Fan interference: Analyzing the Packers 2013 schedule

Fan interference: Analyzing the Packers 2013 schedule

How about them Brewers?

Sure, the streak is over, but nine games – their longest win streak in ten years – is definitely something to get excited about.

But I didn’t watch the last game in the winning streak on Tuesday night; I was tuned in to see Steve Martin on “Late Show with David Letterman.”

I love Steve Martin. Part of my great affection for him relates to the fact that when I was a kid, Steve Martin was one of the few – maybe the only – entertainer that my dad and I could enjoy watching together.

As an adult, I continue to have a huge amount of respect for him, despite the fact that he has made more than his share of crappy movies. I guess with his “Saturday Night Live” hosting stints, his comedy albums, and movies like “The Jerk” and “Roxanne,” he’s built up just enough goodwill that I will always forgive transgressions like “The Pink Panther” and “Bringing Down the House.”

I feel the same way about the NFL. There’s been little to celebrate about the league lately, what with a lockout, replacement officials, and insipid rule changes such as the moronic crown of the helmet rule.

The rule changes, designed to offset rising concerns regarding the safety of the game, do nothing but highlight the hypocrisy of a league that would install safety-compromising weekly Thursday night games for no other reason than to provide relevant programming for its otherwise-irrelevant cable network.

But still the release of the NFL schedule – combined of course with this week’s NFL Draft – makes me giddy with anticipation of the upcoming season, of days being transfixed by every word of NFL Red Zone host Andrew Siciliano, of monitoring the success or failure of my fantasy players while simultaneously ignoring the needs of my very-real wife and children.

Yes, I guess I can forgive the NFL just about anything. Anything short of perhaps funding a sequel to “My Blue Heaven.”

Anyway, let’s take a closer look at the Green Bay Packers’ 2013 schedule.

Schedule facts: The Packers have the league’s sixth-toughest schedule, facing opponents that in 2012 had a collective win-loss record of 136-119-1. But those numbers tend to be meaningless as teams’ records from last year aren’t always strong predictors of how they’ll perform the following year.

Cut the cord: Packer fans without the NFL Network won’t have to worry about missing a game this year. Since the Packers play Thanksgiving Day (on FOX), they don’t have a NFL Network-exclusive Thursday night game in 2013.

Primetime: The Packers will play under the lights four times in 2013, one below the league-limit of five. But under flexible scheduling rules, one of the Packers’ late-season games could be moved. The December 22 home game versus the Steelers pops out as one that could be time-shifted.

Most intriguing game: Packers fans always look forward to the beginning of the season, but this year’s September 8 opener at the San Francisco 49ers is special. The Packers left their hearts, pride, and championship hopes in San Francisco after getting gutted for 579 offensive yards and 45 points in January’s NFC Divisional playoff game. Green Bay would love some redemption, while the 49ers and Colin Kaepernick will be eager to prove that they’re even better than the team that fell just short in January’s Super Bowl. The early favorite in the NFC will be determined by this game.

Least intriguing game: Unless Brett Favre comes out of retirement due to a burning desire to play for first-year coach Rod Chudzinksi, it’s tough to imagine getting worked up into a lather about that Cleveland Browns game on October 20. But hey, it’s at home, and a football game at Lambeau Field is never wrong. But either would be heading to a local watering hole to keep an eye on the Ravens/Steelers matchup, scheduled to kick-off at the same bat time, same bat channel.

Most likely trap game: However, Packers fans needing to manufacture excitement for that Browns game can look at the fact that it’s between tough road games against Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens and division foe Minnesota Vikings. Mike McCarthy’s team has rarely been accused of playing down to the level of lowly opponents, but could they be blamed for looking at this game as a de facto second bye week?

Toughest stretch: An oddity with this year’s Packers schedule is a complete lack of back-to-back road games (last year the Pack played three consecutive away from Lambeau), meaning that a true tough stretch is, well, tough to find. But the schedule makers did make it hard on the Packers out of the gate: After the opener at San Francisco, the Pack take on two more 2012 playoff teams: the Redskins at Lambeau and then the Bengals in Cincinnati. After those first three contests, the Pack play only four other games against 2012 playoff teams, and two of those games are against Minnesota. And the jury is definitely out on how strong the Vikings will be without Antoine Winfield and Percy Harvin. (Although they added some other wide receiver whose name eludes me right now. Jefferson? Jorgensen . . . It’ll come to me.)

Easiest stretch: Let’s say that the Vikings take a step back from last year’s surprising playoff team. Then late October through November becomes a time when the Packers could really put some distance between themselves and the rest of the NFC North. Besides both games against Minnesota, this stretch includes back-to-back home games against Chicago and Philadelphia as well as road games against the New York Giants and Detroit Lions. Not necessarily obvious pushover games, but Chicago and Philadelphia seem to be in rebuilding mode under new head coaches, and the Giants rarely get hot until December.

Surest victory: The Packers have won 22 straight at home against the Detroit Lions, the longest such streak in the NFL. Detroit should be better this season than last, and yes, that streak will someday end, but there’s no logical reason to believe it ends this year.

Likeliest least likely loss: Most years, there’s that weird loss that fans don’t see coming. Quite often it comes against an AFC team that for some reason is able to take advantage of the Packers relative unfamiliarity against them. Last year, a close loss to Indianapolis broke up what otherwise would have been an eight-game win streak. Two years ago, a loss to Kansas City spoiled what would have been a perfect regular season. Three years ago the Miami Dolphins shocked Green Bay in overtime. This year the Packers could very well be tripped up by Cincinnati in week 3. The Bengals are young, talented, and – feel free to use this bit of trivia as your next bar bet – the Packers haven’t beaten Cincinnati since 1998.

Likely regular-season record: Clay Matthews got paid, Aaron Rodgers is going to get paid, the Packers are going to be in the mood to go to work. Look for a regular-season record in 2013 of 12-4.

Enjoy the draft. Enjoy Steve Martin’s new banjo album. (Research shows bluegrass music scores very high with my readers.) And we’ll talk soon.