Packers must figure out 49ers right away

The Packers are going to have to hope their 2013 season doesn’t begin – or end – the way their 2012 season did, but the schedule makers are certainly serving up a slice of déjà vu.
 
For the second straight year, Green Bay will open its season against the San Francisco 49ers, a team that beat the Packers, 30-22, in last year’s opener and then thrashed them, 45-31, in the divisional round of the NFC playoffs.
“Opening day is always exciting,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said in a statement released by the team. “Playing the San Francisco 49ers is obviously a challenge that we look forward to.”
 
The season opener on the road against the defending NFC champions and an Oct. 13 road game against the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens highlight the Packers’ schedule released Thursday evening by the NFL.
 
In addition to those games, Green Bay will visit Detroit on Thanksgiving for the first time since 2011 and will play its only Monday night game Nov. 4 at home against the Bears.
 
“It’s an incredible tradition, playing on Thanksgiving Day,” McCarthy said. “It’s a blessing for everyone involved. We’re fortunate enough to still be home in time to share in the importance of the day.”
 
Green Bay will be a frequent guest on NBC’s Sunday Night Football, playing Oct. 27 (at Minnesota), Nov. 17 (at N.Y. Giants) and Dec. 8 (vs. Atlanta) on that network.
 
A more in-depth look at the Packers’ schedule:
 
MUST-SEE MATCHUP: Green Bay at San Francisco 49ers, Week 1, 3:25 p.m. (FOX) There are a handful of highly anticipated games on the Packers’ schedule this season, but none will be bigger than when Green Bay travels to San Francisco. When these two teams last met, Colin Kaepernick became a legitimate superstar as he led the 49ers offense to 579 total yards and a blowout win over the Packers in the divisional round of the playoffs. McCarthy even commented during the Scouting Combine that he still can’t get those 579 yards out of his mind. Green Bay’s defense will be focused and prepared to try to stop Kaepernick this time around, but it won’t be an easy task, especially with how well-rounded the 49ers are across the board. In order for the Packers to make it to the Super Bowl this year, their path will likely require a win over San Francisco, a team that is currently the class of the NFC.
 
UPSET SPECIAL? Minnesota Vikings at Green Bay, Week 12, noon, (FOX) Consider this Greg Jennings’ chance at payback. He no longer has an MVP throwing him the ball and will have to adjust to life with Christian Ponder, but Jennings will certainly demand the ball in his return to Lambeau Field. Though there’s a clear drop-off in quarterback from Aaron Rodgers to Ponder, Jennings will benefit from having Adrian Peterson in the backfield. No matter how amped up Jennings is for this game, the Packers’ defensive focus will be on stopping Peterson. In two regular-season games last year, Peterson totaled 409 rushing yards against Green Bay. In the Packers’ playoff win over the Vikings, they held Peterson to 99 yards, but that entire game was thrown off by the presence of Joe Webb at quarterback. Green Bay is a better team than Minnesota, but this is a dangerous game for the Packers.
 
 
FIVE THINGS YOU MAY NOT HAVE NOTICED
 
1. Early bye: The Packers have a Week 4 bye, the earliest for the team since it had a week off at the same point in 1999. Playoff teams usually prefer later bye weeks in order to start the healing process on injuries just before the stretch run. Instead, the Packers will get their bye a week before facing the Lions, a team that was 4-12 last season..
 
2. Tough tasks: The Packers have the NFL’s sixth-toughest schedule, with a 2012 opponents record of 136-119-1 (.533 winning percentage). Only the Panthers (.543), Lions (.539), Saints (.539), Rams (.539) and Ravens (.535) have a more difficult slate. Green Bay will play six games against 2012 playoff teams.
 
3. A Packers first: Green Bay has been playing NFL games since 1921, and this is the first season in its history that it isn’t scheduled to play back-to-back road games. That also means its only back-to-back home games are Weeks 9 and 10 against the Bears and Eagles.
 
4. Happy Thanksgivings: The league doesn’t like to wait too long between Packers-Lions Thanksgiving matchups. This marks the fourth time in the past seven years Green Bay will visit Detroit on Thanksgiving, and the Packers have won all three previous matchups.
 
5. Super Bowl memories: The Packers will have a chance to remember their Super Bowl XLV win on back-to-back weeks as they play at Cowboys Stadium – site of that Super Bowl – Dec. 15 and then play their opponent from that game, the Steelers, Dec. 22 at home.
 
 
EARLY FORECAST (all times Central): 11-5
 
LOSS – Sunday, Sept. 8 at San Francisco, 3:25 p.m. (FOX): The 49ers have the Packers’ number after soundly defeating Green Bay in the divisional round of the playoffs. In San Francisco for the rematch, there’s little reason to believe the Packers are a better team right now than the 49ers, especially away from Lambeau Field.
 
WIN – Sunday, Sept. 15 vs. Washington Redskins, noon (FOX): The threat of Robert Griffin III successfully running the read-option isn’t enough to make up for the Redskins’ lack of comparable talent, giving the Packers an advantage, especially at home. Plus, until Griffin’s health is known after undergoing offseason knee surgery, picking the Redskins for an upset win on the road isn’t going to happen.
 
