2016 schedule: Where will Packers open?

Stu Courtney
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Much already is known about the Green Bay Packers’ 2016 regular-season schedule, which will be unveiled Thursday at 7 p.m. on the NFL Network.

Green Bay Packers inside linebacker Clay Matthews (52) tackles Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson (28) in the backfield at Lambeau Field.

The Packers’ opponents already are set. There of course will be home and away games against their three NFC North rivals: the Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions and Minnesota Vikings.

Green Bay also will host the Dallas Cowboys, Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts, New York Giants and Seattle Seahawks. The Packers will have road games against the Atlanta Falcons, Jacksonville Jaguars, Philadelphia Eagles, Tennessee Titans and Washington Redskins.

Among the things that aren't yet known is where the Packers will play their season opener. The Packers’ last three openers have been played away from home: at Chicago last season, at Seattle in 2014 and at San Francisco in 2013. The Packers haven't opened at Lambeau Field since 2012, when they suffered a 30-22 loss to the 49ers.

The Vikings will be playing their games in brand-new U.S. Bank Stadium this year and are expected to open on the road, so that any problems that may surface when the team hosts its two preseason games can be worked out. When the Vikings do play their home opener, speculation in Minnesota is that the Packers could be on the opposite sideline.

In a 2013 KARE-TV interview, Lester Bagley, the Vikings' vice president of public affairs and stadium development, said he hoped Green Bay would be the opponent when the stadium opened.

"The way the league is structured ... our very first regular-season game likely will be against the Green Bay Packers," Bagley said. "So it will be good to see Adrian Peterson break loose and score the first touchdown in the new stadium and run over Clay Matthews on his way to the end zone."

Bagley said the Vikings expected a high-profile opponent for their home opener and "there is no higher-profile opponent than the Packers for the Vikings."

When the Packers played their first game in newly renovated Lambeau Field in 2003, the NFL scheduled the Vikings as the opponent (Minnesota won 30-25). But that doesn’t necessarily mean the league will return the favor. Much will depend on TV and whether it’s determined that the Packers’ game at Minnesota makes more sense for later in the season.

As for holiday games, the Packers aren't expected to play on Thanksgiving after having done so in two of the last three years. Christmas falls on a Sunday this year and in the past when that has happened, the NFL has shifted the bulk of that weekend's games to Saturday while playing one game on Christmas night.

The Packers figure to face an easier schedule than a year ago. The combined 2015 winning percentage of their 13 2016 opponents was .457, giving Green Bay the lowest strength of schedule of any team. The Packers will have only five games against teams that made the playoffs: Seattle, Houston, Washington and two vs. Minnesota. And the three-year NFC rotation and four-year AFC rotation have the Packers facing the worst division from each conference: the NFC East (26-38 combined 2015 record) and the AFC South (25-39).

The Packers'  preseason schedule was released last week. They will open the preseason against the Colts in the Hall of Fame game on Aug. 7 in Canton, Ohio. Green Bay then will host Cleveland (date range of Aug. 11-15) and Oakland (Aug. 18-22) and visit San Francisco (Aug. 25-28) and Kansas City (Sept. 1-2). Exact dates haven't been announced.

— and follow him on Twitter @Stucourt.

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