The Green Bay Packers are coming off a second consecutive 13-3 season and trip to the NFC championship game. You might not have heard, but there’s some quarterback drama this offseason with the Pack. Still, the NFL deigned upon Green Bay five primetime games, including two early in the season. The NFL expects the Packers to be must-see TV.
What should fans look forward as the Packers look to win another division title? Remember with the new 17-game schedule this year, Green Bay will play more games on the road than at home (next season it will be the opposite), but the Packers never play three straight away from home. Twice Green Bay will face an opponent coming off a bye week. More tidbits such as this below as Bally Sports Wisconsin breaks down the 2021 matchups and explains what you need to know about each contest.
Week 1: Sunday Sept. 12, 3:25 p.m. at New Orleans Saints
The post-Drew Brees era begins in New Orleans with a Week 1 matchup against Green Bay. Is Taysom Hill (or some combination two-QB system with Jameis Winston) the answer? We’re about to find out. Having a healthy Michael Thomas at wide receiver not to mention do-everything running back Alvin Kamara won’t hurt. The defense was good in 2020 but the Saints had little cap room and lost via free agency LB Trey Hendrickson, CB Janoris Jenkins and DT Sheldon Rankins plus traded DT Malcom Brown to Jacksonville. The Saints did go defense with their first three picks of the draft – DE Payton Turner, LB Pete Werner and CB Paulson Adebo -- and all will likely have to contribute quickly.
Week 2: Monday, Sept. 20, 7:15 p.m. vs. Detroit Lions
There’s been a lot of turnover in Detroit, and not just on the coaching staff. Out are longtime Lions QB Matthew Stafford and WRs Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones, not to mention veteran RB Adrian Peterson, who led the team in rushes and yards last season. The new offense will be led by QB Jared Goff, who wore out his welcome in Los Angeles and will throw to, among others, WRs Breshad Perriman and Tyrell Williams. D’Andre Swift, a second-round pick in 2020, will carry the load at running back. Top pick Penei Sewell will get a welcome to the NFL in his second career game having to fend off Za’Darius Smith and company. Hopefully Lambeau Field is at full capacity of fans to cheer on every sack.
Week 3: Sunday Sept. 26, 7:20 p.m. at San Francisco 49ers
Nothing like having a short week and having to fly out to the West Coast, although at least this is a night game. San Francisco is bound to be better as long as its defense can stay healthy. Of the returning players, DE Nick Bosa (perhaps most significantly), DE Dee Ford, S Jaquiski Tarrt and CB K’Waun Williams all missed significant time. On offense, TE George Kittle and RB Raheem Mostert each only played half the season. But the biggest question on the 49ers is when will No. 3 overall pick Trey Lance replace Jimmy Garoppolo? We’re guessing, barring injury, it won’t be by Week 3. Another thing we’ll guess: The 49ers will test Green Bay’s run defense.
Week 4: Sunday, Oct. 3, 3:25 p.m. vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
Remember last year when Pittsburgh was 11-0 and a Super Bowl favorite? Then the offense crumbled – scoring 22 points or less in four of the final five games to limp to the finish and an eventual wild-card loss to Cleveland. Ben Roethlisberger is fighting Father Time and who knows when he’ll break down for good; he managed to complete 65.6% of his passes for 3,803 yards with 33 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in 15 games. Pittsburgh has relatively the same cast as in 2020, although with a big exception at running back where Alabama rookie Najee Harris takes over for the departed James Conner. A defense which finished first in sacks and turnover pressure, second in turnovers and third in points and yards allowed, remains largely intact.
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 10, 12 p.m. at Cincinnati Bengals
Believe it or not but Cincinnati might be one of the toughest teams in the league for a secondary to defend. That is, if quarterback Joe Burrow has time to throw behind a so-so offensive line. There’s also the issue of Burrow coming back from a torn ACL suffered in Week 11. Anyway, the Bengals’ trio of receivers of Tyler Boyd, rookie and No. 5 overall pick Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins will be one of the best, if not best, three WR sets in the NFL. Add in a healthy Joe Mixon at running back and Cincy should score more than the 311 points it had in 2020. The defense can be picked on, however. The Bengals allowed 423 points last year. Free-agent additions CB Chidobe Awuzie, DE Trey Hendrickson, CB Mike Hilton and DT Larry Ogunjobi could help in that department or just be a part of the recent churn.
