GREEN BAY – There's no such thing as a make-or-break stretch of an NFL season coming in its first half.
The season is too long for any team's fate to be defined so soon.
But it sure appears everyone will find out a lot about the 2020 Green Bay Packers in the four games between their bye and the season's midway point.
Following their time off in Week 5, the Packers will head to Tampa Bay for the third-ever Aaron Rodgers vs. Tom Brady showdown. How is that game not in primetime, by the way? What strings did FOX have to pull to keep that game in its late Sunday afternoon slot? That's a shocker, but moving on.
The visit to Tampa then leads into three consecutive games against 2019 playoff teams – at Houston, vs. Minnesota, at San Francisco – in a span of just 12 days, culminating with the rematch of the NFC title game on a Thursday night.
These aren't just three of the 12 squads that made last year's postseason field, either. The Texans and Vikings both reached the divisional round, so these are three of the other seven from the last eight standing in 2019.
And for the last of those three, the Packers will have to face the defending NFC champion on a short week, hopping on a West Coast flight just three days after a crucial NFC North showdown with Minnesota at Lambeau Field.
So, to summarize:
Three of four on the road, beginning with Brady's Bucs, visiting a Houston venue the Packers play in just once every eight years, returning home briefly for the back half of the season series with the Vikings, and then, with the players' bodies inevitably still sore, heading out to last season's house of horrors.
It's as daunting a stretch, judging in the springtime, as the Packers have faced in recent memory, and they've had some doozies.
In both 2016 and '18, the Packers "enjoyed" stretches of four road games out of five contests, many against playoff-caliber foes. The gauntlet in '16 almost did them in, until "run the table" started in the last road game of that segment, at Philly on a Monday night. In '18, it was a death knell, with not a single road win, and one more subsequent home loss led to a change at head coach.
How the Packers handle this four-game stretch in 2020, both while navigating through it and then coming out of it, will be revealing.
However they emerge, they'll have half their season to go and the "mini-bye" weekend off following the Thursday night game will be a much-needed midseason respite to reset and regroup.
Of course, there's always a chance that by the time this stretch arrives, the perspective on it could change. Who knows how Brady will be in his first season with a new team? Houston traded its best receiver. Minnesota has undergone a ton of personnel turnover, especially on defense. And San Francisco will be getting everyone's best shot, every week.
But it's a decent bet this will be the toughest quarter of the 16-game slate.
That's not to say the other portions don't have significant highlights. The first quarter features two division games to start, followed by a primetime trip to New Orleans (of course the game in the Superdome is at night … a third Rodgers vs. Drew Brees matchup in the bayou, all evening tilts).
Take a look at the opponents the Packers will be facing during the 2020 NFL season.
The season's third quarter ends with back-to-back home games against the Bears, in primetime, and against the defending NFC East champion Eagles, in the late-afternoon national spotlight.
And then there's the finish, with the AFC runner-up Titans coming to Lambeau Field in Week 16, followed by a trip to Soldier Field in Week 17. There was plenty of drama the last time the Packers and Bears played a finale in Chicago, seven years ago, on fourth-and-8 from the 48.
There's no telling how much might be at stake for the Packers against their archrivals to conclude the regular season this time.
But odds are the four games from Weeks 6-9 will factor immensely into where the Packers, and other NFC contenders, stand.