A must-win game in Week 1?

Given the difficulty of the schedule, the Packers' home-field woes, the players' optimism and cold, hard NFL facts, Sunday's season opener is a huge one for the Packers, PackerReport.com's Steve Lawrence says

It seems silly to write this, but the Green Bay Packers face a must-win game on Sunday.

Yes, Game 1 of a 16-game campaign stands out as a matchup of vital importance. That's because this season-opening game against a quality Philadelphia Eagles outfit at Lambeau Field provides the Packers with their best chance at victory in a daunting early-season schedule.

After Philadelphia, the Packers visit the New York Giants, return home to face San Diego, then travel to Minnesota before hosting Chicago.

That's five difficult games to start the season, and they could very well determine the Packers' fate before the season is even a month old.

The Packers' seasons have ended in quick fashion the last few years. Last season, they opened 1-4. In 2005, they dug themselves an 0-4 hole. The 2004 team made the playoffs, but perhaps they were worn out after having to recover from a 1-4 start.

"This one just has a lot of significance," Pro Bowl defensive end Aaron Kampman said. "Based on how we ended the season last year, based on the way the offseason and preseason have gone, it's kind of culminating for us in some ways. That we're building, that there is a positive momentum. But that doesn't win ballgames."

No it doesn't, and nor does playing at home. Once one of the most intimidating places to play in the NFL — the Packers went 79-19 at Lambeau from 1992 to 2003, including 42-3 under Mike Holmgren from 1994 to 1998 — the Packers have lost their home-field edge. Before winning two straight at home to end last season, the Packers had a 4-12 run at home. They have lost four straight Lambeau openers.

The chance to start the season on the right foot at home is another reason why Sunday's game is a big one for the Packers.

Then, there's the mental side.

These are professional athletes. One loss at home to start the season isn't going to destroy the players' psyche. But imagine what good could come out of a win besides merely starting the season 1-0.

These Packers — especially the guys on defense — think they've got something good going on. There's a swagger around here I haven't seen in years — since, perhaps, Michael Vick ran circles around the Lambeau mystique during a Jan. 4, 2003, playoff game. There's even been a little chatter about the Super Bowl.

A victory over the Eagles — a team that has beaten the Packers five consecutive times in the last four years, including a 31-9 thrashing at Philly last season — would just amplify what they believe.

Beyond that, there are the cold, hard facts. Last year's playoff qualifiers went 9-3 in Week 1. One of those losers, the Giants, lost to eventual Super Bowl winner Indianapolis. In 2005, the playoff qualifiers went 8-4. Two of the losing teams fell to fellow playoff qualifiers. In 2004, the playoff qualifiers went an amazing 11-1. The only loser, Indianapolis, fell to eventual champion New England.

A loss to Philadelphia won't end the Packers' season. Nor will a victory clinch a playoff berth. But for a young team that thinks it's pretty good, Sunday's game is huge for Mike McCarthy and his club.

Steve Lawrence is a regular contributor to PackerReport.com. Send comments to steve_lawrence_packers@yahoo.com.


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