Here is a game-by-game look at the Green Bay Packers' 2017 schedule.
HOME: SEATTLE SEAHAWKS
Date: Sunday, Sept. 10. Time: 3:25 p.m. TV: Fox.
Last year: 10-5-1 (first place, NFC South. W, 26-6, Detroit in Wild Card; L, 36-20, at Atlanta in Divisional)
This year: The Seahawks averaged 412 points per season from 2012 through 2015. Last year, they scored only 356. It’s a unit too dependent on quarterback Russell Wilson. First and foremost, the offensive line must be fixed. They took a step in that direction by signing Luke Joeckel, the former No. 2 overall pick who bombed in Jacksonville. He’ll be back at left tackle after the Jaguars tried to salvage the pick by moving him to left guard last year. He’ll replace George Fant, a former college basketball player who didn’t even play on the line in college. Seattle also added a power runner by signing former Packers star Eddie Lacy. Seattle used 11 running backs last season. “We always want to be a physical, committed, aggressive run team,” coach Pete Carroll said. “Coming off of last year where we were unable to capture that, he just kind of popped at the right time.” Seattle remains a defensive powerhouse. Even without safety Earl Thomas for most of last season, Seattle ranked third in points allowed with 292. That, remarkably, was the first time it even allowed 300 points since 2011. The future of cornerback Richard Sherman will determine the draft direction.
AT: ATLANTA FALCONS
Date: Sunday, Sept. 17. Time: 7:30 p.m. TV: NBC.
Last year: 11-5 (first place, NFC South. W, 26-20, Seattle in Divisional; W, 44-21, Green Bay in NFCC; L, 34-28, New England in Super Bowl.
This year: Like last year with Minnesota, Green Bay is the foe for a team opening the doors on a new indoor stadium. Quarterback Matt Ryan finally lived up to the “Matty Ice” hype by leading the Falcons to the Super Bowl. The reigning league MVP had career-best numbers of 69.9 percent, 4,944 yards, 38 touchdowns, seven interceptions, 9.3 yards per attempt and 117.1 rating. His supporting cast is ridiculously good with Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman at running back and Julio Jones leading a diverse group of pass catchers. GM Dan Quinn hit a series of home runs in the 2016 draft with safety Keanu Neal (first round) and linebackers Deion Jones (second) and De’Vondre Campbell (fourth) to fix the defense. How will the Falcons respond after giving away a Super Bowl title? “It’s a fair question,” Quinn said. “How do you deal with overcoming that loss? You’ve got to learn to get past it. I didn’t say that you have to get over it. You do have to get past it. By replaying everything all the time and looking in the rear view mirror, you’re not going to get better.” The biggest hole isn’t on the roster but replacing offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, who is the new coach in San Francisco.
HOME: CINCINNATI BENGALS
Date: Sunday, Sept. 24. Time: 3:25 p.m. TV: CBS.
Last year: 6-9-1 (third place, AFC North)
This year: The Bengals’ streak of five consecutive playoff berth (and four consecutive seasons of 10-plus wins) came to a crashing fall last year. In 2015, the Bengals ranked seventh in the league with 419 points. Last year, they ranked 24th with 325 points. Nonetheless, Cincinnati lost left tackle Andrew Whitworth and guard Kevin Zeitler in free agency, so that won’t help the rebuilding process. The Bengals need more from Andy Dalton, who completed a career-high 364 passes but a career-low 18 touchdown passes last year. Bounce-back seasons from receiver A.J. Green (66 catches in 10 games) and running back Jeremy Hill (839 yards, 3.8 average) would help. Offensive line and running back, where Cincinnati lost versatile Rex Burkhead and could be souring on Hill, are the top needs to fill with 11 draft picks. Defensively, the Bengals ranked eighth in scoring but 22nd in sacks per attempt.
HOME: CHICAGO BEARS
Date: Thursday, Sept. 28. Time: 7:25 p.m. TV: CBS/NFL Network.
