Schedule Demands Finding 'Launching Point'

Championships aren't won in the opening five games of a season but they can certainly be lost. The Packers' season might boil down to a challenging season-opening stretch. Survive that and big things could be in store down the stretch.

A few days after his club was eliminated from the playoffs, Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy lamented his team's slow start to the season.

"I'll be honest, I wasn't real happy with our football team coming out of training camp," he said. "Us not playing very well the first couple weeks, that was no surprise to me. I'm not going to sit here and talk about it after game Week 1 and Week 2. I chart the path of our team each and every year, so I have my notes to go back on. We had guys hurt in training camp this year. We were not hitting on all cylinders coming out of training camp. In prior years, I thought we were. We've had fast starts around here, and this year we did not."

In light of his team losing to San Francisco and Cincinnati en route to a 1-2 start, McCarthy discussed the need of "hitting that launching point" better than his club did in 2013.

Finding that launching point will be absolutely vital for the Packers as McCarthy plots the team's path for 2014. That much is clear with one look at the schedule that was announced on Wednesday night:

— Week 1: At Seattle. The Seahawks are the defending Super Bowl champions and have been practically unbeatable at home. Their dominating defense will test the Aaron Rodgers-led offense from the opening snap. An offense that ranked fourth in rushing and fourth in yards per pass play can't be overlooked.

"It's a tremendous opportunity for our football team," McCarthy said in quotes distributed by the team on Wednesday. "We have experience playing in the kickoff opener three years ago, 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."

— Week 2: At home against the New York Jets. The Jets finished just 8-8 but they ranked sixth in yards per carry on offense and first in yards per carry allowed on defense. That'll be a huge test to Green Bay's porous run defense and powerful run offense.

— Week 3: At Detroit. After going 7-9 last season, the Lions fired Jim Schwartz and replaced him with Jim Caldwell. The change in coaching staffs will test the Packers' offseason scouting, and a star-studded roster will test the Packers in raucous Ford Field.

— Week 4: At Chicago. The Bears almost won the NFC North under first-year coach Marc Trestman. They finished second in the NFL in scoring behind a high-octane passing attack, and their defense should be better with the additions of Jared Allen, Lamarr Houston and Willie Young to what was an impotent defensive line.

— Week 5: At home against Minnesota. As is the case with the Lions, McCarthy's offseason homework will be put to the test as the Vikings have a new coaching staff led by Mike Zimmer. Adrian Peterson rushed for 146 yards at Lambeau last season and 210 yards at Lambeau in 2012.

"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."

No team has ever won a championship in the first five games of a season, but plenty of teams have lost a championship in those opening five games. With the defending champions and back-to-back-to-back division games, the Packers have plenty at stake to kick off the 2014 season.

If the Packers can stay in contention — and stay healthy — they should be poised for a momentum-building stretch run to the postseason for two reasons.

First, their bye comes in Week 9. Last season, they were saddled with a Week 4 bye. That midseason break provides an opportune time to get healthy.

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

Second, coming out of that bye, the Packers host the Bears and Eagles, play outdoors at Minnesota, then host the Patriots and Falcons. Those four home games in five weeks presents a golden opportunity.

"That's a potential plus, but we have to be in position to take advantage of it," McCarthy said. "That will be the third quarter of our season and it will be important to make the most of playing at home during that stretch."

To be in position to take advantage late in the season, it will be crucial for the Packers to launch out of the starting gates to open the season. No doubt, that will be McCarthy's focus for the next four-and-a-half months.

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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at

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