Green Bay Packers fans can officially begin plotting the team's path back to the playoffs. What should fans look forward to as the Pack look to make it back to the postseason after missing out the last two years? What should new head coach Matt LaFleur expect? There's some Super Bowl contenders to worry about, a lot of road games at the tail end of the season and a couple of opponents coming off bye weeks. More tidbits such as this below as FOX Sports Wisconsin breaks down the 2019 matchups and explains what you need to know about each.
Week 1, Thursday, Sept. 5, 7:20 p.m.
Packers at ChicagoBears. Skinny: For the second straight year Green Bay will open with Chicago at night, although this time it's on Thursday to open the NFL's 100th season. In their first season under Matt Nagy, the Bears won the NFC North with a 12-4 record. Chicago relied a lot on its defense -- finishing first in the NFL in turnovers (36) and tied for third in sacks (50). The Bears will have Khalil Mack for a full offseason. The star linebacker had 12.5 sacks (3.5 of those coming against Green Bay) and six forced fumbles in 14 games for Chicago in 2018. The Bears did lose safety Adrian Amos, who is now on the Packers, as well as defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, now the head coach in Denver.
Week 2, Sunday, Sept. 15, 12 p.m.
Packers vs. Minnesota Vikings. Skinny: Also for the second straight season, the Packers will play Minnesota in Week 2. The Vikings spent money in the offseason … but not on other players. Minnesota locked up several key players -- bringing back linebacker Anthony Barr, who nearly left for the Jets, offensive lineman Brett Jones and kicker Dan Bailey, restricting defensive end Everson Griffen's deal and rewarding wide receiver Adam Thielen with a pricey extension. However, this also means that, other than incoming draft picks, the Vikings will be similar to the team which went 8-7-1 in 2018. One change, though, is the Vikings have a new offensive coordinator in Kevin Stefanski, who took over late last year, and an offensive advisor in Gary Kubiak.
Week 3, Sunday, Sept. 22, 12 p.m.
Packers vs. Denver Broncos. Skinny: If anyone knows the Packers, it's new Broncos head coach Fangio. Denver was fair, at best, defensively in 2018, allowing 5.7 yards per play. Fangio hopes to change that and will likely build around a pair of talented linebackers in Bradley Chubb and Von Miller as well as cornerbacks Bradley Roby and Kareem Jackson, the latter signed as a free agent. Denver's biggest move in the offseason, though, was at quarterback. The Case Keenum experiment ended after one year, with the QB shipped to Washington while the Broncos acquired veteran Joe Flacco from Baltimore. Flacco, who was benched by the Ravens in his 11th year with the team, threw for just 2,465 yards and 12 TDs in 2018 but Denver does have some exciting receivers in Emmanuel Sanders and Courtland Sutton. Unheralded rookie Phillip Lindsay rushed for 1,037 yards and nine TDs, but it remains to be seen if a wrist injury suffered late in the year will sideline him early on.
Week 4, Thursday, Sept. 26, 7:20 p.m.
Packers vs. Philadelphia Eagles. Skinny: Philadelphia seems to be loading for another Super Bowl run and will do it behind quarterback Carson Wentz -- as long as he can stay healthy. Wentz was having an MVP-level season (3,296 passing yards in 13 games with 33 TD, 7 INT) in 2017 when he tore his ACL. Last year he played in just 11 games (3,074 yards, 21 TD, 7 INT), and once again saw Nick Foles, who is now in Jacksonville, lead Philly to the playoffs. The Eagles added RB Jordan Howard to help boost their rushing attack and brought back wide receiver DeSean Jackson to give them a deep threat and stretch the field, not to mention another weapon for Wentz, along with wide receiver Alshon Jeffery (65 catches, 843 yards, 6 TD) and tight end Zach Ertz (116 catches, 1,163 yards, 10 TD). Defensively, Philly is a bit weak at cornerback, but has one of the stronger defensive lines around, anchored by DT Fletcher Cox.
Week 5, Sunday, Oct. 6, 3:25 p.m.
