It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.
It was a season where the Green Bay Packers finished fifth in scoring offense and 11th in scoring defense; it was a season where Packers fans were left questioning everything.
It was a season where the Packers went 11-5 and won the NFC North division crown; it was a season where the Packers were mercilessly exposed in the playoffs.
It was a season where the Packers had everything to win; it was a season where it felt like they won nothing.
It was the Year of Our Lord 2012, the season where quarterback Aaron Rodgers achieved his 29th birthday. After an offseason which has seen the departure of Greg Jennings and little else before the draft, the Packers will again have to fend off the reloading Chicago Bears, the volatile Detroit Lions and the surprising Minnesota Vikings.
With a seventh-best point differential of 6.1 points per game and a Pythagorean Wins mark of 10.3, the Packers didn't overachieve in 2012, so no significant regression is expected.
Yet after Colin Kaepernick and the San Francisco 49ers flayed the Packers defense alive, there are a lot of questions going into 2013. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers will have to defend against Robert Griffin III and Michael Vick running read-option plays this season—not to mention a likely postseason rematch against Kaepernick if the Packers do well enough.
Will it be a far, far better season for Rodgers and the Packers? Or will they go to a quicker rest than they have recently known?
Kickoff Time and Network: Sept. 8, 4:25 pm ET, FOX
Those who forget history might be doomed to repeat it, but in the NFL, history rarely repeats itself.
Even when two teams play each other multiple times in the same season, rarely does the same script play out twice. There are so many related factors (and outside influences, like weather and fumbles) that the same two teams can play wildly different games.
So even though the Green Bay Packers and San Francisco 49ers are both largely similar to their 2012 editions, expecting this game to be a replay of the 2012 playoff game could be a mistake.
As the Packers' only significant free-agent loss was Erik Walden, the defender most confounded by 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, it's hard to see the Packers doing worse against Kaepernick and the zone read.
In fact, it's likely that coordinator Dom Capers and staff will have spent much of the offseason tying to correct the problems they experienced last time.
It's still unlikely the Packers saunter into Candlestick Park and saunter back out with a win.
SCORE PREDICTION: 24-21, 49ers
Kickoff Time and Network: Sept. 15, 1:00 pm ET, FOX
The result of this game will likely depend on whether the Washington Redskins quarterbacks are dressed as they are above, or with Robert Griffin III in uniform and Kirk Cousins in the tuque.
If Griffin is 100 percent, he's a terrifying matchup for the Packers defense. They'll likely struggle to get pressure on him, and struggle to contain him.
On the other side of the ball, the question will be if the moveable object (the Redskins secondary) or the stoppable force (a Greg Jennings-less Packers receiving corps) will have the advantage. Look for Randall Cobb to wreak havoc deep.
If the Packers can keep the Redskins receivers from getting open downfield, they'll be able to outscore Alfred Morris and the Washington ground attack. Even so, this still has all the hallmarks of a track meet.
Assuming the weather doesn't interfere...
SCORE PREDICTION: 35-30, Packers
Kickoff Time and Network: Sept. 22, 1:00 pm ET, FOX
After the stunning worst-to-fifth-seed run of the Indianapolis Colts, the Cincinnati Bengals' playoff berth was the biggest postseason surprise of 2012. With the criminally underrated defense and the "Just throw it to A.J. Green" offense, the Bengals outscored teams by an average of 4.4 points per game.
The biggest problem for the Packers will be the Bengals defense. Despite losing linebacker Manny Lawson and rotational defensive tackle Pat Sims, the Bengals should remain fierce against both the pass and the run.
When the Bengals can't get it to A.J. Green, they can't score; dramatic proof of this was provided in their playoff loss to the Houston Texans. Casey Hayward and the Packers secondary should be able to do as good of a job of this as any team can.
In the end, the Packers have the much better quarterback, and I'll take that over the home-field advantage.
SCORE PREDICTION: 24-21, Packers
Kickoff Time and Network: Oct. 6, 1:00 pm ET, FOX
The Detroit Lions haven't beaten the Green Bay Packers in Wisconsin since before Jason Hanson was drafted, so everything that applies to how incredibly long Hanson played in the NFL applies to this streak and then some.
The Lions were leading the Packers 14-3 in this game, but a botched snap started the downhill-rolling snowball that buried the Lions once again.
The Lions are lucky that this matchup game comes so early in the schedule, but the lack of frozen tundra won't help them contain Aaron Rodgers against a back seven that lost linebacker Justin Durant and will still be relying on second-year cornerback Bill Bentley and never-healthy safety Louis Delmas.
Just as it did last season, and for many seasons before, this game will come down to how well the Lions protect the football—and they never seem to.
