With the preseason less than two months away, it is time to look at the schedule for the Green Bay Packers as they look to climb back to the top of the NFC North. Green Bay welcomes back Jordy Nelson and Sam Barrington, who both were injured very early in the season (with Nelson's injury happening in the preseason). Green Bay has the easiest schedule in the NFL, going by last year's records.
Sept. 11: @ Jacksonville 1 EST FOX
Jacksonville looks to march toward the playoffs, as it has not made the playoffs since the 2007 season. Jacksonville drafted who many considered to be the best player in 2016 NFL Draft in defensive back Jalen Ramsey. The Jaguars also return 2015 first round pick Dante Fowler, Jr., who missed the entire 2015 season after tearing his ACL on the first day of mini-camp. They try to help bolster a defense that finished 31st in the league in points allowed. They signed free agents Teshaun Gipson, Malik Jackson and Prince Amukamara as well to try to help improve that side of the ball. On offense, there are a lot of playmakers. Wide receivers Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns both had more than 1,000 yards receiving and a combined 24 touchdowns. Blake Bortles is hurt by a struggling offensive line, which may have led to him having thrown 35 interceptions in his first two seasons. The Jaguars' offense finished 14th in the league, scoring 23.5 points per game, but over the last 12 games of the season, Jacksonville scored 26.2 points per game, which was third in the AFC.
Sept. 18: @ Minnesota 8:30 EST NBC
The long-awaited official debut of U.S. Bank Stadium takes place in week two. Just like the Gophers opened the Big Ten season at TCF Bank Stadium in 2009, the Vikings open with a Wisconsin team in their opener. Minnesota is the defending division champion after knocking off Green Bay at Lambeau Field in week 17. The Vikings come in with largely the same roster as last season. The Vikings drafted Mississippi wide receiver Laquan Treadwell to pair with second-year standout Stafon Diggs to try to give the team a dynamic duo at wide receiver to take some of the pressure off running back Adrian Peterson. The two teams are very evenly matched, so it will come down to containing Peterson, like it does every game against the Vikings. If Teddy Bridgewater were to elevate his game to the next level, the Vikings could be a very dangerous team in the NFC.
Sept. 25: DETROIT 1 EST FOX
Finally the Packers have their home opener, which starts a string of four consecutive home games in five weeks. I think most people remember what happened the last time these two teams met. Detroit is out looking for redemption after Richard Rodgers caught a Hail Mary to win the game last December. The Motor City Kitties did, however, snap a 24-game losing streak in Wisconsin by winning at Lambeau last year when Mason Crosby's last second field goal missed. This season, Detroit will have to try to deal with the early retirement of Calvin Johnson. Without him, it will be a struggle. The Lions finished last in the league in rushing last season, so that will need to improve in order to try to compete in the tough NFC North.
Oct. 9: NEW YORK GIANTS 8:30 EST NBC
After a week off, Green Bay hosts its nemesis, the New York Giants. This will be the first time the Packers get a look at Odell Beckham, Jr. The star wide receiver has more than 1,300 yards in each of his first two seasons and 25 touchdowns. However, he is basically all that New York has going for it. The running game is average at best and had just five rushing touchdowns a season ago. Only the Chargers had fewer. Their defense was atrocious a season ago. They allowed the third most points (27.6), with only the Saints and Jaguars being worse. They signed defensive lineman Olivier Vernon and cornerback Janoris Jenkins to monster contracts to try to help the defense. The G-Men also drafted cornerback Eli Apple in order to help the secondary. New York also drafted wide receiver Sterling Shepard to try to take some of the defense's attention away from Beckham.
Oct. 16: DALLAS 4:25 EST FOX
Dallas was hit by injuries last season. Both quarterback Tony Romo and wide receiver Dez Bryant missed significant time, which led to a dismal 4-12 season and 12 losses in its last 14 games. With both players back and ready to go, Dallas should be in contention for the NFC East crown, especially with shiny new toy Ezekiel Elliott, the team's first round pick, ready to tote the rock. Dallas' defense was middle of the pack last year, but decided not to bring back troubled defensive end Greg Hardy and 2015 second round pick Randy Gregory will be out the first four games. Dallas should be able to score some points, but stopping teams will be another issue.
Oct. 20: CHICAGO 8:25 EST CBS/NFLN
For the second consecutive year, Chicago will play at Green Bay on a Thursday night. Last Thanksgiving, Green Bay retired Brett Favre's jersey No. 4, but Chicago came into Green Bay and stunned the Packers 17-13. This year, Chicago will be led on offense by Dowell Loggains after Adam Gase left to become the new head coach in Miami. One question that is on people's minds is how Jay Cutler will do without Gase in the Windy City. Chicago will also not have running back Matt Forte, who left as a free agent and signed with the Jets. However, new starter Jeremy Langford played well filling in last season. The Bears will also have wide receiver Kevin White back. White, the 2015 first round pick, missed the entire season a year ago due to leg injury. Now he is back and ready to go. Chicago also signed linebackers Jerrell Freeman and Danny Trevathan to try to help a defense that was in the back half in 2015.
Oct. 30: @ Atlanta 1 EST FOX
After starting out on fire last season at 6-1, the Falcons took a nosedive, losing six straight and finishing with a record of 8-8. Devonta Freeman was a revelation for the Falcons as he rushed for more than 1,000 yards and 11 touchdowns in just 13 starts. The Dirty Birds wanted to shore up defense, as they drafted three players on that side of the ball in the first four rounds. The Falcons focused on offense in free agency in signing Pro Bowl center Alex Mack and wide receiver Mohamed Sanu. Atlanta took steps to improve and challenge for a playoff spot this year.