Last year: 3-13 (last place, NFC North)
This year: For the third consecutive year, it's Chicago at Green Bay on a Thursday night. After ranking 28th in the league with 279 points last season — 56 fewer points than in 2015 — the Bears have blown up their offense. Quarterback Jay Cutler is out (as are Matt Barkley, Brian Hoyer and David Fales) with Mike Glennon in with a three-year, $45 million contract. Glennon threw 10 passes last season, didn’t play at all in 2015 and hasn’t started since 2014. “I get it, I haven’t played in two-plus years, but I was playing when I was 23, 24. I’m 27 now and I feel like I'm a much better player. I’ve grown physically, I’ve grown mentally. I’m more confident in my abilities. I’ve seen more NFL defenses.” Also out is receiver Alshon Jeffery, who has six touchdowns the past two seasons after scoring 17 the previous two seasons. The offense will revolve around Jordan Howard, the fifth-round running back who piled up 1,313 rushing yards as a rookie. The key, other than Glennon, will be receiver Kevin White. He was the seventh pick of the 2015 draft but has played in four career games (all last year) due to a pair of serious leg injuries.
AT: DALLAS COWBOYS
Date: Sunday, Oct. 8. Time: 3:25 p.m. TV: Fox.
Last year: 13-3 (first place, NFC East; L, 34-31, Green Bay in Divisional)
This year: The Packers get the mini-bye to get ready for this showdown and playoff rematch. The Cowboys remarkably returned to the playoffs last year behind the rookie duo of running back Ezekiel Elliott (1,631 rushing yards in 15 games), quarterback Dak Prescott (104.9 rating) and a superb offensive line. They powered Dallas to a third-best point differential of plus-115. An encore is not a given, not after losing seven starters in free agency — including two cornerbacks and two safeties. Said team owner Jerry Jones: “I feel, and this isn't just arm waving or blind optimism, but I feel at the end of the day when we get to training camp we will be an improved team from where we were last year.” That means replacing all of those defensive backs, though it should be noted Dallas only ranked 30th in interception percentage. The Cowboys need a pass rusher, too.
AT: MINNESOTA VIKINGS
Date: Sunday, Oct. 15. Time: noon. TV: Fox.
Last year: 8-8 (third place, NFC North)
This year: While Minnesota went from 11-5 to 8-8, the defense remains strong. The Vikings ranked fifth in points allowed in 2015 (302) and sixth in points allowed in 2016 (307). They lost nickel corner Captain Munnerlyn but cornerback remains strong with Xavier Rhodes (first round, 2013), ageless Terence Newman, Trae Waynes (first round, 2015) and Mackensie Alexander (second round, 2016). Minnesota finished fifth in opponent passer rating but got destroyed by Aaron Rodgers in a do-or-die late-season game against Green Bay. Danielle Hunter (12.5 sacks), Everson Griffen (eight) and Brian Robison (7.5) provide a superb trio of rushers. The Vikings added former Green Bay first-round flop Datone Jones to their defensive line, where they could be without Sharrif Floyd (knee). Longtime starting linebacker Chad Greenway has retired.
HOME: NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
Date: Sunday, Oct. 22. Time: noon. TV: Fox.
Last year: 7-9 (third place, NFC South)
This year: The Saints have been stuck in limbo with three consecutive 7-9 seasons. The offense isn’t the problem — not with Drew Brees. He’s led the league in passing yards in five of the past six seasons, including 5,208 yards (with 37 touchdowns and a 101.7 rating) last year. Running back Mark Ingram, in his sixth season, had his first 1,000-yard campaign, and fullback John Kuhn returns. New Orleans has scored more than 400 points in each of the last six seasons, including a second-ranked 469 last year. The defense, however, is another story. That unit allowed a 31st-ranked 454 points. In free agency, New Orleans signed linebackers A.J. Klein and Manti Te’o. The Saints, who have picks No. 11 and 32 of the first round, enter this draft needing a pass rusher and cornerback after ranking 27th in both sacks per attempt and interception percentage last season.
Bye — and with welcomed timing after last year's Week 4 bye.
HOME: DETROIT LIONS
Date: Monday, Nov. 6. Time: 7:30 p.m. TV: ESPN.
