GREEN BAY — The Green Bay Packers already knew they’d be opening the 2019 season, Matt LaFleur’s first as head coach, by kicking off the NFL’s centennial with a Thursday night rivalry game against the Chicago Bears on Sept. 5 at Soldier Field.
On Wednesday, the rest of their slate became official with the NFL’s much-ballyhooed schedule release, and it included four more prime-time games — not bad for a team coming off back-to-back sub-.500 playoff-less seasons.
In addition to playing the first game of the NFL’s 100th anniversary season, the Packers will also appear on “Thursday Night Football” on Sept. 26 for a home game against the Philadelphia Eagles; on “Sunday Night Football” on Oct. 27 for an Aaron Rodgers vs. Patrick Mahomes showdown with the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium; and on “Monday Night Football” for matchups against the Detroit Lions on Oct. 14 at Lambeau Field and against the Minnesota Vikings on Dec. 23 at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.
If the Packers, who went 6-9-1 last season and fired longtime coach Mike McCarthy with four games left to play, bounce back with a strong year under LaFleur and Rodgers has a renaissance season at age 35, they could also be flexed into some late-season “Sunday Night Football” appearances.
Meanwhile, LaFleur will have ample opportunity to get off to a fast start in his rookie season — and will need to, given the number of road games on the back end of the schedule — as the Packers will spend most of September and October at Lambeau Field. After opening against the Bears in Chicago, five of the Packers’ next six games will be at home.
That run of home games starts with a Sept. 15 visit from the Vikings, followed by a Sept. 22 meeting with the Denver Broncos and the Thursday night game against the Eagles. The good news there is that their scheduled Thursday night game in 2018 was at Seattle — a brutal travel disadvantage. The Packers lost that game to the Seahawks 27-24.
Each NFL team must play a Thursday night game each year, and the Packers’ opener doesn’t count toward that, which is why they’re hosting the Eagles for another midweek game.
The Packers’ second road game of the season will be at Dallas on Oct. 6, then they’ll return home for the Monday night matchup on ESPN against the Lions and an Oct. 20 matchup with the Oakland Raiders.
Then comes a daunting pair of road games, starting with that Rodgers-Mahomes matchup against the Chiefs, who reached last year’s AFC Championship Game behind Mahomes, who was the 2018 NFL MVP. The Packers will then travel to Los Angeles to face the Chargers in a game that the Packers thought might get moved to London as part of the league’s international series.
Instead, the Chargers wanted to keep that game in their 27,000-seat home stadium and will play a division game against the Chiefs in Mexico as their international game.
The Chargers also reached the AFC divisional round last year before losing to eventual Super Bowl champion New England.
After their AFC West matchups, the Packers will return home for a Nov. 10 game against Carolina before hitting their bye in Week 11. After that, having all those early home games will result in the Packers being on the road for four of their final six games.
That six-game gauntlet will begin with back-to-back road games on opposite sides of the country against NFC teams: At San Francisco on Nov. 24, and at the New York Giants on Dec. 2. The Packers will then return to Green Bay for home games against the Washington Redskins on Dec. 8 and the Bears on Dec. 15.
The Packers will close the season with consecutive NFC North matchups — that Monday night game against the Vikings in Minneapolis on Dec. 23 and a regular-season finale against the Lions at Ford Field on Dec. 29. The Packers closed last season with a 31-0 loss at home to the Lions after losing Rodgers to a concussion in the first quarter.
Although the Packers went 1-2 in their December home games last season, they historically have been one of the league’s toughest teams to beat at home in the season’s final month. Before last year, the Packers were 22-4 under McCarthy at home in December. And from 2008 through 2017, with Rodgers as the starter, they had been 16-1 at home in December, with the only loss coming in Rodgers’ first year as the starter.
Jason Wilde covers the Packers for ESPN Wisconsin. Listen to him with former Packers and Badgers offensive lineman Mark Tauscher weekdays from 9-11 on “Wilde & Tausch” on your local ESPN station.
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