Once again, the National Football League proved what a spectacle it is, with the release of its 2016 regular-season schedule Thursday.
Of course, every fan pours over his or her team’s schedule pretty much the second it comes out. I did the same, the second I had the chance and after examining the Green Bay Packers’ slate of 16 games, I came away thinking it sets up very favorably for their prospects of reaching the Super Bowl in 2016.
There are some quirks to it. Opening with back-to-back road games against Jacksonville and Minnesota isn’t easy, but it’s not a murderers row either. I know the Vikings beat Green Bay last year, but this Packers team will be better, Jordy Nelson’s return alone will see to that.
Yet, outside of that start and another stretch that includes three straight road games against Tennessee, Washington and Philadelphia, all games Green Bay should be favored to win, the schedule is utterly manageable.
Outside of playing the Vikings, the Lions and Bears on the road, all of the Packers more-difficult games are at home. Dallas, Seattle, Indianapolis, the New York Giants and the Texans, all come to Lambeau Field.
In all, Green Bay will play four teams in 2016 that went to the playoffs and three of those games, with Washington being the lone exception, are at home.
Dallas, Indy and the Giants have all had semi-recent playoff success and each have franchise quarterbacks (when healthy) so those all quantify as tough games to me and all of them are at home as well.
The entire NFC North is going to have a favorable schedule, but Green Bay’s is even a little easier than Minnesota’s, which will play Arizona and Carolina as opposed to Atlanta and Seattle, thanks to the Vikings’ 2015 NFC North title.
Obviously, winning back the North is the first mission for the Packers and the Week 2 showdown in Minnesota, as well as three-game stretch of division games to close the season could decide that.
But, knowing what we know right now, it’s reasonable to see the Packers winning somewhere between 11 and 13 games with this schedule. And if that happens, they have a strong likelihood of winning their division and getting a bye or home-field advantage throughout.
That doesn’t necessarily mean anything (see 2011), but after losing overtime road games in each of the past two seasons to NFC West foes, it sure would be nice to not have to leave Green Bay for a playoff game until a potential Super Bowl.
In all truthfulness, I am not trying to be bold with his prediction, it’s simple logic. Just about every NFL expert has the Packers as one of a handful of teams capable of winning the Super Bowl next season. Green Bay has a deep and talented roster, as well as a two-time MVP playing quarterback in Aaron Rodgers.
When he’s at his best, Rodgers is the best player on the planet and with Nelson back in the fold, I expect him to play at a much-higher level than he did in 2015. With Rodgers and Nelson doing their thing, the Packers will get their groove back and with a very favorable schedule, double-digit wins seems likely.
Ted Thompson, Mike McCarthy and Rodgers have the Packers in contention for the long haul and with the league’s easiest schedule entering next season (.457 opponent win percentage), 2016 seems as good a season as any for that group to get a second ring.