Which teams could ruin Green Bay’s quest for perfection?
The Packers looked well on their way to a perfect 16-0 regular season and Super Bowl run last year. Then they ran into the Chiefs in Kansas City in Week 15. In one of the bigger upsets in recent memory, Romeo Crennel’s team shut down the explosive Packers’ offense for a 19-14 stunner that ended Green Bay’s shot at 16-0.
Less than a month later, the Giants repeated Kansas City’s trick, stifling the Packers in a divisional-round playoff game.
But the Packers look every bit as formidable in 2012 as they did in 2011, even with lingering questions on offensive line and the defensive side of the ball. The schedule has plenty of potential potholes, though, so another run at 16-0 could be tough to attain.
So where might the Packers slip up this season?
Just Give ‘Em the Win
• Indianapolis Colts (Away, Oct. 7): I don’t want to pile on the rebuilding Colts, but this one could get really, really ugly, even in Indianapolis. Remember last year’s 62-7 Saints’ bombardment of the Colts? This could be a repeat.
• St. Louis Rams (Away, Oct. 21): The Rams being at home could provide spark enough to keep it tight for a quarter or two, but it’s hard to see St. Louis keeping up with Green Bay for very long. This is part of a pretty cushy six-week stretch for the Packers that starts with Indianapolis and ends with a bye.
• Jacksonville Jaguars (Home, Oct. 28): This is Game 4 in that run I just mentioned, and Game 5 (vs. Arizona) is next on the list. Jacksonville’s defense is better than people give it credit for, but can you see Blaine Gabbert or Chad Henne matching Aaron Rodgers point-for-point? Forget about it.
• Arizona Cardinals (Home, Nov. 4): After three on the road (at Indianapolis, Houston and St. Louis), the Packers return to Lambeau for the Jacksonville-Arizona back-to-back. This one should be the tougher of the two home games, but Larry Fitzgerald will have to have one of the greatest games in NFL history for the Cardinals to steal this one.
• Minnesota Vikings (Home, Dec. 2; Away, Dec. 30): An NFC North rivalry that won’t offer much drama this year. The Vikings did give the Packers a heck of a run in the Metrodome last year, pulling within 33-27 late, though Green Bay held on. The Packers visit the Vikings in Week 17 — so if Green Bay is, say, 13-2 or 14-1, you might see Minnesota give the backup Pack a run.
• Seattle Seahawks (Away, Sept. 24): You can pretty much put any team that visits Seattle on upset alert, because that’s a real tough place to play. And if the Seahawks can settle their QB situation and have Marshawn Lynch available (he’s facing a possible suspension), then Green Bay will have its work cut out for it. Oh yea, and Matt Flynn, the likely frontrunner in that Seahawks’ QB race, knows the Packers inside and out.
• Houston Texans (Away, Oct. 14): The Texans won their division and a playoff game last year, so maybe this wouldn’t qualify as a massive upset. Still, given Houston’s turnover in the offseason, it’s hard to consider this team an elite Super Bowl threat at the moment. But the Texans have Andre Johnson out wide, a terrific run game and an aggressive defense that could give Green Bay fits, a la the Giants in last year’s postseason.
• Tennessee Titans (Home, Dec. 23): If the Packers are still unbeaten at this point, they’ll carry a 14-0 record into this one, their home finale. Given that, it’s tough to picture Tennessee pulling out a win — until you think about the Titans potentially fighting for a playoff berth, while the Packers hypothetically cruise toward a No. 1 seed.
The True Contenders
• San Francisco 49ers (Home, Sept. 9): A doozy of a season-opener. The Packers have a big edge at QB, but again, we saw last January how a ruthless pass-rush can disrupt Green Bay’s offense. San Francisco definitely brings that to the table. If the 49ers can neutralize the Packers’ attack by getting to Rodgers, Green Bay’s undefeated run might not even get out of the blocks.
• Chicago Bears (Home, Sept. 13; Away, Dec. 16): The schedule-makers didn’t do Green Bay any favors for its games against arch-rival Chicago. The first matchup is a Thursday nighter and comes just four days after that tough San Francisco opener; the second is a mid-December trip to chilly Soldier Field, where a Bears team that should still be in the playoff hunt will be fired up.
• New Orleans Saints (Home, Sept. 30): If this is anything like last year’s NFL season kickoff, it should be a blast. The Packers won that game, 42-34, and they’ll again welcome the high-powered Saints to Lambeau. We know Drew Brees and Co., can score points with the best of them, so which defense will make the big play?
• Detroit Lions (Away, Nov. 18; Home, Dec. 9): Sort of the opposite of the Bears’ situation — the Packers get a bye before their trip to Detroit in November, then have Minnesota at home the week before the rematch. Oh yea, and Detroit hasn’t won at Lambeau since 1991. Still, the Lions closed the gap in this matchup last year and has the horses on both sides of the ball to make these games interesting.
• New York Giants (Away, Nov. 25): The obvious candidate. It was the Giants that ended Green Bay’s Super Bowl dreams last year, en route to a title of their own. The Packers will try for some measure of revenge in 2012, but it won’t be easy to go into New York and come away with a victory. This is game No. 11 on Green Bay’s schedule — if the Packers come out of it 11-0, we can put the 1972 Dolphins and 2007 Patriots on notice.