Challenge Starts with Seahawks

Neither of the main characters — Golden Tate or M.D. Jennings — will be there when the Packers visit Seattle in a made-for-TV showdown to start the season. That clash is the kickoff to what Green Bay hopes is another march to the Super Bowl.

The Green Bay Packers, along with the rest of the world, found out what order they would play their opponents in on Wednesday night.

The highlight of the schedule was the game that will be played first. Despite having a potential NFC Championship or Super Bowl rematch on the schedule, the NFL elected to have the Packers return to the scene of the crime where they suffered through what has become known as the "Fail Mary."

The game, played on Sept. 24, 2012, aired nationally on "Monday Night Football." The Packers lost when replacement officials deemed that Golden Tate caught the ball in the end zone, even though it looked as if it was intercepted by M.D. Jennings. The debacle in Seattle sparked outrage across the country and helped bring labor peace between the league and its regular officials.

The Packers will face a tall task against a team coming off of a Super Bowl victory. Winning in Seattle is difficult enough on its own. Seattle has lost just one game at home in the last two seasons combined. Since the NFL created a season-opening matchup featuring the reigning Super Bowl winner, the defending champion has lost just once. That happened last year, when Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos shredded the Baltimore Ravens' defense in a convincing 49-27 victory. Because of a scheduling conflict in Baltimore, Denver hosted that game.

Opening night will not be short on drama and there will be plenty to discuss before the game begins. With the Packers' defensive collapse down the stretch in 2013, they once again will get an early test by taking on the defending champs on their home turf, in the first of their five primetime contests.

The schedule does not get any easier for the Packers after the Sept. 4 opener against the Seahawks. They will open at home against the New York Jets. The last time the Packers played the Jets, it was a defensive struggle that the Packers won 9-0 behind three Mason Crosby field goals. Both teams have changed dramatically. The Packers' defense has not been as good since 2010 and the Jets will have a new quarterback, having jettisoned Mark Sanchez. Whether or not that quarterback is Geno Smith or Mike Vick remains to be seen, but Vick has played well against the Packers. He nearly rallied the Eagles from behind in the 2010 opener, and his late drive four months later fell just short, with Tramon Williams' interception clinching a Wild Card victory that sparked a run that eventually ended on Super Bowl Sunday.

What follows is a key stretch with three consecutive division games. The Packers play at the Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears, then return home on a short week against the Minnesota Vikings. Winning division games is vital, and the Packers will have to do that early and often with a tough schedule coming up down the stretch.

After the trio of divisional opponents, the Packers will face-off against Joe Philbin for the first time since he became the head coach of the Miami Dolphins. Philbin's team has been average in each of his two seasons, and he faces a big season after last year's locker-room controversy.

Before the Packers' bye week, which will come in Week 9 this season as opposed to Week 4 in 2013, they will host the Carolina Panthers before a "Sunday Night Football" game at the Superdome against the New Orleans Saints. The last time the Packers played in the Superdome was on "Monday Night Football" in 2008, and they were blown off the field in a 51-29 loss. The Packers have won both meetings with the Saints since then, including 42-34 in the season opener following their Super Bowl XLV victory.

After the bye, the Packers will face two straight NFC contenders. First, it's a "Sunday Night Football" clash against the Bears at Lambeau Field. When the Packers hosted the Bears on "Monday Night Football" almost exactly on year earlier, Aaron Rodgers sustained a broken collarbone and the entire season was thrown for a loop.

Just like last year, the Bears game is followed by a matchup against Chip Kelly and the high-flying Philadelphia Eagles. In Green Bay's first game without Rodgers, the Eagles won 27-13 en route to winning the NFC East.

After a division game at Minnesota, the Packers will play the New England Patriots at Lambeau Field in what might be the first matchup between Rodgers and Tom Brady. When the teams met at New England in 2010, Matt Flynn guided the Packers admirably but fell just short of a comeback. Following the game, McCarthy made one of his more famous statements by saying the Packers were "nobody's underdogs."

The final primetime game of the season will come the following week against the Atlanta Falcons. The Packers have won three consecutive meetings between the teams. The first came two came in Atlanta, and last year was at Lambeau Field. Following that second game, a 25-14 victory at Atlanta on Oct. 10, 2011, a war of words sparked between Atlanta wide receiver Roddy White and Packers nose tackle B.J. Raji.

The Packers will have two more road games, including a return to Tampa Bay in a game that used to be between NFC Central rivals. The Packers lost the last time they went to Tampa Bay, 2009, in Josh Freeman's first career start.

After closing the season on the road each of the last two seasons, the Packers will finish at home against the Lions. The last time the teams closed out a season, Flynn threw a franchise-record six touchdown passes in a 45-41 victory in the 2011 finale. If, under new coach Jim Caldwell, the Lions return to be the team they were in 2011, this game could be for the division crown.

The release of the schedule was the last piece of big news before the NFL Draft in two weeks, and gives us another reminder that there are just 133 days until the Packers kickoff against the Seahawks.

Jacob Westendorf is a student at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay and an intern for Packer Report. E-mail him at Find Jacob on Twitter at

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