WEEK 1: at Jacksonville Jaguars
Date: Sunday, Sept. 11. Time: noon. TV: Fox
Noteworthy: Sixth meeting between the teams and first since 2012, a 24-15 victory by the Packers.
2015 record: 5-11. Points (rank): 23.5 (14th). Points allowed (rank): 28.0 (31st).
2016 lookahead: One of the benefits of being a perennial doormat is oodles of salary-cap space. That allowed the Jaguars to spend aggressively during the offseason. They added three starters on defense (defensive tackle Malik Jackson, safety Tashaun Gipson and cornerback Prince Amukamara) and three more on offense (running back Chris Ivory, left tackle Kelvin Beachum and center/guard Mackenzy Bernadeau). Another key “addition” will be Dante Fowler, the Jaguars’ first-round pick last year who missed the entire season. With those fresh faces and the fifth pick of this year’s draft, the Jaguars could be poised for a huge jolt forward. For Jacksonville to become a legit playoff team, it will need quarterback Blake Bortles to take the next step. In 2015, he finished seventh with 4,428 passing yards and fourth with 35 passing touchdowns. However, he led the NFL with 18 interceptions and finished 23rd with a passer rating of 88.2. A better run game — keyed by Ivory — will help, coach Gus Bradley said. “I think we’d like to get our run game going and I think that’s very beneficial for us as a team as far as how we want to continue to go forward. I do think it takes some off his plate. It’ll only make him better. I think that one of Blake’s strengths is he’s very competitive. He’s a great leader for us. And his toughness. But after looking at the cut ups, his play-(action) passes, that’s where he had some effectiveness for us as a team. And if you can get the run game going, hopefully it’ll even benefit him more.”
WEEK 2: at Minnesota Vikings
Date: Sunday, Sept. 18. Time: 7:30 p.m. TV: NBC
Noteworthy: The Packers have won five of their last six trips to Minnesota, including 30-13 last year.
2015 record: 11-5. Points (rank): 22.8 (16th). Points allowed (rank): 18.9 (5th).
2016 lookahead: Getting past Green Bay was a huge step for the Vikings. “I think that’s a reflection of Coach (Mike) Zimmer’s personality, that true-grit mentality,” GM Rick Spielman said. “Green Bay is a great team. They have a great organization. And for our guys to respond, to go up there in that atmosphere in a primetime game — in the past, we haven’t been good in those situations — that was just a reflection of, one, the coaching staff and, two, the type of players that we’re bringing in and the most important thing: our players buying in to what Coach Zimmer is teaching and preaching.” The reigning NFC North champions spent the offseason fortifying their offensive line. That was critical, Zimmer said. “Here's a quote for you," Zimmer said. "I feel like every other position group on our football team has a tough-minded personality. I don't know that our offensive line did.” To that end, the Vikings signed veteran Alex Boone to start at left guard and Andre Smith to challenge Phil Loadholt at right tackle. Boone replaces Brandon Fusco, who will challenge incumbent starter Mike Harris at right guard. The goal, Zimmer said, is for the play of the offensive line to lift the rest of an offense that was mediocre even with Adrian Peterson returning to the field and returning to form. “I think if we fix (the offensive line) it's going to help (quarterback Teddy Bridgewater) a lot more than getting a receiver in here,” Zimmer said. “Teddy was running for his life half the time. We had a whole bunch of 1-yard runs. I just felt like we needed to make some changes there.”
WEEK 3: vs. Detroit Lions
Date: Sunday, Sept. 25. Time: noon. TV: Fox
Noteworthy: Last year, Detroit broke its infamous 24-game losing streak in Wisconsin.
2015 record: 7-9. Points (rank): 22.4 (18th). Points allowed (rank): 25.0 (23rd).
2016 lookahead: The Lions were dealt a major blow when premier receiver Calvin Johnson retired. There’s no way Detroit can replace Johnson with just one person, so new GM Bob Quinn tried to replace Johnson with numbers by signing Marvin Jones to pair with Golden Tate and then adding Jeremy Kerley for the No. 3 role. With 10 picks at his disposal, expect Quinn to tap into a receiver class that is long on depth but short on elite prospects. Other than receiver, Detroit’s prime needs are defensive end (only three players under contract), strong safety (starter Isa Abdul-Quddus and backup James Ihedigbo departed in free agency) and a left tackle to groom to eventually replace Riley Reiff. A durable runner would be nice, too, to pair with fleet-footed Ameer Abdullah and pass-catching standout Theo Riddick.
