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Inbox: The tenor of certain games can change

This year will be an evolution

QB Aaron Rodgers
QB Aaron Rodgers

Laura from Pittsburgh, PA

What game will be most important this season?

The next one. That's right, I'm starting the week with that. The next one.

Jackie from New Freedom, PA

Now that the schedule is out, which game may prove to be the most challenging for the Packers this year?

Most challenging? OK, I'll dive in here, but I don't really have an answer. It's too difficult to pick when the non-division slate includes Tampa Bay, Buffalo, Dallas, Tennessee, and the defending champion Rams. But one of the beauties of an NFL season is as it progresses, the tenor of certain games can change. Some game always emerges as a "bigger" one than originally thought. Last year at this time, no one was thinking Green Bay would be headed to Arizona in late October to face the league's last unbeaten team, and the Packers would be down their top three receivers to boot. Back in 2019, that late November showdown in San Francisco emerged rather unpredictably, with both teams coming off of sub-.500 campaigns. We all have ideas, but we just never know.

Dennis from Parrish, FL

Calling my shot that Romeo Doubs and Christian Watson will combine for EXACTLY 997 yards receiving between them in 2022!

Alrighty then.

John from Hutto, TX

When will dates and times of preseason games be announced?

It could be any day now. I don't expect we'll be waiting too long.

Tom from Platteville Township, WI

Jeffrey from Minnesota's question was interesting and informative. How does that extrapolate over the season? Is the two-point conversion considered an offensive/defensive play? Is the extra-point kick considered a special-teams play? 20% is substantial.

I believe two-point tries count as offensive/defensive plays, even though the stats on those plays don't. PAT kicks are special-teams plays, same as field goals.

Don from Riverton, UT

"After the last two years, there truly is no other option." It's a lot deeper than the last two years, n'est ce pas?

Certainly, but it's not fair to put the shortcomings of any previous regime on the current one.

Rachel from Appleton, WI

Good morning. Looking at all the special-teams changes, what would they have to achieve this season for you to consider that phase improved? What type of stats are you looking for from a first-year special teams? Trying to set realistic expectations amid the hype season of football.

I'll be honest, it won't be about the stats for me. It'll be based on what I see and then subsequently how I feel, as the season goes along, when those units take the field. I've never felt as uneasy as I did, on a weekly basis, in 2020, and that feeling never dissipated last year. So my gut will be the first indicator. Then I'll look at the numbers.

Richard from Caledonia, WI

Good afternoon, any concerns about Allen Lazard having not yet signed his contract?

No. The time has passed for any other team to make him an offer, and I don't see the Packers rescinding the tender nor Lazard holding out. Neither of those options would make any sense.

Doug from Neenah, WI

Good morning, Mike. What do you make of Rico Gafford's switch back from wide receiver to cornerback? At 5-10 he's close to the minimum height threshold for the defensive backfield. Could he be a special-teams gunner? Thanks.

Perhaps. It appears the Packers are trying to find the best way for his speed to have a place on the roster. Stay tuned I guess.

John from Livermore, CA

I'm curious as to what you think is the biggest improvement the team has made in the offseason?

We won't know for sure until training camp, or maybe minicamp I suppose, but I'm banking on it being a healthy Bakhtiari and a healthy Alexander. I also think the defense will be better against the run.

Tim from Poplar Grove, IL

Hi Wes/Mike, I'm excited to see the defense take a step forward. Too often defenses play great for 3.5 quarters and give up late drives when the game is on the line. I believe a few defenses are now using a six-man rotation up front to keep their pass rush fresh throughout the game. With the draft additions on defensive line and edge do you see Joe Barry heading in this direction?

With this defense, the rotations are two different positions to me. The additions of Jarran Reed and Devonte Wyatt make me feel better about the depth on the defensive line right now than at edge rusher. The Packers need to find reliable third and fourth options off the edge behind Preston Smith and Rashan Gary that can play 15-20 snaps per game each and hold their own. They have candidates but they're all unproven.

David from Cable, WI

While other teams try to copy the Chiefs' and Packers' high-powered offenses they trade their best receivers and invest their two first-round picks on defense. Two smart teams staying ahead of the curve instead of living in the past.

Two successful organizations staying true to their process – in this case to their board during the draft – and not getting forced into doing anything, which is how the biggest mistakes get made.

Craig from Johnson City, TN

Sorry, but from 1961-1977 except 1966 the NFL played 14 games in 14 weeks. And from 1978-1989 except 1982 and 1987 the NFL played 16 games in 16 weeks. There were no byes. So I understand that it is hard but let's not dwell on the fact we play 13 weeks straight. I think this team is tough enough to persevere. Just win, baby!