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 17, 12 p.m. at Chicago Bears
Will Andy Dalton really be QB1? Dalton was signed to be the starter but then Chicago traded up for Justin Fields in the draft. The offense needs a jolt from somewhere and maybe by Week 6 (if not well before then), head coach Matt Nagy has turned to the rookie. The Bears had the seventh fewest yards in the NFL in 2020 – third worst in the NFC – then went out and … did very little to improve the offense. Wide receiver Allen Robinson does return thanks to a franchise tag, but Chicago’s other wideouts are no-names, has beens, those trying to rebound or young players trying to establish themselves. Workhorse running back David Montgomery returns and perhaps a healthy Tarik Cohen gives the offense some juice. But a lot is going to fall on the shoulders of whomever is the QB. Uh oh.
Week 7: Sunday Oct. 24, 12 p.m. vs. Washington Football Team
If Washington is going to win the division again in 2021 (OK, it did it with a losing record last year), it will be due largely to the defense. Washington boasts a lot of good, young players, especially along a defensive line which includes Jonathan Allen, Montez Sweat and Chase Young. Getting a QB uncomfortable leads to mistakes and, often, opponent wins. WFT added some weapons to help a stagnant offense as well, signing Curtis Samuel and drafting Dyami Brown. The QB de jour for Washington is Ryan Fitzpatrick. There will certainly be some FitzMagic this upcoming year, but also has his share of clunkers. Expect an inconsistent Washington offense again in 2021. The key will be scoring against the defense.
Week 8, Thu., Oct. 28, 7:20 p.m. at Arizona Cardinals
We’re going to put this out here first: Green Bay has played three games in Arizona since 2010. The results have been two overtime losses (including two memorable playoff defeats) and being blown out. Coming off an 8-8 season with exciting QB Kyler Murray at the helm, the Cardinals clearly see 2021 as a chance to make a big step forward – and they are doing their best to make sure Murray is protected. Arizona beefed up its offensive line, adding veterans Kelvin Beachum, Rodney Hudson and Max Garcia. To shore up the defense, the Cards added Robert Alford, Malcolm Butler, Markus Golden and J.J. Watt. The Packers will find out if this plan worked on a short week in which they have to fly out west.
Week 9: Sun, Nov. 7 at Kansas City Chiefs
How much do we need to say about a team which has gone to back-to-back Super Bowls? Kansas City returns the core of last year’s team, which went 14-2, with the exception of a couple of new pieces along the offensive line in LT Orlando Brown, acquired in a trade with Baltimore, and RG Kyle Long, who came out of retirement. The last time Green Bay played the Chiefs, Pat Mahomes sat out due to injury. This will be quite the test as the first half of the NFL’s new 18-week schedule ends.
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 14, 3:25 p.m. vs. Seattle Seahawks
This might sound familiar, but quarterback Russell Wilson was not happy with team management this offseason. He also remains on the Seahawks despite a lot of speculation otherwise. Wilson remains a dynamic player but struggled down the stretch, including a playoff loss to the Los Angeles Rams. He failed to top 200 yards passing in four of his final eight games, including that playoff tilt, with a high of 263 in that span. The defense is a shell of the Legion of Boom days as well, having given up over 6,000 yards (11th most in the NFL) last year. And, oh, Seattle was 12-4. Eight of those victories were by a touchdown or less. The Seahawks always seem to find a way to get it done. It won’t hurt the Seahawks’ cause they’ll be coming off a bye week while the Packers will have just played (presumably) a tough road game. That being said, the last time Seattle won in Lambeau Field was 1999 (nine straight losses).
Week 11: Sunday Nov. 21, 12 p.m. at Minnesota Vikings
Minnesota’s offense should look similar to 2020 with one major exception – the Vikings hope first-round pick LT Christian Darrisaw provides QB Kirk Cousins with better protection. Third-round selection G Wyatt Davis might work himself into the lineup by this date as well. The Vikings, on paper, have the makings of a good offense, with RB Dalvin Cook and a strong receiver tandem in Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson. Of course, Cousins hasn’t thrown for 300 yards against the Packers since 2018 and in the past two seasons has been held to under 200 yards twice, with Green Bay 3-1 in those contests.