WEEK 4: Bye
WEEK 5: vs. New York Giants
Date: Sunday, Oct. 9. Time: 7:30 p.m. TV: NBC
Noteworthy: The Packers have won five of the last six regular-season matchups at Lambeau, including 45-17 in 2010.
2015 record: 6-10. Points (rank): 26.3 (6th). Points allowed (rank): 27.6 (30th).
2016 lookahead: The offense scored a bunch of points. The defense gave up even more. So, the Giants opened the vault to bolster their beleaguered unit in free agency and signed three of the top defensive players available: defensive end Olivier Vernon, cornerback Janoris Jenkins and defensive tackle Damon Harrison. “We went into free agency hoping to find help to improve our defense,” GM Jerry Reese said. “We believe signing JPP (Jason Pierre-Paul), Snacks (Harrison), J.J. (Jenkins) and Olivier Vernon gives us a good start in that direction.” If those additions pan out, first-year head coach Ben McAdoo — a former Packers assistant — could be primed to lead a big turnaround. He says he’s learned a lot under two former Super Bowl champions, Mike McCarthy and Tom Coughlin. “It gives you a blueprint. You get a chance to work with Mike and work with Tom, see a couple different ways, really, to go about your business. They’re a couple ways to skin a cat, and Tom and Mike are great examples of that.” The Giants have six draft picks, with right tackle (to replace Marshall Newhouse) and cornerback being the key positions. The quickest way to get better is up front on both sides of the ball,” McAdoo said. “You have to protect your quarterback and you have to get after the other team’s quarterback. It’s directly related to the QB rating differential, which is important in winning and losing games. You want to do a better job of getting after the quarterback whether it’s up front or it’s coming from the secondary, putting pressure there or from the linebacker level. You have to make the quarterback uncomfortable, certainly.”
WEEK 6: vs. Dallas Cowboys
Date: Sunday, Oct. 16. Time: 3:25 p.m. TV: Fox
Noteworthy: The Packers have won six of the last seven and outscored the Cowboys 116-42 in the last four at Lambeau.
2015 record: 4-12. Points (rank): 17.2 (31st). Points allowed (rank): 23.4 (16th).
2016 lookahead: In un-Jerry Jones-like fashion, the Cowboys have had a quiet offseason focused on retaining their own players rather than making a big-splash signing. Last year was a disaster but the improvement should come from within, assuming quarterback Tony Romo, receiver Dez Bryant and cornerback Orlando Scandrick stay healthy and return to form. Those three missed a combined 35 games last year, a big reason why Dallas went from 12-4 to 4-12. The Cowboys are expected to draft a quarterback to eventually replace Romo. “I think the evaluation with every player starts with the guy himself — who is the guy, how important is football to him, does he have a passion for the game, can he function in a team environment, what’s his personal character, what’s his football character — all of those things,” coach Jason Garrett said. “The makeup of the player is critical — particularly critical at that position. But then there are so many physical traits that you need. You need to be able to throw the ball, you need to be able to move. We value instinct. The best quarterbacks, regardless of what shape or size they come in, are instinctive. They play the game the right way with a natural feel — you can go back through history and look at that.” Beyond that, the Cowboys need a defensive end, with troubled Greg Hardy unsigned and Randy Gregory suspended, and a cornerback.
WEEK 7: vs. Chicago Bears
Date: Thursday, Oct. 20. Time: 7:25 p.m. TV: CBS/NFL Network
Noteworthy: This marks the 11th consecutive year the Packers and Bears have met in prime time.
2015 record: 6-10. Points (rank): 20.9 (23rd). Points allowed (rank): 24.8 (20th).
