GREEN BAY – If December is crunch time, then November might be decision time.
The Packers are facing a rugged and critical November schedule that'll see them play five times in 26 days, three times on the road – one of those games will be at second-place Minnesota – and against all three NFC North opponents. November begins with Sunday's game in Denver against the undefeated Broncos, and the Packers could face another undefeated team on the road, the Carolina Panthers, in the second game of the month.
Decision time? Let's put it this way: When November is complete, we'll have a pretty good idea of where the Packers stand heading into the postseason chase. The Packers could find themselves anywhere from being on the verge of clinching the division title and possibly even homefield advantage for the playoffs, to chasing the Vikings for the division lead.
If September and October were a warmup act, November is the main event. Thanksgiving night could become the greatest celebration of past and present in Packers history.
First, the Packers have to win, and that begins in Denver on Sunday. It's a game that could set the table for what follows. Here are 10 things the Packers have to do to beat the Broncos.
1. Control the tempo – It's been a long time since the Packers played in Denver. The challenge of playing at altitude will be new for a lot of Packers players, and that makes playing at the Packers' pace extremely important.
2. Protect the quarterback – The Broncos' pass rush is fearful. They lead the league with 26 sacks.
3. Run the ball – It's how you control tempo. It's also how you quiet the rush and open the passing lanes.
4. Knock him off the spot –It's always been a key ingredient in beating Peyton Manning. Late in his career, it's more important than ever.
5. Be patient – The Broncos are averaging 23 points a game, and they've scored four touchdowns on defense. This shouldn't be a shootout.
6. Cover high – Demaryius Thomas is 6-3 and likes to go up after the high ball.
7. Win special teams – Teams play could decide this game. The Packers' special teams have been gaining momentum. The Broncos have a couple of dead-last rankings.
8. Screen! – Don't you love it? It's what you do against teams that rush the passer.
9. Win the fourth quarter – It's that kind of game. These two teams didn't get here undefeated by folding at crunch time.
10. Energize the base – Packers fans will be there. Give them reason to cheer.