Last year: 9-7 (second place, NFC North. L, 26-6, at Seattle in Wild Card)
This year: The Packers are coming off their bye week for this big division showdown. Lions GM Bob Quinn has focused on rebuilding the offensive line. Mission accomplished. In 2016, he picked left tackle Taylor Decker in the first round and left guard Graham Glasgow in the third. In free agency this offseason, Quinn signed right tackle Rick Wagner and, of course, Pro Bowl right guard T.J. Lang away from Green Bay. “T.J. is one that brings experience, brings excellence in that area,” coach Jim Caldwell said. “He's a Pro Bowler. Big, strong, physical, and obviously going to bring some leadership, as well. And I think he'll do a great job there.” With the pass protection upgraded, the Lions enter the draft needing another receiver for quarterback Matthew Stafford. Anquan Boldin remains unsigned and the only addition was Jared Abbrederis. After never completing more than 63.5 percent of his passes in his first six seasons, Stafford completed 67.2 percent in 2015 and 65.3 percent in 2016.
AT: CHICAGO BEARS
Date: Sunday, Nov. 12. Time: noon. TV: Fox.
Last year: 3-13 (last place, NFC North)
This year: The Bears went from 6-10 in 2015 to 3-13 in 2016. The defense was stuck in neutral, going from a 20th-ranked 397 points allowed in 2015 to a 24th-ranked 399 points allowed in 2016. Chicago wanted to address cornerback in free agency and did, with Prince Amukamara and Marcus Cooper after missing out on the big fish — A.J. Bouye, Logan Ryan and Stephon Gilmore. The Bears made a slightly bigger splash at safety with Quintin Demps, who had six interceptions last year. In two years with Vic Fangio as coordinator, Chicago has three interceptions from its safeties. The Bears finished 23rd in opponent passer rating and 28th in interception percentage. One thing they did do well was rush the passer, with the eighth-best sack rate and Willie Young, Akiem Hicks and Leonard Floyd having seven-plus sacks.
HOME: BALTIMORE RAVENS
Date: Sunday, Nov. 19. Time: noon. TV: CBS.
Last year: 8-8 (second place, AFC North)
This year: Since winning the Super Bowl in 2012, the Ravens have made the playoffs just once over the past four seasons. They’ve gone a combined 13-19 the past two seasons. Baltimore must get better on offense after ranking 25th in scoring in 2015 and 21st in 2016. A start to that was signing running back Danny Woodhead, but it must replace right tackle Rick Wagner and add another perimeter threat after Joe Flacco threw 20 touchdowns vs. 15 interceptions last year. Defensively, the Ravens added cornerback Brandon Carr and safety Tony Jefferson to a defense that cratered late in the year. Terrell Suggs, who had eight sacks and three forced fumbles, is the face of that unit at age 34. “We were the best defense in the league for 12 weeks, statistically,” coach John Harbaugh said. “We were toward the bottom the last four weeks. That's exactly the question we have to look at. What's it going to take to be the best defense in the league for 16 weeks-plus?”
AT: PITTSBURGH STEELERS
Date: Sunday, Nov. 26. Time: 7:30 p.m. TV: NBC.
Last year: 11-5 (first place, AFC North; W, 18-16, Kansas City in Divisional; L, 36-17, at New England in AFCC)
This year: The Steelers will be vying for their fourth consecutive playoff berth. Thanks to a high-powered offense centered on quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, running back Le’Veon Bell, who averaged more than 100 rushing yards per game, and receiver Antonio Brown, who caught 106 passes, Pittsburgh ranked fifth in the league in point differential at plus-72. They were quiet in free agency on both sides of the ledger, with several backups added and linebacker Lawrence Timmons being the only noteworthy departure. Defensively, Pittsburgh ranked 10th in scoring defense and, like Green Bay, needs help at outside linebacker and cornerback. Outside linebacker James Harrison, who will turn 39 in May, had a team-high five sacks. Rookie first-round corner Artie Burns had three of the Steelers’ four interceptions from cornerbacks.
HOME: TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
Date: Sunday, Nov. 3. Time: noon. TV: Fox.
Last year: 9-7 (second place, NFC South)
This year: The Bucs haven’t made the playoffs since 2007 but at least they snapped a five-year streak of below-.500 finishes. Tampa Bay won a combined eight games under Lovie Smith in 2014 and 2015 but went 9-7 under Dirk Koetter last year. Its 354 points were its most since 2012; its 369 points allowed were its fewest since 2010. Quarterback Jameis Winston, the No. 1 pick in 2015, has back-to-back 4,000-yard passing seasons. He improved marginally from 22 touchdowns and 15 interceptions as a rookie to 28 touchdowns and 18 interceptions in 2016. The Buccaneers enter this draft needing a running back, where Doug Martin and Jacquizz Rodgers combined for only 981 yards, and another receiver to complement Mike Evans (96 catches, 1,321 yards, 12 touchdowns). Their key free-agent pickups were receiver DeSean Jackson and safety J.J. Wilcox.