SCORE PREDICTION: 30-27, Packers
Kickoff Time and Network: Oct. 13, 1:00 pm ET, FOX
Going on the road to face the Super Bowl champions is never easy. The Ravens' claws, though—after free agency—are much duller than they were when they gripped the Lombardi Trophy.
The Ravens still have balance on offense, with Flacco throwing to speedsters like Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones while Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce truck people in the running game. But the Ravens, will miss top target Anquan Boldin dearly.
On defense, the Ravens will almost certainly be starting one or more rookies in the middle of the linebacking corps; outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil and the reloaded defensive line will have to get to Rodgers early and often to keep the depleted secondary from being toasted.
SCORE PREDICTION: 24-14, Packers
Kickoff Time and Network: Oct. 20, 4:25 pm ET, FOX
No matter who's quarterbacking the Cleveland Browns, be he Brandon Weeden, Jason Campbell or a rookie yet to be drafted, the biggest threat to the Green Bay Packers' "W" column in this game will come from feature back Trent Richardson.
The underrated 2012 Browns defense is likely to be even better in 2013. Aggressive coordinator Ray Horton attracted impact free agents like rush linebacker Paul Kruger. Even if the Packers' solid pass protection can hold up, the Browns secondary should have no problem covering the Packers' receivers.
With the vertical game taken out of the game, it becomes a battle of the backs. That's a battle Cleveland should win.
It'll be close, but the visitors will hand the Packers a surprising "L."
SCORE PREDICTION: 20-17, Browns
Kickoff Time and Network: Oct. 27, 8:25 pm ET, NBC
When this game was played last season, the Green Bay Packers cruised to a 24-10 victory over the Minnesota Vikings.
Given the subtraction of receiver Greg Jennings from the Packers—and the addition of Jennings to the Vikings—it's tempting to predict a big swing in that final score.
However, the Vikings suffered much more overall attrition than the Packers, and the Packers' deeper roster was better suited to handle the losses. Adrian Peterson will still get his against an unremarkable run defense, but the Vikings will most likely struggle to score in Lambeau
SCORE PREDICTION: 31-13, Packers
Kickoff Time and Network: Nov. 4, 8:40 pm ET, ESPN
Monday Night Football, in Lambeau, in December. This is what the NFC North is all about, and the two division-crown favorites will have a marquee showdown on the game's biggest stage.
However, the Packers have had the Bears' number in recent seasons, and it's unlikely that changes this season. The Bears' offense, which should be intact under new head coach Marc Trestman, could only muster 23 points in two games against the Packers last season.
The Bears' defense, which has lost some pieces and will be changing systems for the first time in nearly a decade, likely won't be as good. It's hard to find a way the Bears get the edge back in this one.
SCORE PREDICTION: 27-13, Packers
Kickoff Time and Network: Nov. 10, 1:00 pm ET, FOX
The Philadelphia Eagles went 4-12 last season, but the 2013 Eagles team won't have much in common with that squad. In fact, the Eagles might be the most dramatically transformed team in the NFL. Almost all we know is that quarterback Nick Foles and running back LeSean McCoy will feature heavily.
New head coach Chip Kelly is installing his zone read-based offense and a new 3-4 base defense. The Eagles defense has already seen massive personnel turnover, including the entire starting secondary.
How effective this defense will be remains to be seen, but switching the base scheme and churning most of the starting lineup doesn't usually result in quick improvement. Then again, the Eagles were the third-worst scoring defense in the NFL, so there's almost nowhere to go but up.
Offensively, how much threat the Eagles pose the Packers could rely on how much time Michael Vick sees under center. He and tailback LeSean McCoy would make a lethal combination on Oregon's inside zone read—especially versus a Packers defense that looked helpless against such plays in the San Francisco 49ers game in the playoffs.
Still, the Packers are a team with a firm foundation, clear vision and plenty of talent. The Eagles are a team in Year 1 of a major transformation.
SCORE PREDICTION: 33-24, Packers
Kickoff Time and Network: Nov. 17, 8:30 pm ET, NBC
In a role reversal from previous seasons, the New York Giants were actually one of the best teams in football last season but couldn't get any respect.
The Giants had the sixth-best offense in 2012 and the 12th-best defense. With a plus-14 turnover differential (fourth in the NFL), it's hard to figure out how a team that outscored their opponents by nearly a touchdown per game finished only 9-7.
In fact, the Giants outscored the Packers 38-10 when these two teams played in 2012; the Giants pass rush stopped the Packers cold in the second and third quarters while Eli Manning and the Giants got hot.
Chris Canty and Osi Umenyiora racked up three of the Giants' six sacks that day—but they're not Giants anymore.
