Division rivals visit Lambeau Field early
Ryan Wood USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin
Green Bay — There’s a decent chance the Green Bay Packers could start their 2018 season 6-0 entering their Week 7 bye. That’s the good news. The bad? They’ll need every win they can get early in the season.
A brutal stretch of games after the Packers’ bye will be the true test of this season. It’s possible — and maybe even likely — the Packers will lose four games from Week 8 to Week 12. From late October through November, the Packers’ four toughest games — each on the road — are clustered together.
But a strong start and finish should mitigate any damage. So long as quarterback Aaron Rodgers is healthy, this is a Super Bowl contender. This season will be no different.
Here’s a way-too-early, game-bygame prediction for the Packers’ 2018 season: (All times Central)
WEEK 1: PACKERS VS. CHICAGO
7:20 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 9 Mike McCarthy was asked about the Bears’ off-season at the NFL’s annual meeting. “The Bears?” he answered. “Hell, I have no idea. What are they doing down there? We’ve been busy.” He’ll turn his attention to them soon. Get ready for an off-season of rivalry talk. This should be a get-me-over-the-plate opener, a good chance for the Packers to groove one in there. Most interesting, perhaps, is to see how much Bears quarterback Mitch Trubisky has improved. Prediction: Packers win (1-0).
WEEK 2: PACKERS VS. MINNESOTA Noon Sunday, Sept. 16
Last time the Vikings played at Lambeau Field, they shut out the Packers. There was also more purple in the stands than green and gold. Neither will happen in this Week 2 meeting, but it’s certainly a game the Packers can lose.
Packers: See a complete list of their games on Page 7. NFL: Find a team-by-team glance on Page 25. It’s yet to be seen what new GM Brian Gutekunst can accomplish in the draft — and he needs to accomplish a lot — but the Vikings clearly have a better roster at the moment. They won’t have the better quarterback, not with Kirk Cousins still transitioning into a new offense. Ultimately, Aaron Rodgers is the great equalizer in professional football, and the safest pick is that he’ll make one play at the end of a tight game. Prediction: Packers win (2-0).
WEEK 3: PACKERS AT WASHINGTON Noon Sunday, Sept. 23
One week after defending against Kirk Cousins, the Packers will travel to meet his old team. Washington, now led by Alex Smith, could be a dark-horse playoff contender in the NFC East. Like Cousins, he’ll also be transitioning a new system. Rodgers has a 2-1 edge over Smith in games when the top two quarterbacks from the 2005 draft have started opposite each other. This will make it 3-1. Prediction: Packers win (3-0).
WEEK 4: PACKERS VS. BUFFALO Noon Sunday, Sept. 30
This won’t be as easy you’d think. Remember, the Bills are coming off their first postseason appearance this millennium. At the start of the off-season, Packers president/CEO Mark Murphy credited former Bills GM Doug Whaley — an interview candidate to replace Ted Thompson — for building a solid roster with a team that lacked an elite quarter- back. A big part of that is Micah Hyde. The former Packers defensive back was a first-time Pro Bowler last season, finishing tied for third among safeties with five interceptions. He’ll get a rare Lambeau Field pick against Rodgers, but the Packers will get what matters most. Prediction: Packers win (4-0).
WEEK 5: PACKERS AT DETROIT Noon Sunday, Oct. 7
The first NFC North road game of the season will be interesting, mostly to see how new Lions coach Matt Patricia’s defense stacks up against Rodgers. The two-time MVP quarterback has squared off against a Patricia defense only once before: a 26-21 win over New England in 2014 at Lambeau Field. This is a game the Packers could lose, but they’ll be red hot by this point, and Rodgers will pull it
out. Prediction: Packers win (5-0).
WEEK 6: PACKERS VS. SAN FRANCISCO 7:15 p.m. Monday, Oct. 15
By the time the 49ers arrive for “Monday Night Football,” Jimmy Garoppolo won’t be the highest-paid quarterback on the field. Expect Rodgers to sign an extension by then, surpassing Garoppolo’s five-year, $137.5 million deal. The 26year-old Garoppolo might be the future of the NFC, but for one night the future can wait. Prediction: Packers win (6-0).