WIN – Sunday, Sept. 22 at Cincinnati Bengals, noon (FOX): Stopping Bengals star receiver A.J. Green will be a challenge for Green Bay. The Packers’ secondary often struggled with elite receivers in 2012, and Green is as good as anyone in the NFL. But, even on the road, beating Cincinnati — which is coming off a 10-6 season — should be realistic for Green Bay.
 
WIN – Sunday, Oct. 6 vs. Detroit Lions, noon (FOX): The streak will continue. The Lions have not won at Lambeau Field since 1992. Kicker Jason Hanson, who retired this offseason after 21 years in Detroit, never won a single game in Green Bay. With Hanson gone, the Lions’ luck shouldn’t get any better.
 
LOSS – Sunday, Oct. 13 at Baltimore Ravens, noon (FOX): The Ravens lost a lot of pieces from their Super Bowl team, but they also added several quality players, most notably Elvis Dumervil. This is a very equal matchup with Baltimore getting the nod for playing at home. It will be interesting to see Aaron Rodgers and Joe Flacco square off for the first time since 2009.
 
 
WIN – Sunday, Oct. 20 vs. Cleveland Browns, 3:25 p.m. (CBS): The phrase “any given Sunday” exists because even the worst NFL teams can beat one of the league’s better teams despite a clear difference in talent. But, at Lambeau Field, this won’t be one of those days for the Browns. The Packers do need an early lead, though, to force Cleveland to pass the ball and keep it out of Trent Richardson’s hands.
 
WIN – Sunday, Oct. 27 at Minnesota Vikings, 7:30 p.m. (NBC): After the Packers allowed the Vikings to make the playoffs last season by losing in Minnesota, it shouldn’t happen again this year. In what will be Green Bay’s final time playing inside the Metrodome, expect the Packers to get a win.
WIN – Monday, Nov. 4 vs. Chicago Bears, 7:40 p.m. (ESPN): Maybe Bears offensive lineman J’Marcus Webb will be able to escape Green Bay this year without feeling the wrath of quarterback Jay Cutler. Clay Matthews had 3.5 sacks in last year’s matchup at Lambeau Field, rattling Cutler and Chicago’s offense. Though the Bears will probably triple-team Matthews to prevent a repeat performance, the Packers should win this one.
 
WIN – Sunday, Nov. 10 vs. Philadelphia Eagles, noon (FOX): It’s nearly impossible to know how well Chip Kelly’s offense will work as Philadelphia’s new head coach until the season starts. But the Eagles were a mess last season, and it’s difficult to imagine them storming into Lambeau Field and beating the Packers.
 
WIN – Sunday, Nov. 17 at New York Giants, 7:30 p.m. (NBC): This is the time for the Packers to finally avenge their current string of losses to the Giants. After getting blown out by New York in the postseason divisional round in 2011, Green Bay had a chance against the Giants in Week 12 last season. That, too, was an incredibly one-sided New York victory. This year, the Packers get the better of the Giants.
 
LOSS – Sunday, Nov. 24 vs. Minnesota Vikings, noon (FOX): This is the game that Jennings has circled on his calendar. After not being offered the contract he wanted in Green Bay, Jennings hopped across the state line and joined the rival Vikings. With the threat of Peterson for the Packers to focus on in the backfield, Jennings should have room to get open on familiar turf as Minnesota pulls off a big upset.
 
WIN – Thursday, Nov. 28 at Detroit Lions, 11:30 a.m. (FOX): The Lions are much better than their 4-12 record from last season would indicate. They have the best wide receiver (Calvin Johnson) in the NFL and a defensive lineman (Ndamukong Suh) who isn’t afraid to stomp on the fallen body of a player and pretend it was an accident (on Thanksgiving, no less!) But, getting a win in Detroit for the third consecutive year should be doable for the Packers.
 
LOSS – Sunday, Dec. 8 vs. Atlanta Falcons, 7:30 p.m. (NBC): The Falcons finished with the best record in the NFC last season and fell just short of making the Super Bowl. This offseason, they upgraded at running back with Steven Jackson and appear to be a team ready to take the next step. In what could be a terrific matchup at Lambeau Field, Atlanta picks up a big win.
 
LOSS – Sunday, Dec. 15 at Dallas Cowboys, 3:25 p.m. (FOX): The Cowboys are overrated on an annual basis, but playing inside The House That Jerry Built, the Packers could struggle to find their way. Dallas should be better than its 8-8 record from last season as Tony Romo needs to justify his huge new contract as the Cowboys pick up a win.
 
WIN – Sunday, Dec. 22 vs. Pittsburgh Steelers, 3:25 p.m. (CBS): These are not the same Pittsburgh Steelers that faced Green Bay in Super Bowl XLV. This is a team group that went 8-8 last season and could be even worse this year after losing its top receiver (Mike Wallace) and top sack producer (James Harrison). 
 
WIN – Sunday, Dec. 29 at Chicago Bears, noon (FOX): The Packers have won their last three games in Chicago, including a 2010 playoff victory, and that streak is unlikely to end this year. Even though the weather conditions in Chicago rarely favor a Green Bay offense that needs to pass the ball well to be effective, the Bears just don’t quite stack up with the Packers in overall talent.

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