The NFL did a good job of taking the Packers’ 2016 schedule, considered weak by 2015 winning percentage, and turning it into a mind-bendingly grueling proposition. For several reasons, the Packers’ 2016 schedule is daunting, including but not limited to:
- Five preseason games
- Two-game road season start (first time since….like…guys were wearing tall hats and had buckles on their shoes)
- Bye week in week four
- Playing all three division opponents the last three games of the year
- 3 of the last five games against playoff teams
First of all, every NFL game is tough. That isn’t to say that some teams present a tougher challenge, but especially with the advent of free-agency, the best players in the league often migrate away from their teams in the off-season that their contract is up and it is the teams that were weak the year before that are desperate enough to over pay them.
So the teams that last year were weak, could likely be much stronger this year (Jacksonville Jaguars week one) but there is a glimmer of hope.
While the final five games of the season include three against playoff teams from 2015 (Seahawks, Vikings, Texans), the Packers get to play all three of those teams at Lambeau. This may seem cold comfort in light of the fact that the last three games include all of the division rivals (a clear bugaboo last season) but if the Pack can win two out of three of the games at home, and one of those wins is against the Vikings…they could be in position for a home-field playoff game.
One thing that shouldn’t be overlooked is how tough the Packers are in December at Lambeau Field. The Packers opponents should be the ones who are afraid, because if this team (especially the offense) can stay healthy, they will be very dangerous down that stretch. Staying healthy will be critical and it will be a difficult prospect given the extra games and early bye, and that is where Mike McCarthy shines. The fact that the Packers are consistently one of the youngest teams in the league will also help as the overall body mileage of our team gives us a better chance to survive this grueling schedule.
If the Packers can retain all their key players (everybody will be dinged up by that point), they have a chance to gain momentum on the back-end of the 2016 schedule. And that momentum could pay dividends as they (barring disaster) enter another playoff. I know it is a long way down the road, but that is how far you have to look this year to find that glimmer of hope.