Mark your calendar: Packers’ official 2014 schedule released

Green Bay's schedule should get easier for the final quarter of the year in 2014. But the opener against Seattle will be a stiff challenge, almost assuredly.

Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

GREEN BAY, Wis. — The challenges will come early and often for the Green Bay Packers this season. And if the Packers aren’t ready for it, they could find themselves looking up at the rest of the NFC North before it’s even October.

Those tests will start with the rematch that NFL fans have been waiting to see ever since replacement officials disagreed on a call that gave the Seattle Seahawks a victory over Green Bay two years ago. Not only will the game take place at the site of the Fail Mary (or Inaccurate Reception, if you prefer), but the Packers will also have to witness the Seahawks play their first game since winning Super Bowl XLVIII.

"It’s a tremendous opportunity for our football team," coach Mike McCarthy said in a press release. "We have experience playing in the kickoff opener three years ago (at home against the New Orleans Saints), and we will draw on that. Obviously, being the visiting team this time presents new challenges. It will help sharpen our focus even more during training camp and the preseason."

It doesn’t get much easier from there for McCarthy and his players, as Green Bay hosts the New York Jets before having to travel to face two division rivals — Week 3 at Detroit and Week 4 at Chicago — and then prepare to host the Minnesota Vikings on just three days of rest.

"Two of our division opponents have new head coaches, so that’s an added challenge, but division games always carry extra importance, no matter when they’re played," McCarthy said. "We played three in a row late in the season two years ago, and that was a key stretch in our season. This will be no different."

Last season, the Packers got stuck with a Week 4 bye and had to finish out the season having 13 games without another break. This year, one break that Green Bay got from the schedule-makers is having a Week 9 bye.

"Ideally, that’s how you draw it up," McCarthy said. "It will be a great time to re-evaluate and re-charge heading into November and December football."

A more in-depth look:

Packers 2014 Annual Checkup Archive

MUST-SEE MATCHUP: Green Bay at Seattle Seahawks, Week 1, 7:30 p.m. (NBC). Other than the Super Bowl, this could easily be one of the most-watched games of the year. If the Packers wanted to make a statement early in the season, they’ve been given a chance to do just that. Few teams have been capable of overcoming the "12th Man" effect in Seattle, and the Seahawks have a defense that can stop any offense, no matter how high-powered it is. The two players most directly involved in the Fail Mary (safety M.D. Jennings and receiver Golden Tate) are no longer on these teams, but there are still plenty of negative feelings from Green Bay players as to how the game concluded in Week 3 of the 2012 season.

UPSET SPECIAL? Minnesota Vikings at Green Bay, Week 5, 7:25 p.m., (CBS) If this current Vikings group had any shot at beating the Packers in 2014, it’s under these circumstances. Green Bay will have just played an incredibly difficult early-season schedule and will be coming off back-to-back road games in Detroit and Chicago. Making matters worse for the Packers is this is a Thursday night game. Players’ bodies will not be recovered with such little rest in between, and that leaves open the chance that the lesser team could sneak out a huge win.

FIVE THINGS YOU MAY NOT HAVE NOTICED

1. Bring on the champs: This is the first time in Packers franchise history that their season begins with a game against the defending Super Bowl champions. Green Bay hosted the regular-season opener in 2011, but never before have the Packers been the team to watch their opening-week opponent celebrate its previous year’s title in front of them.

2. Road trip: Not since 1922 have the Packers had to play three of their first four games away from home. It’s only the second time in franchise history that it’s happened, but after opening in Seattle and hosting the New York Jets, Green Bay then travels to Detroit and Chicago.

3. Division matchups coming early: Only one of the Packers’ final five regular-season games is against a division opponent — that coming in Week 17 at Lambeau Field when the Lions make their annual visit. That means five of Green Bay’s first 11 games are against NFC North rivals. This is also the fourth time in the past eight years that the Packers’ season concludes at home with Detroit.

4. Easy ending: After a difficult stretch early in the season and facing a total of five teams that made the playoffs in 2013, Green Bay’s schedule should get easier for the final quarter of the year. The Packers’ final four opponents had a combined record last season of 21-43.

5. Thursday/Sunday/Monday Night Lights: Green Bay is getting a heavy dose of night games in 2014. The Packers have two games on Thursday nights, two on Sunday nights and one on Monday night.

EARLY FORECAST (all times Central): 11-5

Week 1: LOSS — Thursday, Sept. 4, at Seattle Seahawks, 7:30 p.m. (NBC): The Packers will have plenty of motivation and a lot to prove in this game, but it’s very difficult for any team to win in Seattle. Add in that the Seahawks were the NFL’s best team last season (and very easily still could be in 2014) and will be celebrating their Super Bowl in front of their fans, it’s expecting a lot for Green Bay to pull off a win.

Week 2: WIN — Sunday, Sept. 14, vs. New York Jets, 3:25 p.m. (CBS): Other than expecting the Jets to be tough and hard-working for the coach (Rex Ryan) that most of those players love, projecting them to beat the Packers at Lambeau Field on a mid-September afternoon would be foolish.