2016 lookahead: Even though the Bears made only incremental progress in Year 1 under coach John Fox, going from 5-11 to 6-10, Fox feels much better about his team heading into Year 2, and that starts with quarterback Jay Cutler. Fox called Cutler one of the “brightest spots” on last year’s team. It was a stark contrast to last offseason, when Fox spoke in lukewarm tones about the quarterback he was inheriting. “I saw way more about his mental toughness,” Fox said. “I saw way more about how he can absorb an offense and execute it under pressure. I think that speaks volumes for how successful he was on third downs, which is a tough down for a quarterback in the NFL. But I was very, very pleased with what I saw and what we have to work with going forward.” Beyond the quarterback, Fox likes the one-year transformation.“I think we went from one of the older rosters in the NFL — that includes offense, defense, special teams — and became a younger roster,” Fox said. “It's no mystery we had a lot of younger players play on defense this year and extensively. The thing that sometimes I think people get lost about is the improvement of that player from a freshman to a sophomore, from Year 1 to Year 2.”
WEEK 8: at Atlanta Falcons
Date: Sunday, Oct. 30. Time: noon. TV: Fox
Noteworthy: The Packers have won the last four matchups, including 25-14 at Atlanta in 2011 and 48-21 in the 2010 playoffs.
2015 record: 8-8. Points (rank): 21.2 (21st). Points allowed (rank): 21.6 (14th).
2016 lookahead: With quarterback Matt Ryan, running back Devonta Freeman and receiver Julio Jones, the Falcons will score points. Can they stop anyone? The key to turning that group into a top unit is beefing up the pass rush, which finished last in the league with 19 sacks last season. “I think it’s the speed,” coach Dan Quinn said of improving the defense. “If that part of our defense can get right, we can have a chance to effect the quarterback and create turnovers. That part of our game, we’re not there yet. When we add that speed to the club, the foundation, the principles and the tackling, the mind-set is firmly established. Now, if we can continue to add the speed and attitude to the club to that side of the ball, that’s when some of the other things will take place. That’s when more of the turnovers come. That’s when the hits on the quarterback come. I want it to be in our building where it’s so loud, our guys will absolutely be flying off the ball, going after that. That’s what I’m looking to create for our defense.” Atlanta’s key transactions were signing center Alex Mack, receiver Mohamed Sanu (to replace Roddy White) and linebacker Courtney Upshaw. The Falcons have only five picks at their disposal — one each in the first, second, third, fourth and seventh rounds.
WEEK 9: vs. Indianapolis Colts
Date: Sunday, Nov. 6. Time: 3:25 p.m. TV: CBS
Noteworthy: The Packers have won three consecutive home games against Indianapolis, including 2008.
2015 record: 8-8. Points (rank): 20.8 (24th). Points allowed (rank): 25.5 (25th).
2016 lookahead: With a quiet offseason, the Colts are counting on the return of quarterback Andrew Luck and an improved offensive line to get the team back in Super Bowl contention after losing in the AFC title game in 2014. “Obviously, we need to protect our quarterback better,” GM Ryan Grigson said. “There are a lot of different ways to do that. I think that every team in this league knows, no matter if you have a line full of (first-round picks), your quarterback is going to get hit. You have to find ways, whether it be through acquiring better talent, smarter players, schemes. There are a lot of different ways to protect your quarterback. Obviously, drafting is a very key component to building an offensive line.” A better line should help, but the Colts need more from Luck, too. In about a half-season’s work, he completed 55.3 percent of his passes with 15 touchdowns, 12 interceptions and a 74.9 passer rating. On the other side of the ball, coach Chuck Pagano replaced his defensive coordinator, hiring Ted Monachino. “I think if you look at the teams that made the conference championships and then the final two, the pass rush stood out to me,” Pagano said. “You can never have enough pass rushers. You can never have enough corners. I think as far as getting after the quarterback, both those teams were able to do it with four guys. Sometimes they brought five, but you didn’t see it too often. But when you have the ability to put pressure on the quarterback and affect the quarterback with four guys and you can play coverage, and do certain things, drop seven into coverage, obviously it’s very beneficial.”
WEEK 10: at Tennessee Titans
Date: Sunday, Nov. 13. Time: noon. TV: Fox
Noteworthy: Green Bay is 0-2 at Tennessee, including in overtime in 2008.
2015 record: 3-13. Points (rank): 18.7 (28th). Points allowed (rank): 26.4 (27th).