Nov. 6: INDIANAPOLIS 4:25 EST CBS
Indianapolis was one of the biggest disappointments last year, with expectations of a Super Bowl berth only to fall flat on its face and miss the playoffs while playing in a weak division. The Colts will get Andrew Luck back at full strength and the offensive line will be improved with the drafting of Alabama center Ryan Kelly in the first round. Indianapolis did not make a splash in free agency, but did sign cornerback Patrick Robinson. But I don't think what the Colts did really moved the needle in the landscape of the NFL. Their defense finished 25th in the league last year and I don't think they improved much, at least on paper, and the offense is not good enough to make up for the weaknesses they have on defense. I think the Colts will be an average team once again....somewhere between 7-9 and 9-7.
Nov. 13: @ Tennessee 1 EST FOX
Tennessee needed to improve two areas.....its defense and its offensive line. After ending up with the league's worst record, the Titans traded down to No. 15 before trading back up and landing Michigan State offensive tackle Jake Conklin. After Derrick Morgan got injured midway through the season, Tennessee could not get to the quarterback, only having eight sacks in their final six games. Kevin Dodd was drafted in the second round to try to help out the pass rush and Austin Johnson was drafted to help out the defensive line. Tennessee also was able to trade with Philadelphia for DeMarco Murray, who was the leading rusher in the NFL two years ago. Tennessee did not do much in free agency, but they had a number of draft picks in order to try to rebuild.
Nov. 20: @ Washington 8:30 EST NBC
Washington drafted a wide receiver in Josh Doctson to try to help the receiving core, especially with its top two receivers entering the final year of their contracts. The Redskins also signed top cornerback Josh Norman in an effort to help out the secondary, especially with having to play Bryant and Beckham, Jr., twice each year. Washington will be looking for revenge after losing to Green Bay in the playoffs last season. The Redskins have only won once against Green Bay since 1989. It will be interesting to see how Kirk Cousins does having to play with a one-year contract. He played well in his contract year last year, but will not sneak up on anybody this time around. You like that!
Nov. 28: @ Philadelphia 8:30 ESPN
To cap off a three game road trip, the Packers play against the Eagles, led by new coach and former Packers quarterback Doug Pederson. Philadelphia will be completely different this year. Gone are DeMarco Murray, Byron Maxwell and Kiko Alonso in addition to former boss Chip Kelly. The Eagles managed to trade up to No. 2 in the draft and secure North Dakota State quarterback Carson Wentz. This will no doubt be a rebuilding season for the Eagles and Green Bay should not overlook them, but the Packers should win convincingly.
Dec. 4: HOUSTON 1 EST CBS
The new look Houston Texans will look at earning a second consecutive AFC North crown. Houston will have a new quarterback and running back, but will still have the monster on defense, Wisconsin native J.J. Watt, who will make his first trip to Lambeau Field as a member of the Texans. Brock Osweiler is the new signal caller in Houston and will look to improve upon his numbers he had with Denver. He will have one of the best wide receivers in the NFL at his disposal in DeAndre Hopkins. He will also have free agent signing running back Lamar Miller, who had at least 700 yards rushing in his last three seasons in Miami, including more than 1,000 yards in 2014. Also, Houston drafted wide receiver Will Fuller to try to take some of the attention off Hopkins. The Texans have the potential to be a dangerous team, gaining playmakers all around Osweiler in addition to having an already terrific defense.
Dec. 11: SEATTLE 4:25 EST FOX
This is a major heavyweight battle that has the potential to have homefield advantage or first round bye implications. Seattle made the Divisional Round last year after Blair Walsh missed an easy field goal at the end of the game against Minnesota. Russell Wilson brings in his troops to Lambeau Field, but life may not be as easy as it was when he had Marshawn Lynch. Last year the teams met in Green Bay with the Packers pulling out a 27-17 victory, but the Seahawks did not have All Pro safety Kam Chancellor for that one. Seattle did end up with the No. 1 scoring defense last season and if the offense plays up to its capabilities, the Seahawks will be a challenger to hoist the Lombardi again.
Dec. 18: @ Chicago 1 EST FOX
Interestingly, the Packers have actually had more success at Soldier Field than at Lambeau Field. The last time Chicago won at home in this series was 2010 and only the Bears have only four home wins in the series since 1994. Chicago should be trying to play spoiler at this point and it would make their season to be able to keep the Packers away from a division championship. Chicago has lost its last six games to Green Bay in December or January.
Dec. 24: MINNESOTA 1 EST FOX
In a game that could decide the division (and possibly homefield), the Vikings come to Lambeau Field. This same thing happened in 2004. The two teams met on Christmas Eve to decide the division in the Metrodome. That day, Green Bay won 34-31 on a last second field goal by Ryan Longwell. Fast forward to 2015, the two teams met in week 17 at Lambeau Field to decide the division and the Vikings won that one. Packers and Vikings games are very intense and it will likely go down to the wire.
Jan. 1: @ Detroit 1 EST FOX
The last three years, the NFC North has been decided on week 17. I don't think that will happen this year, but it is something to keep in mind. Richard Rodgers has fond memories of playing in the Motor City and Green Bay would like to have momentum going into the playoffs. Detroit would like to play spoiler to Green Bay, but the Lions just don't have the horses (or Lions) to be able to stick with them. I think Green Bay wins by a few scores.