Week 3: WIN — Sunday, Sept. 21, at Detroit Lions, 12 p.m. (FOX): The "dirtbag" (Josh Sitton’s words) is out as head coach, with Jim Schwartz being replaced by the calm, cool and collected Jim Caldwell. The Lions have an advantage in that there won’t be a lot of tape of them under their new coaching staff at this point in the season, but the Packers were embarrassed in Detroit last season and are the better all-around team.

Week 4: LOSS — Sunday, Sept. 28, at Chicago Bears, 12 p.m. (FOX): Likely the biggest rival to Green Bay’s chances at winning another NFC North title, the Bears’ defense has improved (at least on paper) a lot this offseason. Chicago’s offense has so many weapons that it will be a great early season test for the Packers’ defense to stop the elite receiving trio of Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery and Martellus Bennett — not to mention Matt Forte out of the backfield. Advantage to the Bears at Soldier Field.

Week 5: LOSS — Thursday, Oct. 2, vs. Minnesota Vikings, 7:25 p.m. (CBS): This is another tough spot for the Packers early in the season. It’ll be a short week of preparation, only getting three full days of rest after playing at Chicago before having to host the Vikings. Like the Lions, Minnesota has an advantage in that its new coaching staff will only have four games of film for Green Bay to study. It’s the third consecutive division opponent for the Packers, whose players could be really beat up (especially considering it’s their third game in 12 days). Of course Green Bay is the better team right now, but its early-schedule season is brutal and could have taken its toll already at this point.

Week 6: WIN — Sunday, Oct. 12, at Miami Dolphins, 12 p.m. (FOX): The Dolphins were an average-to-below-average team in every regard last season (even with an 8-8 record). Miami head coach Joe Philbin will know a lot of what’s coming from the Packers after his many years coaching alongside McCarthy, but after a 10-day rest, Green Bay should be fresh and ready to bounce back from a very demanding early schedule.

Week 7: LOSS — Sunday, Oct. 19, vs. Carolina Panthers, 12 p.m. (FOX): The Panthers were the real deal in 2013 and would’ve been a very difficult playoff opponent for Green Bay had the two matched up. Carolina’s defense is outstanding, and Cam Newton is the type of quarterback who could have a big day against the Packers’ defense.

Week 8: WIN — Sunday, Oct. 26, at New Orleans Saints, 7:30 p.m. (NBC): With the Packers one game away from their middle-of-the-season bye and a predicted record at this point of 3-4, Green Bay should be able to knock off the Saints inside the Superdome.

Complete Packers 2014 draft coverage

**WEEK 9 BYE**

Week 10: WIN — Sunday, Nov. 9, vs. Chicago Bears, 7:30 p.m. (NBC): McCarthy has been great coming off the bye week, currently with a 7-1 record. After a predicted early season loss in Chicago, the Packers continue McCarthy’s positive trend and split the season series with the Bears by getting the win.

Week 11: LOSS — Sunday, Nov. 16, vs. Philadelphia Eagles, 12 p.m. (FOX): Green Bay had no answer for Chip Kelly’s offense when these two teams matched up in 2013, getting burned frequently by Nick Foles. By this point in the season, it will be apparent whether the Packers corrected their defensive woes from last season. But no offense could challenge defensive coordinator Dom Capers as much in 2014 as the Eagles’.

Week 12: WIN — Sunday, Nov. 23, at Minnesota Vikings, 12 p.m. (FOX): In this projection, the Packers are 5-5 at this point. But this is where a big winning streak could begin. Green Bay is a better team than Minnesota, and only the Packers having to play the Vikings as their third straight division opponent earlier in the season (and on very short rest) could create a result other than a Vikings loss. So, Green Bay gets its revenge here.

Week 13: WIN — Sunday, Nov. 30, vs. New England Patriots, 3:25 p.m. (CBS): It’s Rodgers vs. Tom Brady, but these are two offenses that had rushing attacks ranked in the NFL’s top 10 last season. Based on the way teams played in 2013, this will be the last difficult opponent for the Packers in 2014. As Green Bay’s players look ahead and see four upcoming games against inferior opponents, the Packers use home-field advantage to pick up a win and advance to 7-5.

Week 14: WIN — Monday, Dec. 8, vs. Atlanta Falcons, 7:30 p.m. (ESPN): The Falcons can’t possibly be as bad in 2014 as they were in 2013, but it’s also difficult to project Atlanta becoming a serious contender this season. In Green Bay’s only Monday night game of the season, it’s happening at Lambeau Field and the Packers should roll to victory.

Week 15: WIN — Sunday, Dec. 14, at Buffalo Bills, 12 p.m. (FOX): Stuck in the cellar of the AFC East last season, much of the Bills’ success in 2014 will likely come down to quarterback E.J. Manuel. Either way, a Green Bay win in this game seems likely.

Week 16: WIN — Sunday, Dec. 21, at Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 12 p.m. (FOX): Yet another poor 2013 team meeting the Packers late in the season. Unless Tampa Bay has a drastic turnaround, even playing at home shouldn’t be enough to stop a Green Bay team that should be cruising to wins at this point in its schedule.

Week 17: WIN — Sunday, Dec. 28, vs. Detroit Lions, noon (FOX): How about six wins in a row for the Packers to conclude the season? The Lions just don’t win at Lambeau Field. It hasn’t happened since 1991. There’s little reason to expect that to change this year.

Follow Paul Imig on Twitter