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Road-heavy stretch in 2021 schedule nothing new for Packers

Green Bay has dealt with similar tests before and emerged better

Head Coach Matt LaFleur
Head Coach Matt LaFleur

GREEN BAY – The toughest stretch, on paper at least, of the Packers' 2021 schedule is easy to pinpoint.

From Oct. 10 through Nov. 7, Weeks 5-9, the Packers will play four road games in a span of five weeks.

The travel-heavy segment features a division road game at Chicago, condenses preparation with a long West Coast trip to Arizona for a Thursday night game, and concludes with a visit to two-time defending AFC champion Kansas City.

When it's over, the Packers will have played six of their first nine games on the road, and they'll still be a month from their late bye in the first week of December.

"I try not to overanalyze these things," Head Coach Matt LaFleur said in a brief on-camera interview with Packers analyst Larry McCarren regarding the bunched-up road games.

"If you look at the entirety of any schedule, I think it can get overwhelming at times and it does look daunting. But if you take it one game at a time and focus on what's in front of you, you feel pretty good about going into those games."

There's no such thing as any team's season being defined, good or bad, by early November. But if the Packers can emerge from this road-weary stretch in decent shape, they'll be set up potentially for a strong finish.

Over the final eight games of the regular season, the Packers will have no more back-to-back road trips, and they'll have a bye in there as well to rest up and get healthy.

"My mindset is wherever they tell us to play, whenever they tell us to play, we'll be ready to play," LaFleur said.

That simplified, focused approach has helped LaFleur in each of his first two seasons as head coach as he navigated similar road-heavy runs. While the Packers took their lumps during them, they also came out the other side stronger and playing better.

In 2019, from Weeks 8-13, the Packers played four road games in a span of five contests, with their bye week mixed in. They lost two of the road games (at Chargers, at 49ers), but a win at the N.Y. Giants to conclude the constant travel started a five-game winning streak to end the regular season and snag a playoff bye.

Then last year, coming off their early bye into Weeks 6-11, the Packers played four on the road in a span of six games. They started and ended it with losses (at Buccaneers, at Colts) and also dropped a home game to the Vikings in between, accounting for all three regular-season defeats on the year.

But again, a winning streak to finish the regular season followed, this time a six-gamer that clinched the NFC's No. 1 playoff seed.

The upcoming 2021 stretch of four somewhat rapid-fire road games looks like the toughest yet. Two years ago, the bye in the middle helped get through it, health- and rest-wise. Last year, it was four on the road in six weeks, not four in five.

The "mini-bye," or weekend off after the Thursday night game in Arizona before the stretch wraps up with the trip to Kansas City, could assist this time, as difficult as it might be to take a long flight on a short week.

That's at least a chance for the Packers to catch their breath while awaiting their full bye week a little further down the road.

In the end, that's probably the best way to look at what statistically is one of the NFL's toughest schedules, with 10 of 17 games against teams that made the playoffs in 2020.

The mini-bye is after eight games, the full bye is after 12, and the second round of division games lies within the home stretch.

Survive the gauntlet of road games that begins in Week 5, and the opportunity will be there to make it worthwhile.

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