For starters, this schedule is tough

The last four years, the Packers have started 1-4, 0-4, 1-4 and 1-2, including a combined 0-9 at home. They can't afford that kind of start if they harbor any playoff aspirations,'s Steve Lawrence says.

In 2006, the Green Bay Packers started the season 1-4, including 0-3 at home.

In 2005, the Packers started the season 0-4, including 0-2 at home.

In 2004, the Packers started the season 1-4, including 0-3 at home.

In 2003, the Packers started the season 1-2 and lost their home opener.

The Packers can't afford a similar slow start to this upcoming season.

Not with four of the first five games coming against 2006 playoff teams.

Not with a midseason stretch of back-to-back games at Denver and Kansas City.

Not with a late-season stretch in which they play four of five games away from home.

If Mike McCarthy accomplishes nothing else during training camp, he had better get this team ready to play from the opening kickoff of the opening game.

The ingredients for a strong defense should help. Last year's starting crew figures to return intact, and that should help offset any early struggles by an offense that has more questions than answers at this point.

The defense will be key, because the ingredients for another atrocious start are evident by looking at the schedule.

Week 1: home against Philadelphia. Can a season opener be considered a must-win game? Of course not, but you can't afford a loss to a beatable team when the next few games are such a challenge.

Week 2: at the New York Giants. Nobody is confusing Eli Manning with Peyton Manning, and neither the Giants nor the Packers have a running back. Still, it's a road game in front of about 80,000 crazed New Yorkers.

Week 3: home against San Diego. Piece of cake, eh? Just stop perhaps the greatest running back in NFL history on defense while trying to score points against one of the league's top units.

Week 4: at Minnesota. The Packers have enjoyed a decent amount of success in the Metrodome. But, on paper — as has been the case the last few years with these shopaholic Vikings — Minnesota has the superior team. Then again, the Vikings don't have a quarterback, and the jury's out on whether they have a coach.

Week 5: home against Chicago on Monday night. A prime-time matchup against the defending NFC champions, who no doubt are sick of hearing about the butt-kicking the Packers inflicted on them last year.

Week 6: home against Washington. This indeed could be a must-win game, especially if the Packers emerge from the first five games with only a win or two.

Weeks 7-9: There's the bye, followed by back-to-back games at two of the NFL's loudest venues, Denver and Kansas City. If Jay Cutler proves even a decent quarterback, the Broncos have the makings of a Super Bowl team.

Weeks 10-11: home against Minnesota and Carolina. The Packers enter the most favorable part of the schedule with a couple of winnable games. These teams are two of the biggest underachievers in the league over the past couple of seasons.

Week 12: at Detroit. No matter how lousy the Lions are, they usually put up a good fight at home. On the other hand, they've played like turkeys on Thanksgiving, going 1-5 the last six seasons.

Week 13: at Dallas. Who knows if the Cowboys will be any good? They have a new coach and an aging roster surrounding young quarterback Tony Romo. Al Harris vs. Terrell Owens ought to be a heck of a matchup.

Week 14: home against Oakland. A second bye week is always appreciated.

Week 15: at St. Louis. Brett Favre is terrible in domes. Oh, wait. In his last 12 games, he's posted a passer rating of 97.5 inside. Simply judging by how these teams finished last season, this could be a battle for one of the NFC wild-card spots.

Week 16: at Chicago. If the Packers can withstand a challenging start to the season, this game could have division title implications. Then again, if Rex Grossman shows even a little growth and Chicago gets over its post-Super Bowl hangover, the Bears could be about 11-3 heading into this one.

Week 17: home vs. Detroit. Here's an interesting question: The networks love Brett Favre. This could be Favre's final game. Of course, NBC will use its flex-scheduling power to put the Packers on Sunday night, right? Then again, it is against the lousy Lions, who probably don't have more than 10 fans outside the state of Michigan. Either way, if the Packers need a win to get into the playoffs, you have to like their chances.

Guessing records at this point in the offseason is fruitless. After all, there are draft picks and trades and a second phase of free agency. At this point a month from now, the Packers could have Marshawn Lynch and Randy Moss in the fold, so what looks like a below-average offense could be good enough.

Whoever is on the roster, the Packers simply have to play better to open the season than they have the past four years.

"We'll need our best football early because of the way the schedule came out," team president John Jones said. "We're going to have our hands full. We played very well at the end of last season, so we hope to continue that trend coming into this year. We've got our work cut out for us, but that's what the NFL's all about."

The 2007 Packers schedule

All times Central

Week 1 — Sunday, Sept. 9: Philadelphia, noon (Fox)

Week 2 — Sunday, Sept. 16: at New York Giants, noon (Fox)

Week 3 — Sunday, Sept. 23: San Diego, noon (CBS)*

Week 4 — Sunday, Sept. 30: at Minnesota, noon (Fox)

Week 5 — Sunday, Oct. 7: Chicago, 7:15 p.m. (NBC)

Week 6 — Sunday, Oct. 14: Washington, noon (Fox)

Week 7 — Sunday, Oct. 21: Bye week

Week 8 — Monday, Oct. 29: at Denver, 7:30 p.m.. (ESPN)

Week 9 — Sunday, Nov. 4: at Kansas City, noon (Fox)

Week 10 — Sunday, Nov. 11: Minnesota, noon (Fox)*

Week 11 — Sunday, Nov. 18: Carolina, noon (Fox)

Week 12 — Thursday, Nov. 22: at Detroit, 11:30 a.m. (Fox)

Week 13 — Thursday, Nov. 29: at Dallas, 7:15 p.m. (NFL Network)

Week 14 — Sunday, Dec. 9: Oakland, noon (CBS)

Week 15 — Sunday, Dec. 16: at St. Louis, noon (Fox)

Week 16 — Sunday, Dec. 23: at Chicago, noon (Fox)

Week 17 — Sunday, Dec. 30: Detroit, noon (Fox)

* — Gold ticket package for Milwaukee season-ticket holders

Note: Sunday night games in Weeks 11 through 17 are part of NFL flexible scheduling, so those games are subject to change. All Sunday noon games can be changed to 3:15 p.m. starts by the network.

Lawrence is a regular contributor to Send comments to

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