Point taken, but when everybody gets a bye, there's no denying its timing can impact any team's season. As has been written, the Packers' schedule is unusual, but if they navigate it well enough it could work in their favor.

Julian from Gastonia, NC

I really shouldn't be surprised by all the griping by Packer fans about their schedule. I have news for you: The Packers had home-field advantage in the playoffs the last two years as well as the bye and were discernible favorites but weren't good enough. If the Packers are a top team, they'll make the postseason again and hopefully bring home the trophy this time, and if not it won't have anything to do with how fair or unfair the schedule is.

Also true.

Roger from McGrath, AK

I know order of operations is a mathematical concept but did the Packers know they played in London in Week 5 prior to declining the option for a post-European trip bye? I know the London game was announced earlier than the full schedule.

Yes, they did not request the post-international bye because the London game was so early in the season.

William from Speedwell, TN

I'm dreaming of a sandy Christmas?

Just doesn't sound right, does it?

Mark from Rochester, MN

Noticed that the team doesn't go further west than Minneapolis this regular season. When was the last time that happened?

2017, though technically Dallas is a hair West of Minneapolis. So then it would be 2016, until the playoff game in Dallas.

Daniel from Rochester, NY

Mike a little insight would be awesome. The loss to New England in 2010. Why did it mean so much and what did it do to the team? I know they went on to win the ultimate prize. Put a little meat on that bone please.

Rodgers had gotten concussed the week prior at Detroit and the Packers lost a terrible game, 7-3. They were 8-5, and on FOX's postgame show, Jimmy Johnson pulled out his giant-sized fork to stick in the Packers, signifying they were done. Matt Flynn had to play QB the following Sunday in prime time on the road vs. Tom Brady. McCarthy dropped his "nobody's underdog" line during the week in a press conference, and the Packers gave the Patriots all they could handle, dying in the red zone on the game's final possession. Fortuitous events earlier in the day set up the Packers, despite being 8-6, to qualify for the playoffs with two more wins and no other help. I believe the team got on the plane that night in Providence (or wherever I was standing on that runway in the wee hours) believing it could beat anybody, and it didn't lose again. It didn't lose for another 364 days, to be precise.

Chuck from Gold Canyon, AZ

Good morning, Mike. I hope you had a good weekend. According to Spotrac the Packers have approximately $10.5M available cap space with probably only Watson's contract counting in the top 51. The one thing I don't understand is that they count almost $2.7M in dead money to Tonyan and Campbell. Since both of them received new contracts this year, why would they have dead money assigned to them?

Don't hold me to this, but I believe those are signing bonus carryovers from the players' prior contracts/restructures that had not yet counted on the cap but are not part of their new deals.

Ron from Bellaire, MI

For all those who are looking for more noon starts, become a Lions, Jets, Jags or Texans fan. For winning, there is a price to pay. We have been very spoiled and I hope we continue to be, and I will enjoy all the non-noon starts the NFL gives the Packers.

Very true. For as much as Wes, Larry and I talk about loving noon kickoffs from a work perspective, I would still much rather cover a contending team. For sure.

George from Kennebunkport, ME

There are still media talking heads bashing the Pack for not taking a WR in Round 1, which is annoying. I am eager to see the creativity on offense that might emerge by spreading the ball around. And the potential for a run-stuffing defense means teams will be forced to throw against possibly the best trio of corners in the league. With improved ST play almost guaranteed, I see a team able to win games without having to score 30. Count me as optimistic.

The best teams play complementary football consistently. The defense complements the offense, and vice versa, while the special teams complement both. Sometimes one unit has to pick another one up, because it's a long year, but no one wants a season riding on that when it's win or go home. This year will be an evolution, particularly on offense, but also in how to win consistently. The Packers will have to figure it out, but they'll have time to do so.

Fred from Morehead, KY

Good morning! Remember you heard it here first…Celtics in 7!

It was a great series that unfortunately didn't have a great Game 7 befitting the drama of the last couple weeks. But it was clear which was the better, deeper and healthier team.

James from Chicago, IL

Now that the schedule is released, what will the Packers' record be? What players will they target in the 2023 draft? What 2023 free agents will they sign? Will Aaron Rodgers return in 2023? What will be a position of need in the draft? What other absurd questions that require a crystal ball and a great deal of clairvoyance to answer could I ask?

Happy Monday.