Packers entering new world this week

First of several road games, changed kickoff time, hungry opponent all raise the stakes for Green Bay in Week 5

Cincinnati Bengals celebrate after win against Minnesota Vikings

GREEN BAY – The Packers won't be seeing much of the friendly confines of Lambeau Field for a while, at least not on game days.

Sunday's visit to Cincinnati marks the beginning of a road-warrior run during which the Packers play four out of five games away from home.

In all, from Oct. 10 through Nov. 7, the Packers will play four road games in a span of 29 days, and it'll be important to begin this stretch right. After Nov. 7, the Packers have just three road trips the rest of the regular season through Jan. 9, a span of two months during which the home cooking can always help.

But there's another element to the start of this portion of the schedule, too, and that's the transition to noon CT (1 p.m. ET this week) kickoffs. The Packers' first four games this season have taken place either in the late afternoon or in primetime, but now their next three will kick off early.

"Those games are just different," quarterback Aaron Rodgers said of the noon starts. "They're different energy-type games. You have to kinda get up early and get going."

Or, as Head Coach Matt LaFleur bluntly put it to his players: "They've got to wake up with their (urine) hot. You've just got to be ready to go and that's reality."

The Packers also must be prepared for a rather raucous crowd in an unfamiliar venue. Cincinnati media is reporting the Paul Brown Stadium crowd is expected to be at capacity, reaching a 65,000-plus mark for the first time since the Bengals hosted the in-state rival Cleveland Browns in 2016.

To be sure, a respectable portion will be Packers fans with their team playing in Cincinnati for the first time in eight years, but there's also genuine enthusiasm building for a Bengals team with a rising star at quarterback in 2020 No. 1 overall draft pick Joe Burrow and a stout, top-10 defense.

The Bengals were the only team in the AFC North not to make the playoffs last year, but they've already knocked off one division rival in the Steelers en route to a 3-1 start.

As the two-time NFC runner-up with back-to-back 13-win regular seasons and the reigning league MVP comes to town, this is a measuring stick game for Cincinnati. It's a chance for the Bengals to make themselves known as contenders as they try to qualify for the playoffs for the first time in six years (and, if they do, notch their first postseason victory since 1990).

"I would envision that it is going to be rocking there," LaFleur said. "That's a pretty passionate fan base, and they've got a lot of reasons to cheer. That's a 3-1 football team right now."

So is Green Bay, which has rebounded nicely from a Week 1 debacle to win three straight for the early lead in the NFC North. At 2-2, the Bears are right on the Packers' heels, and Cincinnati's lone loss was to Chicago, so it's important for Green Bay not to drop a game to a common opponent.

It's a new segment of the season. The road-heavy stretch needs to get started on the right foot, the noon kickoffs have arrived, and an up-and-coming squad is looking for legitimacy.

When the schedule came out back in the spring, Week 5 at Cincinnati didn't jump off the page. Maybe it should have. Either way, there's more to this game than meets the eye.

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