The Green Bay Packers' 2009 schedule will be released on Tuesday, April 14, but until that much-anticipated announcement, here's a team-by-team look at the opponents for next season, and some of the news, notes and tidbits connected to each one.
Since it's known this is the opponent for the season opener - in prime time (Sept. 13, 7:30 p.m.) at Lambeau Field no less - we'll start here.
Last year it was the Vikings in the NFC North making the blockbuster offseason trade for defensive end Jared Allen, and this year it was the Bears for quarterback Jay Cutler. Chicago gave up even more for Cutler (two first-round draft choices, a third-rounder, and QB Kyle Orton) than Minnesota gave up for Allen (a first-rounder and a third), but the Allen deal also came with a mega-contract, which Cutler won't be getting right away.
Either way, Cutler v. Aaron Rodgers has instantly become the marquee quarterback matchup in the division, with both signal callers already having thrown for more than 4,000 yards in a season in their young careers.
Meanwhile, the Bears are the only NFC North opponent that seemingly has Head Coach Mike McCarthy's number. Chicago is 4-2 against Green Bay over McCarthy's three seasons, but strangely enough only two of those six games have been decided by a touchdown or less, including the Monday night overtime affair last December. Both of the Packers' wins have come in blowout fashion, by 19 points (26-7 on Dec. 31, 2006) and by 34 points (37-3 on Nov. 16, 2008), while the Bears also have two runaway wins in the recent series (26-0 on Sept. 10, 2006, and 35-7 on Dec. 23, 2007).
It's been a much quieter offseason to the immediate west than a year ago with the Allen deal, but the key issue to be decided is whether Tarvaris Jackson or new acquisition Sage Rosenfels will be the team's starting quarterback.
The defending division champions broke a string last season of seven straight years when either the Packers or Bears won the NFC North/Central. This year, Minnesota is working against history again, trying to become the first team other than Chicago or Green Bay to win back-to-back division crowns in three decades. The Vikings were the last to do it, in the 1977-78 seasons, which concluded a string of six straight division championships for Minnesota in the Bud Grant era.
Minnesota's one-point victory over Green Bay last November (28-27 at the Metrodome) ended McCarthy's perfect 5-0 record against the Vikings and head coach Brad Childress up to that point.
From a scheduling standpoint, it will be interesting to see if the two teams are matched up within the season's first four weeks, as they have been the last two years. The top defensive tackle tandem in the division, and perhaps the NFC, is the Vikings' Kevin Williams and Pat Williams, and they've been suspended for four games for violating the league's policy on banned substances, pending an appeal that should be heard before the season starts. Facing Minnesota with or without the Williamses is like two entirely different matchups.
The only team in the division with a new head coach, the Lions will now be led by former Tennessee defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, who takes over the league's first 0-16 team. The Packers went 6-0 in three seasons against former coach Rod Marinelli, who is now coaching the defensive line in Chicago.
With the No. 1 overall pick in the draft later this month, Detroit might select a franchise quarterback to pair with dynamic wide receiver Calvin Johnson, who torched the Packers for 15 receptions, 231 yards and four touchdowns in two games last season catching passes from Jon Kitna and Dan Orlovsky. No matter who's under center, Johnson will be a tough task for the defense once again.
The Packers have a 15-2 record against the Lions dating back to the teams' second meeting in 2000, and Green Bay has won 18 games in a row over Detroit played in the state of Wisconsin (including the 1994 NFC Wild Card playoff). For whatever reason, the Lions have played the Packers at Lambeau Field in December each of the last five years, closing the home schedule the last two. The game in Detroit is already scheduled for Thanksgiving.
THE NFC WEST
The matchup with the reigning NFC champions will mark the Packers' first trip to Arizona (other than the one this August in the preseason) since 2003, when the on-field temperature was over 100 degrees and the Packers lost to the Cardinals for the first time since 1985. The desert heat shouldn't play a factor this time with a retractable roof over Arizona's new stadium, but if the matchup is early in the season again, the Packers could be making two trips to Phoenix in relatively short order, with a preseason game scheduled there in August.
Green Bay is 14-3-1 dating back to 1955 against the Cardinals franchise (located in Chicago prior to 1960, in St. Louis until 1988 and then in Arizona since 1994), including a 1982 playoff win. The last time the two teams met was in 2006 at Lambeau Field, but Arizona's receiving duo of Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin was not what it is now. Fitzgerald was inactive for that contest, and Boldin was held to just four catches for 47 yards. Also, the quarterback then was rookie Matt Leinart, not the veteran and two-time league MVP Kurt Warner.
@ St. Louis
A familiar opponent from recent seasons, the Rams have played the Packers four times in the last six years, with the teams splitting the previous four meetings.
The Packers' last trip to St. Louis' dome was a rather historic one on Dec. 16, 2007. Green Bay's 33-14 victory clinched a first-round playoff bye for the Packers for the first time since 1997, and quarterback Brett Favre passed Dan Marino for the all-time passing yardage record with a short completion to Donald Driver early in the fourth quarter.