2016 lookahead: The Titans sent the top pick of this year’s draft, plus its fourth-rounder (No. 113) and sixth-rounder (No. 177) to the Rams in exchange for Los Angeles' first-round pick (No. 15), two second-round selections (Nos. 43 and 45) and a third-round pick (No. 76). The Titans also will get the Rams' first- and third-round picks in 2017. That added to a strong offseason for the Titans, who acquired former NFL rushing leader DeMarco Murray for a couple used footballs, plus signed center Ben Jones and receiver Rishard Matthews. With six of the top 100 picks, they’ll have ample opportunity to upgrade at defensive tackle, cornerback and wide receiver. The key will be offensive tackle, though, to provide better protection to second-year quarterback Marcus Mariota, who was sacked 38 times in 12 games. As a rookie, he completed 62.2 percent for 2,818 yards with 19 touchdowns, 10 interceptions and a rating of 91.5. He added 252 yards and averaged 7.4 yards rushing. The next step goes beyond throwing the football. “He’s done a lot of good things in an adverse situation last year, with some of the things that went on with the coaching change and some of the injuries,” Mularkey said. “One of the biggest things I thought he struggled with was even the play-calling in the huddle. It’s because of the length of it, and he did not have to do that at Oregon. So what we’re trying to do, every day that we’re in there as an offensive staff, we’re trying to simplify the terminology to its simplest form, to where there’s not a lot of verbiage, but it says a volume of what we want everybody to do, and that will help him in the process of being able to spit it out, get to the line of scrimmage and have more time to see what defenses are trying to do to attack us.”
WEEK 11: at Washington Redskins
Date: Sunday, Nov. 20. Time: 7:30 p.m. TV: NBC
Noteworthy: The Packers beat the Redskins 35-18 in last year’s Wild Card round. Green Bay has won six of the last seven in the series.
2015 record: 9-7. Points (rank): 24.3 (10th). Points allowed (rank): 23.7 (17th).
2016 lookahead: In 2014, the Redskins went 4-12. In 2015 under coach Jay Gruden, Washington surged to 9-7 and hosted Green Bay in the opening round of the playoffs. The key to the resurgence was quarterback Kirk Cousins, who boasted the league’s fifth-best passer rating. He’s back — and Robert Griffin III is out — under the $19.95 million franchise tag. How far away are the Redskins from being a legit contender? “That’s a good question. That’s what we’re trying to figure out,” Gruden said. “I think every team is trying to figure out and trying to get where the Packers are and the Patriots and the Broncos now. That’s what we’re trying to do. I think experience is No. 1. Consistent, winning experience is what we’re trying to look for. We did a great job, I thought, last year of overcoming adversity and getting ourselves into position to win the division, which is a great start for us. Now that we have an idea of how to win, now it’s a matter of taking how to win and find ways to improve our football team both physically and mentally and hopefully we can do that.” Washington made a couple midlevel moves by signing safety David Bruton and tight end Vernon Davis. The Packers destroyed the secondary in the playoff game and upgrading that area is paramount with the Redskins’ eight draft picks. Other targets include running back (to replace Alfred Morris) and defensive line (to replace Terrance Knighton and Jason Hatcher).
WEEK 12: at Philadelphia Eagles
Date: Monday, Nov. 28. Time: 7:30 p.m. TV: ESPN
Noteworthy: The Packers are playing on “Monday Night Football” for the 24th consecutive season. In their last trip to Philly, the Packers won 21-16 in the 2010 playoffs.
2015 record: 7-9. Points (rank): 23.6 (13th). Points allowed (rank): 26.9 (28th).
2016 lookahead: Good riddance to Chip Kelly. GM Howie Roseman has had a busy offseason, including trading away cornerback Byron Maxwell and running back DeMarco Murray. Those two had combined contracts worth $103 million. To bolster the roster, the Eagles signed interior linemen Brandon Brooks — to a whopping $40 million over five years — and Stefen Wisniewski, receivers Rueben Randle and Chris Givens, and cornerbacks Leodis McKelvin and Ron Brooks. But who will play quarterback? Sam Bradford, a disappointment last year, was re-signed and Chase Daniel was added. Combined, they are collecting $38 million guaranteed. Whether either of them are good enough to win nine or 10 games is the big question. “I went in thinking he was going to be the guy, I honestly did," new coach Dough Pederson said of Bradford. "That was probably the No. 1 thing I did first and probably foremost when I got (to Philadelphia) was evaluate that position, evaluate Sam's performance. That's what led to him wanting to stay in Philadelphia. I wanted him to stay in Philadelphia, and we got him signed.” With nine picks, the Eagles are looking to add a running back and left tackle. They need linebacker help, too, after dealing Kiko Alonso and releasing DeMeco Ryans. Meanwhile, Pederson will try to pick up the pieces from the Kelly era. He was Brett Favre’s backup for seven seasons sandwiched around 17 stars with Philly and Cleveland. “He’s got tremendous energy, tremendous leadership ability,” Roseman said. “You can feel it every day around the complex — there’s excitement around him. Really, our jobs as a front office is to make sure we’re getting the players that fit our coach, that fit the style of play that he wants to put out there on the field and his vision for our football team.”
