Packers’ draft notes; NFL schedule release

By Chris Havel

Special to Event USA

Initial criticism of Packers’ draft quelled, NFL to release 2020 schedule this week

GREEN BAY, Wis. – The NFL’s 2020 logo should include an asterisk to go with the shield. Everything is subject to change during the COVID-19 pandemic, or so it seems.

The league was right to go forward with the April 23-25 draft.

It may have been NFL commissioner Roger Goodell’s best decision. The fact that it was so well-received made it his finest moment.

It gave a sports-starved nation a much-needed distraction as well as a sense of normalcy, if only for a weekend. Fans could cheer or boo their team’s picks. They could imagine how a rookie might fit into the mix.

They could escape the present while dwelling on the future.

Get ready for Packer’s tickets and packages- on sale later this week!

Now, more than ever, folks are reminded there are no guarantees in life. Whether it’s the Packers trading up in the first round for a quarterback, or declining to draft a single receiver, nothing is for sure.

Two weeks ago, the draft’s uncertainty reminded us of that.

This week, the expected release of the NFL schedule will do the same.

In the past, fans would plan “bucket list” trips, wedding vows, anniversary parties and more around the Packers’ schedule. They would affix the schedule to their refrigerator, complete with W’s and L’s.

Now, the best they can do is plan accordingly, whatever that means.

The Packers’ list of 2020 opponents is extraordinarily interesting. It includes seven games against playoff teams. Their opponents’ win-loss percentage is .504, though, which ranks 15th in the NFL.
It’s doable.

The Vikings, Bears and Lions always create home-and-away intrigue, especially in an NFC North that figures to be hotly contested. The Las Vegas odds-makers’ over/under win totals reflect as much.

The Packers and Vikings are at 9 wins, with the Bears inexplicably close at 8 ½ wins.

I’ve got faith in GM Brian Gutekunst and head coach Matt LaFleur. If what they did last year doesn’t engender confidence nothing will.

My best guess is the Packers go 11-5 and win the division.

The Vikings look like a 10-6 wild-card team.

The Bears will be .500 at best.

The Lions are, well, the Lions. Detroit coach Matt Patricia’s swan song will be as forgettable as his arrival. That’s the problem with Bill Belichick disciples. They don’t get to bring The Hoodie with them.

The rest of the schedule is intriguing.

The Falcons, Panthers and Jaguars travel to Lambeau Field. That’s three W’s up on the fridge. The Titans and Eagles – a pair of playoff teams – also come to Green Bay. The former is LaFleur’s previous team, the latter one of the NFC’s prime playoff contenders.

That sounds like 7-1 at Lambeau Field.

The road is equally compelling.

The Packers and Aaron Rodgers will get to square off against the Buccaneers and Tom Brady at Tampa Bay. This has the feel of a national, prime-time game if ever there was one.

The Packers also travel to New Orleans.

In 1980, Saints fans wore paper bags with “Aints” scrawled on them because the team was so awful. In 2020, they’ll be wearing facemasks bearing the Saints’ logo because of COVID-19.

Both were designed for personal protection: Fans’ identity in 1980 and fans’ health in 2020. NFL fans are nothing if not resourceful.

Drew Brees will be the second surefire Hall of Fame quarterback the Packers’ defense will face. It could be a preview of the NFC Championship Game, with only the site (hopefully) to be different.

The Texans and Colts are allegedly (eternally?) on the rise.

The other road opponent is the 49ers.

Green Bay played and lost twice at San Francisco last season. A win at Levi’s Stadium would signal a power shift in the NFC. It also might earn the Packers the much-coveted home-field advantage in the playoffs.

The Packers look like a 4-4 team on the road.

That’s not bad considering the opponents.

Meantime, the city of Green Bay, the Packers and their fans prepare for a season that will be unconventional at best and unplayable at worst.

Packers’ president Mark Murphy announced that season-ticket holders will receive two cloth facemasks courtesy of the team. They feature the Packers’ logo and are designed to keep fans safe during the pandemic.

The green-and-gold facemasks will be useful if games are played. The CDC has recommended “wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.”

“I obviously hope that we are able to play the entire season as scheduled,” Murphy wrote. “But, as the old saying goes, hope is not a strategy, and while the league office is planning to play an entire schedule, we are also looking at other options if the health and safety of our players and fans dictate that we not play games or play games without fans. We are trying not to set false deadlines …”
That’s always a good policy and especially now.

While fans hope, pray and fret at the season’s future, the Packers’ players and coaches are working through a “virtual” offseason in preparation for what they hope is to come: A full 2020 season and the vindication it would bring to Green Bay.

Most sports websites grade every NFL team’s offseason moves.

The site “Yard Barker” fairly represents the national media’s view of the Packers’ offseason. It gave the Packers an F.

“The Packers were blown out by San Francisco in the NFC Championship, and you’d think they were undergoing a rebuild based on their offseason,” the site writes. “The team took big losses with right tackle Bryan Bulaga, tight end Jimmy Graham and linebacker Blake Martinez, and their top three draft picks were players who probably won’t contribute this season, led by soon-to-be Aaron Rodgers’ backup, Jordan Love. The window to win another Super Bowl is closing.”

Talk about an uninformed opinion from afar.

Bulaga had his first injury-free season in forever. He will be missed. But the Packers did take steps to acquire his replacement, veteran right tackle Rick Wagner. Graham offered next to nothing on offense, and Martinez was on the field when the 49ers ran all over the Packers’ defense. Both Graham and Martinez qualify as addition by subtraction.

As for the draft, LaFleur already has plans to use running back A.J. Dillon and H-back/tight end Josiah Deguara sooner than later. They were drafted for specific roles in a still-evolving offense.

In fact, Gutekunst said Dillon and Deguara were selected with the expectation that they can bring immediate help. That doesn’t sound like a GM who is sacrificing this season to build for the future.

If anything, the “Yard Barker” article ought to come with an asterisk, and that disclaimer has nothing to do with the COVID-19 pandemic.

It should serve as additional motivation.

Keep the faith that the Packers’ season will be played as planned, and that sites such as “Yard Barker” will be eating their words.