have ample draft resources — including a pair of first-round picks — to fill out the rest of their roster.
Turnarounds come quick in the NFL. Could the Packers be this year’s bounce-back team?
Here’s a way-too-early, game-by-game prediction of the Packers’ 2019 season:
Week 1: Packers at Bears, 7:20 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 5, Soldier Field, NBC (All times Central)
In their first year under head coach Matt Nagy, the Bears turned themselves into standard bearers in the NFC North with ferocious defense and just enough offense. LaFleur’s first job as Packers head coach will be to transition the balance of power three hours north. He’ll get a chance to start that process in his first game, but it won’t be easy. Remember, before winning the NFC North, Nagy’s Bears took a season-opening defeat in Green Bay. The Bears are going to want to send a message early, and they’ll have the home-field advantage in prime time to do it. Prediction: Packers lose (0-1).
Week 2: Packers vs. Vikings, noon Sunday, Sept. 15, Lambeau Field, Fox
Coming off a mini-bye week, the Packers get a little extra rest and prep before hosting their rivals to the west. It’s the second straight season the Packers have hosted the Vikings in Week 2, and the third time in four years they’ve met in the second week. This time, there will be no controversial roughing-the-passer penalty on Clay Matthews to swipe away victory. Of course, there will also be no Clay Matthews. Prediction: Packers win (1-1).
Week 3: Packers vs. Broncos (Gold package), noon Sunday, Sept. 22, Lambeau Field, Fox
Here’s an under-the-radar storyline: LaFleur’s new-look offense will get some brutal tests right off the bat. The Broncos defense isn’t what it was a few years ago, but Von Miller and company can still wreak havoc. Of course, this is also a quarterback matchup pitting Aaron Rodgers against Joe Flacco. Prediction: Packers win (2-1).
Week 4: Packers vs. Eagles, 7:20 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 26, Lambeau Field, Fox/NFL Network
The last time the Eagles traveled to Lambeau Field in the regular season, the Packers won 53-20. It’ll be much closer this time. In fact, behind a strong game from Carson Wentz, the Eagles will even the Packers’ schedule and hand LaFleur his first home loss in his first short-week Thursday game. Any advantage the Packers get from playing this game at home is negated by having three days to rest after physical contests against Chicago, Minnesota and Denver, all in a 21-day stretch. The Eagles arrive after a much friendlier home matchup against the Detroit Lions in Week 3. Prediction: Packers lose (2-2).
Week 5: Packers at Cowboys, 3:25 p.m.* Sunday, Oct. 6, AT&T Stadium, Fox
With some mild panic over a .500 record in September — you know how Packers fans can get — October starts off on the wrong note. The Packers have won three straight road games against the Cowboys dating back to the 2013 season, and Jerry’s World has been a personal playground for Rodgers. At some point, the Cowboys are going to beat the Packers at home. Prediction: Packers lose (2-3).
Week 6: Packers vs. Lions, 7:15 p.m. Monday, Oct. 14, Lambeau Field, ESPN
Prime time at Lambeau Field, a place the Lions have started winning in recent years. In fact, the Lions have won four straight games in this series, including two straight at Lambeau Field. That alone might have been evidence enough the Mike McCarthy era had run its course. LaFleur will start things off right against the division’s traditional doormat. Prediction: Packers win (3-3).
Week 7: Packers vs. Raiders (Gold package), noon* Sunday, Oct. 20, Lambeau Field, CBS
The Raiders have some new toys, gearing up for their move next season to Las Vegas. Even with Antonio Brown and a flurry of free-agent signings, the Raiders will find it hard to rise in a crowded AFC West. And this is a game the Packers should win. Prediction: Packers win (4-3).
Week 8: Packers at Chiefs, 7:20 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 27, Arrowhead Stadium, NBC
If there was one matchup you just knew was headed for prime time, this was it. Aaron Rodgers versus Patrick Mahomes will be must-see TV, a ratings boom wherever it’s played, whether that be Lambeau Field, Arrowhead Stadium or the moon. In this case, it happens to be in Mahomes’ backyard. Prediction: Packers lose (4-4).
