Happy Football Day, America.
While the moral quandary of whether football is too brutal to be a moral form of entertainment has diminished by enjoyment of the NFL these last few years, I'm still hooked (and hoping that technology and rules changes can boost safety). Our beloved Packers start the season in Seattle tonight, and it's my pleasure to walk you through my predictions for this season!
Thursday, September 4 @Seattle.
Prediction: Seahawks 31, Packers 17
Send your hate mail straight to Matt because I don't want to see it. To be honest, I could see the Packers pulling this one out. The NFL is once again tightening its enforcement of defensive penalties. An air-tight secondary was Seattle's meal ticket last season, and the impact will be hardest in Seattle.
That said, these season openers featuring the Super Bowl Champion haven't gone well for the visiting team. The home squad is 9-1. Seattle's stadium was engineered to increase crowd noise. And the squad is strong. Russell Wilson is still ascending. Percy Harvin is back. The defense and run game are solid. There just aren't weaknesses on this team. The Packers are already missing their starting center and BJ Raji. Those losses can be handled, but I just don't think Green Bay has the firepower to stick with the Seahawks this early in the year.
Sunday, September 14 vs. New York Jets
Prediction: Packers 31, Jets 10
Green Bay will have ten days to prepare. While I think the defense will take some lumps in Seattle, Geno Smith is a little less formidable of an opponent. I think we see a boat load of sacks and a couple of interceptions as Green Bay jumps out to an early lead and never looks back.
Sunday, September 21 @ Detroit
Prediction: Packers 27, Lions 20
This will be one of those games where we all get excited in the hopes that we can sit down and watch the Pack coast to a blowout victory. Instead, we'll watch the Packers lead throughout the game...but never really pull away. A win is a win, but this won't be among the more satisfying victories this season.
Sunday, September 28 @ Chicago
Prediction: Packers 28, Bears 27
Call we all agree that regardless of the outcome here, they can never take this away from us?
Thursday, October 2 vs. Vikings
Prediction: Packers 31, Vikings 14
While I generally hate these Thursday night games, there is one upside: my football-filled Sunday isn't tarnished by anxiety about what the Packers did/will do. In any case, I don't think three days is enough preparation for rookie QB Teddy Bridgewater to come into Lambeau and pull off an upset. Anything can happen, but this seems like a likely W.
Sunday, October 12 @ Miami
Miami was a dumpster fire last year. The Dolphins should be better this year, and they're playing at home. But at the end of the day, we're talking Aaron Rodgers in a warm environment going against...Ryan Tannehill. 'Nuff said.
Sunday, October 19 vs. Panthers
Prediction: Packers 30, Panthers 24
Given that I currently have the Packers at 61 (even after playing the majority of the schedule on the road), it might seem that we're pursuing the time-honored tradition of homers penciling their way to a 14-2 regular season record. But the difficult part of the schedule is yet to come.
Sunday, October 26 @ New Orleans
Prediction: Saints 34, Packers 17
Starting here, the Packers run a season-defining gauntlet against playoff contenders and division foes that stretches into early December. New Orleans is fully loaded, and I think the Saints go up two touchdowns early. The Packers might put up some points in garbage time, but this one might be over early. Brees has too quick of a release, and nobody on the Packers matches up with monster tight end Jimmy Graham.
Sunday, November 9 vs. Bears
Prediction: Bears 24, Packers 21
I never feel good about facing the Bears. Yes, the Packers are 10-3 against Chicago during the Aaron Rodgers era, but there have been some uncomfortable games dating back to Favre's last stand in Chicago in 2007. The then-undefeated Packers blew a late lead (and had a game-clinching interception called back by a penalty) to lose. In 2010, the Packers committed 20 penalties in dropping a heartbreaker at Lambeau. And we all remember Rodgers breaking his collarbone last year.
All of those games were night games. So too is the week 10 tilt against the Monsters of the Midway. It's hard to not expect some sort of injury/penalty/blown-lead fest against our archrivals.
Sunday, November 16 vs. Eagles
Prediction: Packers 31, Eagles 21
Every year you lose some games that look like Ws in August (See Week 10 vs. Bears). This game is the flip side of the equation. Brian Kelly's first year in Philadelphia made him appear to be an offensive genius. Perhaps he is. But by mid-November, the league will have had a year and a half to adjust.
Fans always want to believe their coaches are masterminds because coaching genius points to sustained success. The unspoken belief is that the decided schematic advantage means the players are expendable. Free agency and injuries become irrelevant because the system wins games. If this sounds silly, think back to February of 2011 when Dom Capers' "psycho" defense was going to dominate the league for a decade. SPOILER ALERT: The Packers defense has been terrible ever since. The Packers should take this one at home.
Sunday, November 23 @ Minnesota
Prediction: Packers 24, Vikings 13
Remember a few paragraphs back when I said the Packer-Bear games at night made me irrationally anxious? The Vikings in Minnesota gives me an irrational sense of confidence. I always like Rodgers indoors...WAIT, WHAT?! THE VIKINGS ARE PLAYING OUTDOORS THIS YEAR?!
Please allow me a moment to turn that "42" to a "24."
Sunday, November 30 vs. Patriots
Prediction: New England 31, Packers 24
I don't like the Packers defense against an experienced quarterback like Tom Brady. These wily veterans are always able to buy time and find the open man. Do you like the idea of AJ Hawk trying to cover Rob Gronkowski? Me neither.
Monday, December 8 vs. Falcons
Prediction: Packers 28, Falcons 20
The Falcons were great for awhile. They were terrible last year. I don't know what to expect here. The game is at Lambeau so I think the Pack pulls it out in a competitive game.
Sunday, December 14 @ Buffalo
Prediction: Packers 42, Bills 8
Every season needs one of those beat downs where you find yourself having thoughts like, "I know McCarthy doesn't run up the score, but with a couple of turnovers or a special teams breakdown, the Packers could score 60. Wouldn't that be cool?" The Bills are the best candidate for that game on the 2014 schedule.
Sunday, December 21 @ Tampa Bay
Prediction: Packers 21, Buccaneers 16
I really hope this is a retro uniform game and we get to see the old school orange uniforms featuring the dude with the knife in his mouth. I'll settle for the Packers clinching a first-round bye.
Sunday, December 28 vs. Lions
Prediction: Packers 30, Lions 20
After playoff games, nothing increases my blood pressure like the annual home game against Detroit. That's because the LOLions haven't won in Wisconsin since...1991. That's the first Bush Administration. The Panthers, Jaguars, Ravens and Texans weren't even in the league yet. Tampa Bay still had the sweet knife-in-mouth-guy logo. Robin Yount hadn't yet recorded his 3000th hit.
I will not. I cannot predict the streak ends this year.
Final Record: 12-4, NFC North Division Champions