We already knew the ‘who’ and ‘where’ when it comes to the 2020 Packers schedule. With Thursday night’s official schedule release, we now know the all-important ‘when.’ Except we really don’t.
Will the Packers open the season at the Vikings for the first time ever? Or will the first few games on the schedule eventually be postponed and pushed to the back? As you know, nobody has any idea whether the season will actually begin on September 10th and even if it does, we don’t know whether the games will be played in empty stadiums.
That hasn’t stopped any of us from slipping the schedule under the microscope and dissecting the 16 games. For sports-starved fans, it can carry us to Sunday night, and the next two installments of “The Last Dance.”
Here are my initial thoughts on the Packers’ slate, assuming they play all the games and in the order they are currently listed. Here are the things that stand out to me:
1. Obviously, opening at Minnesota is huge and potentially a break for the Pack. More on that when I break down the season game by game.
2. Unlike last year, when the Packers opened with five of seven at home, they face a much tougher start, with road games at Minnesota, at Drew Brees and at Tom Brady in the first five weeks.
3. A bye week in week 5 is earlier than anyone would like, but with what’s coming over the next four weeks, the team can use the extra prep time.
4. The second quarter of the schedule is absolutely brutal: Three of four on the road, at Tampa Bay, Houston and the annual game at San Francisco, with the home game against the Vikings in between. And the Pack will only have four days to come back from a big game against the Purple before they head to play the Niners on a Thursday night. Ugly. Green Bay could easily be 4-4 at the halfway mark.
5. Of the five prime time games, three are at home this season, and two come late in the season–that’s a plus.
6. A bad break for the Pack: both the Vikings and Bears will come to play the Pack at Lambeau coming off their bye weeks. Ugh.
7. That week 16 Sunday night game against the Titans at Lambeau will be huge and likely, very cold.
8. Pack closes on the road once again–seems like this happens almost every year.
OK, let’s break down the season in quarters, as I like to do, and take a stab at where things will end up in 2020, again assuming everything goes without a hitch–an unlikely scenario. Most of the NFL world expects the Pack to take a step back, given they didn’t have the bucks to spend in free agency and didn’t do much on paper in the draft to impact the 2020 starting lineup.
But I’ll take the side that a head coach in his second year, with an offense much more comfortable in the system, will take major strides, led by its Hall of Fame QB who seems to play his best with a chip on his shoulder and you can bet he’ll have a big one on his shoulder this season. The biggest worry is that the Pack feels the loss of Bryan Bulaga, that Ricky Wagner doesn’t hold up and the right tackle spot becomes a big problem.
First Quarter: Opening at Minnesota will be seen as an L by most; in fact the Vikes opened as 3.5 point favorites. I like the Pack’s chances here. Minnesota will be breaking in a batch of new starters on defense, their offensive line will also feature a bunch of new parts and their bright shiny first round picks will be starting their first games. Look for Rodgers to test CB Jeff Gladney early and often. WR Justin Jefferson has star potential, but with a truncated off-season, will likely need some time to get acclimated. If this game is played on September 10th, I’ll take the Pack. If it moves to January, I’ll take the Vikes.
The two home games in the opening quarter of the season are wins for the Pack. I think both the Lions and Falcons will be improved in 2020, with both hovering around the .500 mark. But they aren’t stealing wins at Lambeau. The Week 3 prime time game at New Orleans is a big fat L. The Saints have been known to slip up at home early in the season in recent years, but they take care of business. First quarter record: 3-1.
Second Quarter: The Pack will spend their week five bye devising ways to try to at least split the next four games. They begin with back to back road games at Brady and the Bucs and at Watson and the Texans. I think the Bucs’ hype train is speeding out of control and I’m not sure Brady has all that much left. But he has a bushelful of great offensive weapons and I’ll give them the edge against the Pack. Green Bay bounces back with a win against the Texans, a team I think finishes third in its division this year. The loss of DeAndre Hopkins will be felt all season. Their head scratching front office moves of the past couple of years catches up with them this season.
The Vikes come to town on 11/1 and it will be the first home game in a month for the Pack. Minnesota will be coming off its bye, and it is a noon kickoff which will make Kirk Cousins happy, but the Pack will handle the Purple at home. Then it’s a quick turn-around for a Thursday night game at the Niners. Avert your kids’ eyes. This is unlikely to be pretty. Let’s hope the Packers keep them under 300 yards on the ground. Second quarter record: 2-2. Pack is 5-3 at the midseason mark.
Third Quarter: Things get easier in this quarter, with three home games and a road trip to Indianapolis. I think the Colts have a chance to make some noise, with Phillip Rivers getting one last chance to do something in the post-season. They can run the ball and their defense is tough and speedy. Colts win this one. I also see the Pack slipping up in one of these home games. They’ll handle the Jags and Bears, but there’s something about the Eagles. Something tells me they break our hearts at the end, just like that prime time game in 2018. Third quarter record: 2-2. Pack is 7-5 at the three-quarter pole.
Fourth Quarter: The end of the season features divisional road games to start and finish, with home games against the Panthers and Titans in the middle. As I mentioned earlier, that Titans game will be huge, even though it’s a non-conference game. It’s at night in late December. The Titans will likely put the ball in Derrick Henry’s hands 30+ times. Can the Pack stop him? I’ll take Green Bay in both of these games against southern teams who don’t play much at all in cold weather.
So that leaves road games in Detroit and Chicago. Let’s say the Pack splits these two. That gets them to 11-5. Lose them both and they’re 10-6. In either scenario, I think the Pack defends its NFC North crown.
At this point though, I think we’d all be happy to know that there will be a 16 game NFL season in 2020 and let the chips fall where they may. Speaking of chips, did I mention that one on Aaron’s shoulder?