Green Bay Packers: Why a Fast Start is Vital in 2018

Aaron Rodgers, Packers, NFL
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

The Green Bay Packers are always a legitimate Super Bowl threat with Aaron Rodgers under center. But a fast start in 2018 is vital for the team’s chances this season.

Start strong, start quick. That should be the method of operation for the Green Bay Packers in 2018.

The Packers surrendered their hold on the NFC North last season, going 7-9 and missing the playoffs for the first time since 2008. A primary reason behind that, of course, was quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ clavicle injury, which forced him to miss all but seven regular-season games in 2017.

Rodgers is back healthy, however, and his efforts will be bolstered by the free-agent pickup of veteran tight end Jimmy Graham. And if you’re unsure the kind of impact Graham could have on Rodgers and the Packers offense, this preseason video should help give you an idea:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=clvgYCyy7xw

Nevertheless, Green Bay will need to avoid the so-so start it had back during Rodgers’ last fully healthy season, 2016, when the team started off 4-6 and had to ride a six-game win streak to reach the playoffs that year.

The NFC is stacked entering 2018, and the Packers’ own division, the NFC North, is no exception. Last year’s division champions, the Minnesota Vikings, upgraded at quarterback after bringing aboard Kirk Cousins this offseason. Their defense, which ranked No. 1 in scoring a year ago, remains largely intact this season. The Vikings do have some serious questions up front along the offensive line, however, which lends to the thought they’ll struggle out of the gate.

Meanwhile, the Detroit Lions are ushering in a new head coach, Matt Patricia, and the Chicago Bears are doing the same with Matt Nagy. Both coaches, who are holding this position for the first time in their respective careers, will take time to get organized. And despite both the Lions and Bears’ rosters improving over 2017, the Packers will want to put as much space in between themselves, Detroit and Chicago as possible.

The sooner the better.

The middle portion of Green Bay’s schedule does Rodgers and Co. no favors. Following the Packers’ Week 7 bye, four of Green Bay’s next five games are on the road:

  • Week 8 @ Los Angeles Rams
  • Week 9 @ New England Patriots
  • Week 10 vs. Miami Dolphins
  • Week 11 @ Seattle Seahawks
  • Week 12 @ Minnesota Vikings

It wouldn’t be irrational to bet against the Packers in each one of those road games. The Los Angeles Rams are stacked this season, and the New England Patriots are, well… the Patriots. Taking on the Seahawks in Seattle is always a tough proposition, even if the Seahawks regressed this offseason. And there are those Vikings again.

Now the Packers start off 2018 with two divisional home contests, opening against the Bears and then facing the Vikings the following week. Getting off to a quick lead in the NFC North would be oh-so beneficial to Green Bay’s season efforts. And it could take advantage of the possibility neither the Vikings, Cousins in particular, and the Bears have totally jelled just yet.

Visiting the Washington Redskins in Week 3, home against the Buffalo Bills in Week 4 and again on the road against the Lions in Week 5 all stand as winnable contests. It’s reasonable to assume the Packers start off 5-0, perhaps 6-0 if they’re able to knock off the San Francisco 49ers in prime time on Monday Night Football in Week 6.

While a 6-0 record to start 2018 would be ideal, obviously, going 5-1 or even 4-2 would be more than manageable. Especially if three of those wins came against divisional opponents. Combined with a not-too-difficult closeout stretch in Weeks 13 through 17, a hot start would afford the Packers the luxury of absorbing that rough patch between Weeks 8 and 12.

So if the Packers want to take command of the NFC North in 2018, they better do it early.