Packers at Dallas Cowboys. Skinny: While NFL teams are getting away from workhorse running backs, Dallas is not one of those following that strategy. Green Bay’s defense will be tested by Ezekiel Elliott (1,434 rushing yards in 2018), who averaged 20.3 carries per game last year. The Cowboys’ offense also got a boost last season after acquiring wide receiver Amari Cooper (53 receptions, 725 yards, 6 TD in nine games). Quarterback Dak Prescott had a 103.0 QB rating after Cooper arrived. Dallas’ defense is solid, led by young linebackers Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch. The NFC East champions were 7-1 at home in 2018.
Week 6, Monday, Oct. 14, 7:15 p.m.
Packers vs. DetroitLions. Skinny: Yes, Green Bay will be getting an extra day of rest for this game, but Detroit will be coming off its bye week. After finishing 6-10 in Matt Patricia’s first year as head coach, the Lions made a number of changes in the offseason. Wide receivers Danny Amendola and Tommylee Lewis and tight ends Jesse James and Logan Thomas were added in free agency to boost the offense, which already has a new coordinator in Patricia’s second year as Darrell Bevell was brought in to replace Jim Bob Cooter. Detroit also signed defensive end Trey Flowers, reunited the former Patriot with Patricia, and cornerbacks Justin Coleman and Rashaan Melvin. Of course, it remains to be seen if these changes will improve the Lions. If not, Patricia could quickly be on the hot seat.
Week 7, Sunday, Oct. 20, 12 p.m.
Packers vs. Oakland Raiders. Skinny: For the second straight week the Packers will host a team coming off a bye. The Raiders made perhaps the biggest move, or at least one of the biggest, when they traded for wide receiver Antonio Brown, who has had six straight 1,000+-yard seasons. Last year with Pittsburgh, Brown had 104 catches for 1,297 yards and 15 TDs. Needless to say, this will be a tough matchup for Green Bay’s young secondary. That was hardly the only move Oakland made as it tries to rebuild itself under Jon Gruden, also bringing in players like safety Lamarcus Jordan and linebacker Vontaze Burfict. Oakland had three first-round picks in the draft, and could find some immediate improvements there, too.
Week 8, Sunday, Oct. 27, 7:20 p.m.
Packers at Kansas City Chiefs. Skinny: Speaking of tests for Green Bay’s secondary … the Packers will have to face Pat Mahomes and the Super Bowl contending Chiefs on the road in prime time. In his first full year in the NFL, Mahomes threw for 5,097 yards with 50 TD and 12 INT. The Chiefs no longer have Kareem Hunt and Tyreek Hill might be the next to go – both due to off-field domestic incidents – but with Mahomes at QB, you know Kansas City is going to score points no matter what. The Chiefs will also give up a lot of points, and this one could be a high-scoring affair. Kansas City’s defense was its weak spot in 2018 and figures to be so again in 2019 (we’ll see what the draft brings). The Chiefs released Justin Houston and traded Dee Ford, which won’t help the production, although safety Tyrann Mathieu and solid linebacker Damien Wilson were added. Early prediction for combined points? We’re thinking 90.
Week 9, Sunday, Nov. 3, 3:25 p.m.
Packers at Los Angeles Chargers. Skinny: It’s back-to-back road games against AFC West teams which went 12-4 in 2018. Philip Rivers is 37 but coming off a season in which he threw for 4,308 yards and 32 TD. The Chargers have a strong 1-2 receiving corps in Keenan Allen and Mike Williams and will have tight end Hunter Henry back in 2019. Then there’s running back Melvin Gordon, who averaged 5.1 yards per carry and scored 14 combined TDs last year. San Diego’s defense is no slouch, either, and should be only better with a healthy Joey Bosa. Safety Derwin James is one of the game’s best young players. There’s not much of a home-field advantage in the Chargers’ small Los Angeles stadium, but mark this down as a tough matchup for the Pack.
Jake RothJake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
Week 10, Sunday, Nov. 10, 12 p.m.
Packers vs. Carolina Panthers. Skinny: In the past, Carolina has been one of the biggest teams to fear -- with its physical play on both offense and defense. However, Cam Newton’s health has come into question this offseason, so it will be interesting to see how he holds up this late in the year, and longtime linebacker Thomas Davis is gone. Of course, dynamic Christian McCaffrey (combined 1,965 yards and 13 TD) and linebacker Luke Kuechly (130 tackles) do return. Carolina’s biggest addition in the offseason was adding center Matt Paradis to protect Newton.
