It’s not about who you play in the NFL, but when you play them
By: By Tom Oates, The Wisconsin State Journal, Superior Telegram
Now that the unveiling of the regular-season schedule has been turned into an event by the NFL’s hype machine, the usual ho-hum response no longer seems acceptable.
So as you scan the schedule that was released amid much fanfare Tuesday, keep in mind there are several things to look for: Does the schedule facilitate a quick start? Are there stretches of difficult games? Do any road games follow Monday night games? Does the bye week fall at a good time? Is the December schedule conducive to a strong finish?
Remember it’s no longer who you play in the NFL but when you play them. As the 2010 Green Bay Packers and the 2011 New York Giants showed, a team can turn a mediocre regular season into a Super Bowl-winning season by getting hot at the right time.
Based on opponents’ 2011 records, the Packers, despite their 15-1 record, have the second-easiest schedule in the NFL. Now that it’s out, that to-do list looks difficult early and late, is cushy soft in the middle, has a late bye — which is perfect to get refreshed for the stretch run — and closes with 13 straight Sunday games, which helps a team stay in a routine.
With that in mind, here is a game-by-game prediction of how the Packers’ season might go:
San Francisco (13-3): Having five months to prepare is the best possible scenario when facing a strong defense like San Francisco’s. And since the 49ers were unable to sign quarterback Peyton Manning, the Packers will win the nationally televised opener.
Chicago (8-8): Playing their NFC North rivals on Thursday night after a Sunday game against an extremely physical opponent like the 49ers will be a difficult task for the Packers. Too difficult as it turns out. Green Bay will fall to 1-1 on the season.
At Seattle (7-9): The last time the Packers saw Matt Flynn, he threw for 480 yards and six touchdowns ... for them. Flynn’s with the Seahawks now, but that won’t be Detroit’s secondary he’s facing. With 10 days in between games, the Packers will survive this Monday nighter.
New Orleans (13-3): The Packers won a 42-34 shootout last year but, due to bounty-gate, the Saints will be without their head coach, assistant head coach and possibly some defensive players. Though New Orleans will be a tough out, Green Bay will win to go 3-1.
At Indianapolis (2-14): It’s never easy beating the Colts with Manning under center. Oh wait. Nevermind. Packers in a blowout.
At Houston (10-6): The Texans were 7-3 when Matt Schaub broke his thumb and, while they stumbled to the finish line, they remain a team on the rise. The atmosphere will be electric for this Sunday night game, leading to a Packers loss and a 4-2 record.
At St. Louis (2-14): Some think St. Louis could be the NFC’s surprise team, especially if it finds a deep threat in the draft for quarterback Sam Bradford. But the Packers will prevail because not even first-year coach Jeff Fisher can turn around a team as sorry as this that quickly.
Jacksonville (5-11): The Jaguars eschewed Tim Tebow to stick with Blaine Gabbert at quarterback. Think he’ll be a match for Aaron Rodgers? Didn’t think so, which is why the Packers will move to 6-2.
Arizona (8-8): Consider this payback for the Cardinals’ 51-45 overtime victory over the Packers in the playoffs after the 2009 season. In the process, Green Bay will beat still another team that needed Manning but failed to sign him.
At Detroit (10-6): The Packers have won eight of their last 11 at Detroit, but the games were competitive even when the Lions weren’t. Detroit keeps getting better, but the Packers will take advantage of their bye and the Lions hopeless secondary to improve to 8-2.
At New York Giants (9-7): Will the Packers see the struggling Giants they beat on Dec. 4 or the streaking Giants they lost to in the first round of the playoffs? Odds are it’ll be the latter as Green Bay loses on a Sunday night.
Minnesota (3-13): The Packers have swept the Vikings the past two seasons. With Minnesota quarterback Christian Ponder still in the developmental stage, Green Bay will easily make it five wins in a row over the Vikings while improving to 9-3 on the season.
Detroit: A late 7-3 loss to the Lions started the Packers’ playoff run in 2010. There will be no repeat of that game on a Sunday night at Lambeau Field.
At Chicago: The Bears were 7-3 when Jay Cutler broke his thumb and since-departed general manager Jerry Angelo hadn’t thought of employing a backup quarterback. Cutler or no Cutler, the Packers will prevail to reach 11-3.
Tennessee (9-7): Titans quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, a former Packers backup, will return to Lambeau with a solid defense and a revived running game. But in a tougher-than-it-looks game, the Packers still win.
At Minnesota: With a new Vikings stadium again on hold, this could be the Packers’ last game in Minneapolis. If that’s the case, they will leave the Metrodome with a good memory ... and a 13-3 record.
— Copyright (c) 2012 The Wisconsin State Journal/Distributed by MCT
Green Bay Packers
Sun., Sept. 9 San Fran., 3:15 p.m.
Thur., Sept. 13 Chicago, 7:20 p.m.
Mon., Sept. 24 at Seattle, 7:30 p.m.
Sun., Sept. 30 New Orleans, 3:15 p.m.
Sun., Oct. 7 at Indianapolis, noon
Sun., Oct. 14 at Houston, 7:20 p.m.
Sun., Oct. 21 at St. Louis, noon
Sun., Oct. 28 Jacksonville, noon
Sun., Nov. 4 Arizona, noon
Sun., Nov. 11 BYE
Sun., Nov. 18 at Detroit, noon
Sun., Nov. 25 at N.Y. Giants, 7:20 p.m.
Sun., Dec. 2 Minnesota, noon
Sun., Dec. 9 Detroit, 7:20 p.m.
Sun., Dec. 16 at Chicago, noon
Sun., Dec. 23 Tennessee, noon
Sun., Dec. 30 at Minnesota, noon