Go ahead, take a shot. I deserve it. It’s been a quiet couple of months at theheadcheese.com. But now with training camps about to open, it’s time to get busy. A lot will happen between now and September 9th, but as of right now, here’s how I see the Packers’ season unfolding:
Week 1: The latest Super Bowl odds have the 49ers favored at 4:1, with the Packers and Patriots next at 6:1. San Francisco is the chic pick by many and justifiably so. They boast the league’s premier defense and demonstrated against the Saints that their QB could go toe to toe with Drew Brees in a shootout and come out on top. This figures to be the toughest home game of the season.
Defenses tend to be ahead of offenses in the first week or two, in large part because the first team offense doesn’t get a lot of snaps in the preseason and will be two weeks removed from any significant action. That said, the Pack’s offense is largely unchanged from a year ago (except at center, but veteran Jeff Saturday figures to pick things up quickly).
This one may be a low-scoring affair, with Dom Capers’ youth-injected defense holding its own against Frank Gore, Vernon Davis and Alex Smith’s new toys, Mario Manningham and Randy Moss. The Pack by a touchdown and we’re on our way…
Week 2: Four days later the Packers and Bears kick off the new Thursday night schedule that runs all season on NFL Network. I’m on record: I think the Bears are a playoff team this season. The defense has one good year left with their aging linebackers. I think the offense takes a major step forward with Mike Tice calling the plays.
In an odd scheduling quirk, this is the Pack’s only division game until week 11 at Detroit. It’s obviously vital that you win your divisional home games and the Pack doesn’t lose to the Bears at home these days. The opener will have prepared them for a team like this and the Pack will take care of business to move to 2-0.
Week 3: There is some danger in play when you play at Seattle on a Monday night. The Seahawks have one of the loudest stadiums and a great home field advantage: the scene will be electric. Matt Flynn will be facing the team that groomed him (don’t believe Pete Carroll’s double talk. There is no QB derby in Seattle. Flynn is the guy). The Hawks will be a home dog and may or may not have the services of RB Marshawn Lynch, whose DUI may cost him a few games.
This one has the makings of a shootout, but the Packers will survive to move to 3-0.
Week 4: Back to Lambeau before heading out on a three game road trip. The Saints come to town representing one of the major storylines of the 2012 season. How will they fare without Sean Payton? Will they employ an “us vs. them” mentality and play inspired football? We know this: the Saints can score with anybody. The last time they came to Lambeau, they were at the goal line with a chance to win, before the Pack’s D came up huge (maybe the only time they did all season).
70 points are likely in this one and Green Bay once again comes out on top. With three home games in September, the Pack takes a 4-0 record on the road for the next three games.
Week 5: The Pack gets its first look at Andrew Luck, who may be sporting a winning record entering this game. The Colts will be coming off of their bye week. They open at Chicago (loss), but then host the Vikings and Jaguars, two of the worst teams in the league. They could win them both and then get two weeks to prepare for the Pack.
That’s where the advantage ends. Let’s not get crazy here. Packers roll to 5-0.
Week 6: Right now, I have the Packers and Texans meeting in the Super Bowl, so you know how I feel about Houston. If Matt Schaub can stay healthy (a big if), they have the most talent top to bottom in the AFC. Even with some key losses to their defense (Mario Williams and Demeco Ryans), the Texans are very tough on that side of the ball. Wade Phillips transformed this unit last season and it will be led by former Badger J.J. Watt, who seems poised for a breakout season.
With Arian Foster and Andre Johnson, the Texans have two explosive offensive weapons and can score with anybody. One thing working in the Pack’s favor here is the Texans will be playing a Monday night game at the Jets leading up to this one–giving them one less day to get their bodies ready and their minds focused on the Pack.
It’s a prime time affair on a Sunday night and so, like in Seattle, the atmosphere will be festive and very challenging for the road team. I’ve got the Texans winning a tight one here, by a field goal or less. Pack is at 5-1.
Week 7: The third straight road game is in St. Louis, against a Rams team that figures to be much-improved, with new coach Jeff Fisher at the helm. He brought in former Jet offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer to run the offense and get QB Sam Bradford back on track. The offense still revolves around RB Stephen Jackson. The young WR corps will need some time to gel. Expect a spirited effort from the Rams, but the Packers bounce back to improve to 6-1.
Weeks 8 and 9: The Packers return home for two games leading into the bye. The Jaguars and Cardinals figure to be roadkill. The Jags have maybe the worst QB situation in the league and no ability to keep up with the Packers on the scoreboard. The Cardinals have a pretty good defense and nice WRs. But their offensive line is still a work in progress and their QB play is a huge question mark. The Packers win these two to go into the bye at 8-1.
Week 11: Finally another division game for the Packers, who have had two weeks to prepare for a game at the scene of last year’s stomping. The Lions will be coming home after two winnable games on the road (at Jacksonville and Minnesota). I’ve said I believe the Lions will take a step backwards this season and fail to reach the playoffs. That doesn’t mean this will be easy. They’ll be fired up to finally get another shot at the Packers, after that epic season finale in 2011. As usually happens though, the Packers will find a way to take care of business and improve to 9-1.
Week 12: The Packers head to New York to meet up with the team that threw water on their historic 15-1 season in 2011. The Super Bowl champs barely made the playoffs and then got hot (like the Pack the year before) and the rest is history. I think the Giants will have a hard time duplicating last season’s script and will fall out of the post-season. They have one of the league’s toughest schedule–including an improved division. As they did a year ago, the Packers go in to Met Life Stadium and escape with a win–this time in prime time. 10-1.
Weeks 13 and 14: Green Bay returns home for division games against the Vikings and Lions. December 2nd has to be the latest the Pack and Vikes have ever played their first game. That one won’t be close. As for the Lions, Rodgers, Matthews and Woodson will all play if healthy this time around and this time it won’t be as close. Packers move to 12-1.
Week 15: Next up is a date with the Bears at Soldier Field, a game I’m planning on attending. I haven’t been to a game the Packers have lost since the Metrodome a number of years ago, so you might say I’m a bit of a lucky charm. But I’m nervous about this one. These games tend to be low-scoring and I think the Bears will be ready. For now, I’m giving the Bears this one in a squeaker (much as it pains me to do it). Pack falls to 12-2.
Weeks 16 and 17: The Packers close out the home schedule with the Titans, a young team that will probably have Jake Locker running the show. Christmas weekend at Lambeau, the guys from Nashville don’t have a prayer. Packers roll. Then we finish things up at Mall of America field against the Vikings. This one may not mean a lot and may feature some guys not playing, depending on how things shake out. It won’t matter, the Vikings will already have double digit losses and will be playing out the string. Packers win by plenty.
It adds up to a 14-2 record, which will be good enough for the #1 seed once again. Aaron Rodgers will have a chance to win his first playoff game at Lambeau. I like his chances.