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 28, 3:25 p.m. vs. Los Angeles Rams
Green Bay will see a familiar face behind center as the Rams ditched Jared Goff in a trade with Detroit for Matthew Stafford. Los Angeles hopes Stafford can ignite an offense which scored just 372 points in 2020 and 394 in ’19 after recording 527 in its Super Bowl year of 2018 and 478 the previous season. With a receiving corps of Tyler Higbee, DeSean Jackson, Van Jefferson, Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods, this team should score points. The defense, which allowed a league-low 296 points, is largely unchanged and led by cornerback Jalen Ramsey and defensive tackle Aaron Donald. Of course, with little draft room and scant draft picks, the Rams couldn’t do much this offseason. Still, Stafford gives L.A. some hope for better times. The Rams will be playing this game coming off their bye.
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 12, 7:20 p.m. vs. Chicago Bears
This time it’s Green Bay which will be playing after a bye as it prepares for the stretch run. Chicago will have had its bye in Week 10. The Bears return most of the pieces of a pretty good defense which finished mid-pack in yards allowed, points allowed and sacks. Chicago did, however, let loose cornerback Kyle Fuller and replace him with Desmond Trufant (or perhaps Artie Burns). Davante Adams was probably licking his chops at that move. For what it’s worth, against the Bears last season Adams had games of just 46 and 61 yards receiving.
Week 15, Sun., Dec. 19, 12 p.m. at Baltimore Ravens
How will the Packers defend quarterback Lamar Jackson? Better easier said than done. In 2020, Jackson accounted for 33 touchdowns – seven rushing – as Baltimore topped 30 points in half of its regular-season games. In order to help Jackson in the passing game, the Ravens added wide receiver Sammy Watkins in free agency and Rashod Bateman in the draft. They also changed up the right side of their line with guard Kevin Zeitler and tackle Alejandro Villanueva. Baltimore remains strong on defense, led by such players as cornerbacks Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters, linebacker Patrick Queen and defensive tackle Calais Campbell. The Ravens allowed the second-fewest points in 2020 and surrendered fewer than 20 points at home in five of eight games and 12 times overall, including playoffs.
Week 16: Sat., Dec. 25, 3:30 p.m. vs. Cleveland Browns
A Christmas game in Green Bay? Cue the snow globe. Unfortunately, the Packers are playing a team used to a little bit of inclement weather. The Browns look to sustain the momentum after making the playoffs for the first time since 2002. Cleveland finished 11-5 even with a minus-11 point differential. The offense could get a boost if Odell Beckham Jr. can return to form following a season-ending injury. Beckham and Jarvis Landry make a decent 1-2 punch at wideout with tight end Austin Hooper a good option as well. The Browns’ run game is tough to defend with two quality backs in Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, who combined for over 1,900 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns in 2020. Cleveland hopes it fortified its defensive line with the additions of Jadeveon Clowney and Malik Jackson, two solid veterans.
Week 17: Sunday Jan. 2, 7:20 p.m. vs. Minnesota Vikings
Minnesota got very little pass rush in 2020. If the Vikings can’t improve on that, well, it’s very good news for whoever is at quarterback for the Packers (especially so if it’s Aaron Rodgers). DE Danielle Hunter and NT Michael Pierce are back after opting out of last season and the team added DE Patrick Jones II in the draft. Hunter, who had 14.5 sacks in both 2018 and ’19, being back is big (of course, he’s unhappy with his contract, so we’ll have to see how that plays out). The Vikings’ secondary play was weak last year and the team added veteran CB Patrick Peterson, CB Mackensie Alexander, a former Vikings draft pick who left as a free agent but returned, and S Xavier Woods to help shore it up. The defense being a weak point on a Mike Zimmer-led team seemed weird last year. It’s a good bet he’ll have that unit improved in 2021.
Week 18: Sunday, Jan. 9, 12 p.m. at Detroit Lions
The NFL hasn’t announced its Sunday night game for the final weekend yet. This matchup could be one of two games moved to Saturday, Jan. 8 as well. (We’re kind of doubting either will happen in this game’s case). Last season under supposed defensive guru Matt Patricia, the Lions were the only team to allow 500 points (519) and also gave up the most yards in the NFL (6,716). New head coach Dan Campbell brought in Aaron Glenn to be defensive coordinator. The Lions gave him plenty of new bodies to work with. Detroit made a lower-profile trade with the Rams in acquiring DT Michael Brockers, a solid vet, and used four picks in Rounds 2-4 of this year’s draft on defensive players. Well, there’s nowhere to go but up!