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By CHRIS HAVEL
Early Four Straight at home plus a bye in between could help Packers take control early
Say hello to the Green Bay Packers’ 2016 NFL schedule.
It is chock full of oddities, irregularities and head scratchers.
Fortunately for the Packers it also is replete with opportunity.
For instance, their opponents’ collective winning percentage of .457 ranked dead last a year ago. What the schedule offers in the way of strange, it more than makes up for in potential W’s.
After two straight road games to open, the schedule features four straight home games, sandwiched around a Week 4 bye (one before the bye and three straight after it).
That is prime time for Packers fans to sit outside, soak in the atmosphere and root for their team. Day or night, nothing says NFL football like September and October in Green Bay.
As an aside, the Week 4 bye can’t come too early for a team that played a five-game preseason schedule. The early bye should give McCarthy and his staff a chance to enable their players to rest, regroup and return refreshed to take charge in October.
The schedule also is highlighted by three December home games, and it concludes on New Year’s Day at Detroit, where the Packers should be popping the cork on champagne to celebrate a first-round bye and return as NFC North champions.
The December games are when McCarthy’s teams tend to peak. That and the cold weather should forge a home-field advantage that turns up the heat on J.J. Watt’s Houston Texans (Dec. 4), Seattle’s recently reassembled “Legion of Boom” (Dec. 11) and the currently but inevitably formerly NFC North champion Minnesota Vikings (Dec. 24).
The stretch affords a chance for a strong stretch run. The Texans are only one great player away from having no great players. The Seahawks are looking to their past to solve problems of the present. That’s never good.
Bringing back the “Legion of Boom” may work out for them, but if they haven’t noticed lately – and I hate to break the news to Seattle coach Pete Carroll – it’s the offense that has been the weak link and requires an upgrade.
Then it’ll be the Vikings coming to Lambeau Field on Christmas Eve day. The scheduled Saturday noon kickoff figures to be among the most anticipated starts of any game.
Here are several of the schedule’s quirks, curiosities and advantages:
This is the first time in 92 years that the Packers kick off the season with back-to-back road games.
They open against the perpetually, allegedly and often erroneously “new-and-improved” Jacksonville Jaguars Sept. 11. The heat, humidity and the Two Allens – Jacksonville receivers Hurd and Robinson – pose considerable challenges.
That said, there is absolutely zero chance Green Bay’s head coach, Mike McCarthy, and his team takes anyone lightly, not even the Jags, in the season opener.
It doesn’t hurt that the Packers will be flying to Florida straight off a hot training camp and five preseason games. If they aren’t ready and well-hydrated then they’ll never be.
The Packers’ Week 2 game is a dandy.
The Packers travel to Minnesota in hopes of ruining the Vikings’ grand opening of U.S. Bank Stadium. The Sept. 18 game will be a nationally televised Sunday night affair featuring Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth and a whole lot of hopefully disappointed Vikings fans.
The Packers saw their celebration of Brett Favre’s induction into the Packer Hall of Fame, and Ron Wolf’s in commemoration of his Pro Football Hall of Fame induction, diluted by bad losses to the Bears and Lions. Also the new improved Lambeau Field twelve years ago opened with a loss to the Northmen from Minnesota.
Revenge is a dish best served in prime time on national TV.
Eat up, Vikings.
The Packers play three straight road games in November. They are at Tennessee (Nov. 13), at Washington (Nov. 20) and at Philadelphia (Nov. 28).
Remember the Titans? They’re the team that was constantly on the clock in rounds one through eight. While Tennessee may own the draft, the Packers should own the Titans.
Clearly, the Packers should be better with Jordy Nelson’s return, etc., than the Green Bay team that went to Washington and romped the Redskins in last season’s NFC wild-card round.
Then they travel to Philadelphia for a night game, a team that should be better under first-year head coach Doug Pederson. Then again, it’s never easy for any first-year coach, and the Packers should get out of there unscathed.
I see 13-3, a first-round bye and a divisional playoff game at Lambeau Field. Beyond that, anything’s possible.
If the Packers don’t get to Super Bowl 51 in Houston I am certain of this: It won’t be because of their schedule.
Chris Havel is a national best-selling author and his latest book is Lombardi: An Illustrated Life. Havel can be heard Monday through Friday from 4-6 p.m. CDT on WDUZ FM 107.5 The Fan, or on AM-1400, as well as Fan Internet Radio (www.thefan1075.com). Havel also hosts Event USA’s MVP Parties the evening before home games.