Bob DonnanBob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
Week 12, Sunday, Nov. 24, 3:25 p.m.
Packers at San Francisco 49ers. Skinny: San Francisco was 4-12 last season but could be due for a big rebound in 2019. Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo played in only three games before tearing his ACL while running back Jerick McKinnon didn’t play a down after tearing his ACL in training camp. The 49ers added Tevin Coleman in free agency, to give them a pair of good running backs. San Francisco’s receiving corps is nothing to write home about, although tight end George Kittle (88 catches, 1,377 yards) is a handful. The Niners bolstered their defense with a trade for Dee Ford and signing linebacker Kwon Alexander. There’s still work to be done – but San Francisco does currently own the No. 2 overall pick in the draft. This is one of those sneaky dangerous games.
Sergio EstradaSergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports
Week 13, Sunday, Dec. 1, 12 p.m.
Packers at New York Giants. Skinny: It’s hard to imagine a team which has been criticized more this offseason. New York is sticking with 38-year-old Eli Manning at quarterback, traded his best receiver in Odell Beckham, signed slot receiver Golden Tate (and then giving another slot receiver, Sterling Shepard, an extension), let leading tackler safety Landon Collins walk and traded pass rusher Olivier Vernon, who was a big free-agent signing not too long ago. The Giants do have exciting running back Saquon Barkley (over 2,000 combined yards as a rookie) and will seemingly focus their offense around him (the rare NFL offense focused around a running back). Did we mention the Giants went 4-12 last season and now appear to be worse? There are no guarantees in the NFL, but this one being on the road isn’t so bad.
Week 14, Sunday, Dec. 8, 12 p.m.
Packers vs. Washington Redskins. Skinny: The injury to Alex Smith really took this team off course (although you could say their handling of Kirk Cousins did the same). Right now, Washington’s quarterback is … Case Keenum. Perhaps Washington will trade for Josh Rosen or grab a quarterback in the draft, but either way things aren’t looking that great under center in 2019. Washington is also relying once again on 34-year-old running back Adrian Peterson. The above-mentioned Collins was added to bolster the defense, which we guess will help. But if not for the Giants, Washington would be the biggest mess of a team in the NFC East.
Week 15, Sunday, Dec. 15, 12 p.m.
Packers vs. Chicago Bears. Skinny: The success of the Bears, who were 12-4 in 2018, might hinge on what kind of progression is made by quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, who passed for just 3,223 yards in 14 games with 24 TD and 12 INT. Chicago didn’t make many moves in the offseason, but there were subtle tweaks to the offense. Jordan Howard was traded and Mike Davis added, with Tarik Cohen (444 rush yards; 71 catches, 725 yards) expected to take on a larger role. The Bears’ receivers (Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, TE Trey Burton) are solid if unspectacular. It will be interesting to see how addition Cordarrelle Patterson figures into the mix. One of the few home games for Green Bay down the stretch, this figures to be a key contest for the Packers (and likely also the Bears).
Week 16, Monday, Dec. 23, 7:15 p.m.
Packers at Minnesota Vikings. Skinny: A prime time game which again could have playoff possibilities. Green Bay has not fared well in Minnesota recently, not emerging victorious there since 2015. The Packers will need to penetrate one of the league’s best defenses and then slow down wide receivers Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs. Running back Dalvin Cook didn’t look great in his first year back after suffering a torn ACL, and he could be a major threat in 2019. Minnesota’s offensive line remains a major question mark, so this game could be won in the trenches.
Mark KoneznyMark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports
Week 17, Sunday, Dec. 29, 12 p.m.
Packers at Detroit Lions. Skinny: Will this game matter? Green Bay once owned this series but entering the 2019 season have lost four straight to Detroit, including an embarrassing 31-0 pounding at home in last year’s finale. The Lions scored 30+ points in each of those games. Matthew Stafford is coming off, for him, a subpar season (3,777 yards, 21 TD, 11 TD), but Detroit figures to keep chucking the ball around. The return of running back Kerryon Johnson (641 yards, 5.4 average), whose season ended early due to a knee injury, will help. Detroit’s running game slogged with Johnson out. But will any of it matter or will this just be a game to finish out the schedule before the offseason? The Packers, of course, hope there’s playoff implications for them.