WEEK 13: Houston Texans
Date: Sunday, Dec. 4. Time: noon. TV: CBS
Noteworthy: Green Bay is 2-1 in the series. The Texans’ first coach was Dom Capers, the Packers’ defensive coordinator.
2015 record: 9-7. Points (rank): 21.2 (21st). Points allowed (rank): 19.6 (7th).
2016 lookahead: With J.J. Watt leading the way, the defense was tremendous. To get the offense up to par, the Texans lured quarterback Brock Osweiler away from Denver for $72 million and signed running back Lamar Miller away from Miami for $26 million. "Obviously we had a need at the quarterback position,” GM Rick Smith said. “With the level of success we've been able to have over the last few years, we haven't had consistent play at the quarterback position. We haven't had consistency at the quarterback position and we really feel like the move to add Brock gives us that stability, and hopefully that will allow us to advance a little bit further than what we've done before.” Osweiler’s not exactly filled with experience. He passed for 1,967 yards with 10 touchdowns and six interceptions and posted a 5-2 record in place of Peyton Manning last year. “This guy is a good quarterback, he's got command at the line of scrimmage," Texans head coach Bill O'Brien said. "He's standing in the pocket and he's delivering the ball down the field. He played well in some big games this past year in Denver, and we're very, very glad to have him as our quarterback.” Houston lost guard Brandon Brooks and center Ben Jones in free agency but replaced them with center Tony Bergstrom and guard Jeff Allen. Further help is needed on offense, specifically a tight end and/or receiver for Osweiler.
WEEK 14: Seattle Seahawks
Date: Sunday, Dec. 11. Time: 3:25 p.m. TV: Fox
Noteworthy: Including playoffs, Green Bay is 9-3 against the Seahawks, including six straight wins.
2015 record: 10-6. Points (rank): 26.4 (4th). Points allowed (rank): 17.3 (1st).
2016 lookahead: One of the NFL’s premier teams must overcome the loss of running back Marshawn Lynch, who has retired. Thomas Rawls, who started seven games and rushed for 830 yards before a broken ankle, is the top contender. “He definitely has the talent to do it, but we're going to get a couple people in there to compete with him,” GM John Schneider said. "And he's recovering from a significant injury as well, too. He's a fun kid and a really talented guy. I just can't tell you that (he'll succeed) right now. I'd go to (Las) Vegas if I could tell you that.” Whether it’s Rawls or a draft pick, better play is needed up front. That unit wasn’t good enough to begin with, and now it must replace left tackle Russell Okung. His replacement, Bradley Sowell, is one of three former college free agents forming the way-too-early projected front wall. “I think everybody is concerned about offensive line play,” Schneider said. “I think you could talk to college coaches recruiting high school kids (and) they are concerned, as well.” With uncertainty at running back, does that mean more will be asked of quarterback Russell Wilson? “Russell has always been able to do that, people kind of forget that,” coach Pete Carroll said. “He’s able to throw the ball 40 times a game and have big games and big numbers and all of that, but that’s just not the way we choose to play. We’ll see, we’ll see how it goes. Each year there are new dynamics, and we have to see how the players fit together and how it works. We’re not going to change drastically, there’s no reason to. We think we’re still a pretty good football team if we keep doing what we’re doing.”
WEEK 15: at Chicago Bears
Date: Sunday, Dec. 18. Time: noon. TV: Fox
Noteworthy: The Packers are 19-4 in their last 23 treks to Soldier Field.