AT: CLEVELAND BROWNS
Date: Sunday, Dec. 10. Time: noon. TV: Fox.
Last year: 1-15 (last place, AFC North)
This year: After flirting with 0-16, the Browns opened the vault in free agency and will try to hit early and often in the draft, which includes picks No. 1 and No. 12 of the first round. One of those picks almost certainly will be on a quarterback, where the Browns haven’t had a good one in seemingly forever. The offensive line should be a strength, with All-Pro left tackle Joe Thomas joined by free-agent pick-ups J.C. Tretter and Kevin Zeitler. Isaiah Crowell led the team with 952 rushing yards and former college quarterback Terrelle Pryor had 1,007 receiving yards. On defense, the Browns need help at edge rusher, where Emmanuel Ogbah had a team-high six sacks, and at corner. They gave up a franchise-worst 36 touchdowns and finished 31st in opponent passer rating. Joe Haden continues to underperform and they parted ways with Tramon Williams.
AT: CAROLINA PANTHERS
Date: Sunday, Dec. 17. Time: noon. TV: Fox.
Last year: 6-10 (fourth place, NFC South)
This year: After going 15-1 and losing to Denver in the Super Bowl, the Panthers fell apart and went from first to worst in their division. Quarterback Cam Newton had a miserable season, with 52.9 percent accuracy and a 75.8 rating, and recently had surgery to repair a partially torn rotator cuff. “(His confidence) was shook," coach Ron Rivera said at the NFL league meeting. "Let's be honest. I'm not going to lie about that. The young man went through a tough time and we went through a tough time.” Helping to bolster that line is former Vikings left tackle Matt Kalil. They also signed former Packers linebacker Julius Peppers, cornerback Captain Munnerlyn and safety Mike Adams. Those three will be asked to fix a defense that went from sixth to 26th in points allowed despite ranking third in sack rate and ninth in interception percentage. Carolina needs to add youth at running back and defensive end. At receiver, they lost veteran Ted Ginn but signed former Packers draft pick Charles Johnson.
HOME: MINNESOTA VIKINGS
Date: Saturday, Dec. 23. Time: 7:30 p.m. TV: NBC.
Last year: 8-8 (third place, NFC North)
This year: In 2015, with Teddy Bridgewater at quarterback and Adrian Peterson at running back, the Vikings ranked 16th with 365 points. With knee injuries sidelining Bridgewater for the entire season and Peterson for most of the season, the Vikings plunged to 23rd with 327 points in 2016. In 2017, it will be Year 2 of Sam Bradford at quarterback and the first with Latavius Murray at running back. Murray, along with offensive tackles Riley Reiff and Mike Zemmers, were the key offseason acquisitions on offense. The past two seasons, Murray has combined for 1,854 rushing yards and 74 receptions. He's not Peterson but he can catch. As for quarterback, coach Mike Zimmer said he has “no idea” when Bridgewater will be back. In his place, Bradford set an NFL record for completion percentage. The hope is a better line will afford more downfield opportunities.
AT: DETROIT LIONS
Date: Sunday, Dec. 31. Time: noon. TV: Fox.
Last year: 9-7 (second place, NFC North. L, 26-6, Seattle in Wild Card)
This year: The Lions went from a 23rd-ranked 400 points allowed in 2015 to a 13th-ranked 358 points allowed in 2016, which resulted in two extra wins and a trip to the playoffs. Detroit’s big offseason move on defense was signing cornerback D.J. Hayden, the Raiders’ top pick in 2013. He has three interceptions and 25 starts in four seasons. More work needs to be done on that side of the ball, especially to fix a pass defense that gave up a league-worst opponent passer rating of 107.2 — the worst ever for a playoff team. “Yeah, absolutely,” Lions GM Bob Quinn said. “I think we need more playmakers, bottom line. We were in the bottom five in the league in interceptions, so I think that’s an area that we need to improve. That’s just not the corners. That’s the linebackers, that’s the safeties, that’s the defensive line putting pressure on the quarterback.”
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.