Week 9: Packers at Chargers, 3:25 p.m.* Sunday Nov. 3, Dignity Health Sports Park, CBS
Philip Rivers will be five weeks shy of his 38th birthday when the Chargers host the Packers, and he’s shown no signs of slowing down. In fact, he might be getting better. Rivers had his sixth straight 4,000-yard season in 2018, and his 105.5 passer rating was his highest since posting identical marks at age 32 in 2013 and age 27 in 2008. That tied a career high, by the way. Elite quarterbacks are extending their primes into the late 30s, and Rivers is elite. Prediction: Packers lose (4-5).
Week 10: Packers vs. Panthers, noon Sunday, Nov. 10, Lambeau Field, Fox
How does LaFleur combat this two-game skid? By guiding the Packers to take care of business at home. A bulked-up defensive front is just what the Packers need to combat Cam Newton. Provided, of course, that everyone is healthy by the middle of November. Packers take advantage of playing at home and end their losing streak before the bye. Prediction: Packers win (5-5).
Week 11: Bye
Week 12: Packers at 49ers, 3:25 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 24, Levi's Stadium, Fox
Often, what looks like an easy game on paper in April becomes anything but easy. This is a good example of a matchup with that kind of potential. Look at their 4-12 record last season, watch them pick second overall in next week’s draft, and it’s easy to think the 49ers will be pushovers. But understand Jimmy Garoppolo played only three games last season before tearing his ACL. If he plays a full season, the 49ers might be dark-horse playoff contenders. That said, the Packers have the benefit of a bye week, and they’ll take advantage of the extra time. This is a game the Packers should win. Prediction: Packers win (6-5).
Week 13: Packers at Giants, noon Sunday, Dec. 1, MetLife Stadium, Fox
For the second straight season, the Packers will be traveling coast to coast in seven days. A year ago, it was back-to-back games against the Los Angeles Rams and New England Patriots. This will be much easier. It’s anyone’s guess right now who will be the Giants quarterback by Week 13, and a 1 p.m. local time kickoff means the Packers should be getting a sleepy game against an opponent far out of contention. Prediction: Packers win (7-5).
Week 14: Packers vs. Washington, noon Sunday, Dec. 8, Lambeau Field, Fox
The Packers are really rolling now. Returning home on a three-game win streak, they’ll face a plucky team that could present trouble if the game were in Washington. Instead, it will be played inside Lambeau Field, and you know how December games (usually) go there. Prediction: Packers win (8-5).
Week 15: Packers vs. Bears, noon Sunday, Dec. 15, Lambeau Field, Fox
Talk about a big, late-season showdown. The NFC North title could be on the line when the Bears travel to Lambeau Field for the 200th meeting all-time in the NFL’s longest rivalry. Here’s guessing Rodgers does just enough to pull out another memorable home win against Chicago. Prediction: Packers win (9-5).
Week 16: Packers at Vikings, 7:15 p.m. Monday, Dec. 23, U.S. Bank Stadium, ESPN
U.S. Bank Stadium is quickly becoming a house of horrors for the Packers. Since it opened in 2016, the Packers have lost all three games inside the Vikings’ new home. Two of those games were in prime time, and the third featured Rodgers’ broken collarbone. This game is in prime time on "Monday Night Football." That does not bode well for the Packers. Prediction: Packers lose (9-6).
Week 17: Packers at Lions, noon Sunday, Dec. 29, Ford Field, Fox
If the Packers have any playoff implications on the line, here’s a game that could be flexed to a prime-time kickoff. As mentioned earlier, the Packers’ troubles in recent years could really be highlighted by the Lions taking a clean sweep in 2017 and 2018. This fall, Michigan native LaFleur returns to his home state and flips the tables. Prediction: Packers win (10-6).