WEEK 7: BYE WEEK 8: PACKERS AT L.A. RAMS 3:25 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 28
Feeling good coming off their mid-season bye with a 6-0 record, the Packers run into last season’s NFC West champions. The Rams might be one of the Packers’ fiercest competitors for the conference’s top seed, so this game could be pivotal. Back at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, where the Packers won Super Bowl I, a healthy dose of Todd Gurley and Aaron Donald will be too much. Prediction: Packers lose (6-1).
WEEK 9: PACKERS AT NEW ENGLAND 7:20 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 4
Tom Brady vs. Aaron Rodgers. Aaron Rodgers vs. Tom Brady. No wonder NBC wanted this game in prime time. In the end, Tom shows he’s still terrific at the ripe age of 41. This will come down to home-field advantage, just as their 2014 matchup did. Prediction: Packers lose (6-2).
WEEK 10: PACKERS VS. MIAMI Noon Sunday, Nov. 11
In the midst of an absolutely brutal midseason stretch, the Packers really need to win this game. They’ll probably be wish- ing for some early winter weather when Miami comes to town. Whether they get it or not, the Packers should come out on top. Prediction: Packers win (7-2).
WEEK 11: PACKERS AT SEATTLE 7:20 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 15
The schedule-makers did the Packers zero favors here. They very well may be a better team than the Seahawks, but playing at CenturyLink Field on a short week might be the toughest task in all the NFL. This could be an epic game, even if most games played on Thursday night are far from it. If the Packers win, it could propel them to a special regular season. The guess here is they fall just short. Prediction: Packers lose (7-3).
WEEK 12: PACKERS AT MINNESOTA 7:20 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 25
Reeling from three losses in four weeks following their bye (can you imagine the panic in Green Bay?), the Packers get the thankless task of playing perhaps the NFL’s best defense inside its home stadium. The Packers will get through this Minnesota trip with a clean bill of health, but not much else to feel good about. Prediction: Packers lose (7-4).
WEEK 13: PACKERS VS. ARIZONA Noon Sunday, Dec. 2
Last time the Packers played the Cardinals, Larry Fitzgerald was rumbling downfield through the Packers’ defense in overtime. Of course, that January game was inside a controlled environment in Arizona. This December game won’t be. With an assist from Mother Nature, the losing stops here. Prediction: Packers win (8-4).
WEEK 14: PACKERS VS. ATLANTA Noon Sunday, Dec. 9
This is a game the Packers have wanted for a couple years now: the southern, indoor Falcons at Lambeau Field in December. In a controlled environment, the Falcons’ team speed is probably too much. On a bad field — and Dec. 9 in Green Bay should be a bad field — that speed should be neutralized. Last year on Dec. 9, temperatures were in the high teens/low 20s. If that happens again, it’ll be advantage Packers. Prediction: Packers win (9-4).
WEEK 15: PACKERS AT CHICAGO Noon Sunday, Dec. 16
By this point, Chicago’s season will be over. The Packers, meanwhile, will have plenty to play for. Prediction: Packers win (10-4).
WEEK 16: PACKERS AT N.Y. JETS Noon Sunday, Dec. 23
Another game where the Packers’ opponent will have nothing to play for. Prediction: Packers win (11-4).
WEEK 17: PACKERS VS. DETROIT Noon Sunday, Dec. 30
This will be the fourth time in five seasons the Packers and Lions have played in the season finale. The first two (2014 and 2016) had playoff ramifications, while last year’s matchup was a glorified exhibition. This one will be like the first two. Prediction: Packers win (12-4).
Packers fans will get plenty of extra tailgate time on the opening Sunday night before Green Bay begins the 2018 regular season against the NFC North rival Chicago Bears.
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the Packers will play former Wisconsin star Russell Wilson and the Seahawks in Seattle on Nov. 15.