Di­vi­sion ri­vals visit Lam­beau Field early

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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.

2018 SCHED­ULE

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).

MARK HOFF­MAN / MIL­WAU­KEE JOUR­NAL SEN­TINEL

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.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Quar­ter­back Aaron Rodgers and the Pack­ers will play for­mer Wis­con­sin star Rus­sell Wil­son and the Sea­hawks in Seat­tle on Nov. 15.

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