2015 record: 6-10. Points (rank): 20.9 (23rd). Points allowed (rank): 24.8 (20th).
2016 lookahead: The Bears need to get better on defense and presumably did just that during a big-spending offseason in which they signed inside linebackers Danny Trevathan and Jerrell Freeman and defensive tackle Akiem Hicks with a combined $23 million guaranteed. The next step toward restoring the roar to that defense is drafting a defensive end, outside linebacker and cornerback. “You're looking for guys that are making critical game-changing plays at critical moments — you know, when the game's on the line and it's in the fourth quarter," GM Ryan Pace said. "You look at how close all of our games were and all of the games around the league and there's certain players that step up at those moments and we need more of those type of players.” Offensively, running back Matt Forte is out, right tackle Bobby Massie is in and receiver Alshon Jeffery will return. The hope is last year’s first-round pick, receiver Kevin White, will be a big help after missing all of his rookie season due to injury. Plus, Pace has nine draft picks, including six of the first 150. “Last year we only had six," he said. “So now we have some flexibility to move around within the draft, not just acquire more players but possibly move up or move back. It gives us more flexibility in the draft and that's exciting. We have more ammunition now, we can be more aggressive with moving up and down in the draft.”
WEEK 16: vs. Minnesota Vikings
Date: Saturday, Dec. 24. Time: noon. TV: Fox
Noteworthy: Even with last year’s loss, the Packers are 8-2-1 at home against Minnesota under coach Mike McCarthy.
2015 record: 11-5. Points (rank): 22.8 (16th). Points allowed (rank): 18.9 (5th).
2016 lookahead: It was a quiet offseason for the Vikings, with GM Rick Spielman focusing on retaining his own players rather than spending money to bring in outside talent. Other than releasing overpaid and overrated receiver Mike Wallace, not a single noteworthy name changed addresses this offseason. Spielman and coach Mike Zimmer will count on a powerhouse defense and an improved offensive line to keep them ahead of Green Bay in the division. “I think we have a good nucleus of guys,” Zimmer said. “We’re not anywhere where I want to be yet, but you see the development of these football players. The Sharrif Floyd, Xavier Rhodes, Anthony Barr coming in and not playing that position before. I think our coaches have done a great job along with it. It takes a collective effort with the scouts and the coaches in order to, OK, these are the kind of guys that fit with what you do. Maybe they don't fit, but how can you use them to help this football team get better? I think that's what we've done a little bit defensively.” Meanwhile, the offense will continue to revolve around indomitable running back Adrian Peterson “I think Adrian is still a very productive running back in this league,” Spielman said. “I mean, he won the rushing title again this year and it’s amazing the stamina and the physical specimen that he still is. But at some point, everybody has to retire and I don’t know when that point is. Adrian may defy the odds and play until he is 50. I don’t know.”
WEEK 17: at Detroit Lions
Date: Sunday, Jan. 1. Time: noon. TV: Fox
Noteworthy: The Packers are 7-3 at Detroit under McCarthy, including last year’s dramatic Hail Mary finish.
2015 record: 7-9. Points (rank): 22.4 (18th). Points allowed (rank): 25.0 (23rd).
2016 lookahead: The Lions fired GM Martin Mayhew, replacing him with Bob Quinn. Quinn retained Dave Caldwell as coach. "No different than any other year I've ever coached," Caldwell said of being on the hot seat. “Going into season 39. Married 39 years, going into season 39. It hasn't changed.” Quinn’s priority is building depth. For years, the Lions have had big-name talent. They just haven’t had the supporting pieces. “Quarterback, defensive line, corner,” Quinn said of the strengths of the roster. “There’s good players at each position. There’s other lack of depth at a lot of positions, so that’s one thing that, I go back to the depth thing. I’m going to keep saying that because I really believe in that because this is a league and a game where injuries happen. I’ve got to prepare the team and have depth at every level of the team so when that happens, the next guy can step in.” Detroit’s had a quiet offseason, with the only real noise being Calvin Johnson’s retirement. That means it will be up to Matthew Stafford, who played better during the second half of the season and almost beat the Packers twice, to carry more of the load on offense. The defense should get better with the return of playmaking linebacker DeAndre Levy, who missed most of the season with a hip injury.
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.