Another familiar foe over the years is on the schedule again. Including two playoff contests, the two teams have met six times in the last six years, with the Packers going 5-1 in those games, the only loss a 34-24 setback on Monday Night Football in Seattle in 2006.
The Seahawks' last trip to Lambeau Field was for the snowy NFC Divisional playoff game in January 2008, so they're probably hoping for an earlier date on the calendar this time around. The Packers won at Seattle in Week 6 last year, which turned out to be Green Bay's last road win of 2008.
With Mike Holmgren stepping down as head coach in Seattle after last season, this meeting will be the first Packers-Seahawks matchup without Holmgren as one of the two teams' coaches since a 1990 contest in Milwaukee.
A frequent foe through the 1990s and the early part of this decade, the 49ers and Packers have met just once since 2003. In McCarthy's first year in Green Bay, he returned to the place he was offensive coordinator the previous year and posted a key 30-19 victory that began the Packers' four-game winning streak to close the 2006 season.
It will be interesting to see how San Francisco's new head coach, Mike Singletary, views the matchup from a personal perspective. A Hall of Fame middle linebacker for the rival Bears for 12 seasons (1981-92), Chicago was 15-7 against the Packers when Singletary played there, including an eight-game winning streak from 1985-88. He'd certainly like to continue that dominance over an old arch-rival as a head coach.
THE AFC NORTH
The defending Super Bowl champions, with two league titles in the past four years, have played the Packers just once in the last 10 seasons - a 2005 meeting at Lambeau Field won by the visitors, 20-10, during Pittsburgh's first championship season of this decade.
When the Packers opened the 2007 preseason in Pittsburgh, it marked the first time in his entire NFL coaching career that McCarthy coached a game in his hometown, so this will be the first such regular-season contest.
The Packers haven't had the reigning Super Bowl winners on the schedule since 2003, when they played the champs for the third straight year - and defeated them all, beating Baltimore in 2001, New England in 2002 and Tampa Bay in 2003. The only other time the Packers, since winning their last title in Super Bowl XXXI, have played the most recent Super Bowl winner the following season was in 1999, when they lost to Denver.
A rare trip indeed, this will mark Green Bay's first visit to Cleveland since 1995, the only league city the Packers haven't traveled to in that span. Since then, the two teams have met only twice, in 2001 and 2005 at Lambeau Field. These two teams will play in the preseason opener this summer, in Green Bay.
One of the quarterbacks on the Browns roster is Brady Quinn, who happens to be the brother-in-law of Packers linebacker A.J. Hawk. Should Quinn be Cleveland's starter for this game, the "family members" will go head-to-head for the first time in the NFL, and the first time since Hawk's final college game for Ohio State, the Fiesta Bowl against Notre Dame following the 2005 season.
The Packers and Ravens have met only three times, but the last two have been particularly memorable, for different reasons. As noted previously, in the 2001 matchup the Packers knocked off the reigning Super Bowl champions at Lambeau Field, 31-23.
Then in 2005, the Packers were blown out on a Monday night in Baltimore, 48-3. The game included the first significant playing time for Rodgers in his career, and it wasn't pretty. In relief of Favre, he completed a respectable 8-of-15 passes for 65 yards but threw one interception, was sacked three times, and lost two fumbles, the second of which was returned for the game's final touchdown.
Rodgers obviously has come a long way since that rookie outing, and he's finally getting a chance to face the Ravens again.
The Bengals haven't visited Lambeau Field in the regular season since 1995, their only trip to Green Bay since Favre pulled off the miracle TD pass to Kitrick Taylor to launch his career in 1992. The Bengals' 13-year absence from Lambeau Field is the longest of any current NFL team.
In the last 10 years, the two teams have met just once, a 21-14 Bengals victory in Cincinnati in 2005, when Favre threw five interceptions (the last time a Green Bay QB threw five INTs in one game).
@ Tampa Bay
Finishing third in the NFC North last year, the Packers were matched with the third-place teams in the NFC South and NFC East, according to the league's scheduling formula, and both opponents - the Buccaneers and Cowboys - are teams Green Bay played in 2008.
Last season's late-September trip to Tampa is most remembered for Rodgers' shoulder injury, which he played through the next several weeks despite missing significant practice time. The Packers have won only once in Tampa in their last seven attempts, that coming in 2003, when the Bucs were coming off their Super Bowl triumph.
A longtime nemesis, the Cowboys have beaten the Packers 11 times in the last 13 meetings (including playoffs), with both of Green Bay's wins coming at Lambeau Field, in 1997 and 2004.
This will mark the third straight year the teams will battle, with last year's contest decided by two long pass receptions by the Cowboys' Miles Austin, who is likely to play an even greater role in the Dallas receiving corps this year now that Terrell Owens has moved on to Buffalo. Wisconsin native and Dallas quarterback Tony Romo is also 2-0 against the Packers, posting the Cowboys' first win in franchise history in Green Bay last year.