The cap-strapped Giants had significant turnover in the offseason, especially on defense. The Packers should be able to take advantage of the Giants' burn-or-get-burned secondary now that veteran safety Kenny Phillips is gone.
Presuming Manning and the Giants' passing game can replicate their success, this game could become one of the craziest shootouts of the 2013 season.
SCORE PREDICTION: 42-33, Packers
Kickoff Time and Network: Nov. 24, 1:00 pm ET, FOX
Look, sometimes weird things happen in the NFL. It's why they have that phrase "that's why they play the games."
When looking at the way these two teams match up, there's no way the Packers don't win this game nine times out of 10.
Whether it's the Greg Jennings factor, the Adrian Peterson factor or the Sometimes Dom Capers Just Screws Up factor, the Vikings take the win in Lambeau.
Call it a hunch.
SCORE PREDICTION: 33-21, Vikings
Kickoff Time and Network: Nov. 28 (Thanksgiving), 12:30 pm ET, FOX
Sometimes, rivalries are really rivalries. It's not when two teams have been in the same division for umpteen years. It's not when generations of fans of two teams teach each other to hate the other team.
A real rivalry is when two teams—the players and coaches that take the field—have beef.
In a rivalry that's seen the Suh stomp, the Packers put the exclamation point on the Lions' 0-16 season and Matt Flynn get paid solely on the strength of his pinball game against the Lions, this matchup means a little more.
Unless Matthew Stafford and the Lions somehow get much better by losing three-fifths of their starting offensive line, they don't have the ability to end the Packers' Wisconsin winning streak.
Every season, though, there's a game the Ford Field crowd helps the Lions steal.
It just might be this one.
SCORE PREDICTION: 28-27, Lions
Kickoff Time and Network: Dec. 8, 8:30 pm, NBC
With the addition of Steven Jackson, the Atlanta Falcons have become the most balanced offense in football. With the nearly unstoppable receiver combination of Roddy White, Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez, the Falcons will give the Packers' back seven all they can handle.
Per Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan took sacks the sixth-least often of any qualifying quarterback last season. He was also the ninth-most accurate under pressure, meaning that even if the Packers pass rush somehow got to Ryan, he wouldn't be rattled enough to bail out the coverage.
Aaron Rodgers was significantly more accurate under pressure than Ryan last season, but he was also sacked more often than anyone except Andy Dalton. Even if Rodgers and the Packers can fly with the Falcons, they can't run with them.
The Packers pick up a strong home-field advantage, playing at Lambeau outdoors on Sunday Night Football in December, but the Falcons will still come out on top.
SCORE PREDICTION: 28-24, Falcons
Kickoff Time and Network: Dec. 15, 4:25 pm ET, FOX
The Dallas Cowboys had the 24th-ranked scoring defense in the NFL last season. Then, they fired defensive coordinator Rob Ryan and replaced him with defensive elder statesman and Tampa 2 guru Monte Kiffin.
The Cowboys lost more defenders than they gained in free agency and paid big money to retain a quality defender whose place in the new system is uncertain.
The net result is not going to be improvement.
Even if the Cowboys address the offensive line and running game in the draft, they likely won't be able to put together an offense that can keep pace with the Packers passing game. The Packers have a significant coaching advantage on offense and a significant talent advantage on defense.
Even on the road, the Packers should have no trouble corralling the Cowboys.
SCORE PREDICTION: 31-17, Packers
Kickoff Time and Network: Dec. 22, 4:25 pm ET, CBS
The Steelers have always been smart about letting veterans walk when they're no longer worth their contracts. Whether that's young, inconsistent Mike Williams, or aged, past-it James Harrison, the Steelers have always understood when it's time to let players leave.
Usually, though, they're better about making sure they have replacements lined up ahead of time.
The Steelers lost Wallace and lineman Willie Colon off an offense that underperformed in 2012; even if the Steelers aren't stricken by another rash of injuries on that side of the ball, they have a lot of work to do.
Even the poor Packers pass rush should be able to penetrate the Steelers' offensive line, and the Packers secondary shouldn't be burned too badly by receivers Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders.
Aaron Rodgers, however, should have a field day against a Steelers defense that's suffered losses at every level.
SCORE PREDICTION: 24-17, Packers
Kickoff Time and Network: Dec. 29, 1:00 pm ET, FOX
Of course, it comes down to this. Of course, the Packers and Bears will face off in the last week of the season—possibly in a winner-take-all match for the NFC North division crown.
It's going to be a tough task to win in the Windy City on December 29th, but that sword cuts both ways.
This is going to be a huge task for new head coach Marc Trestman, eight years removed from the spotlight of the NFL. If the Bears really are in position to beat the Packers and win the division, the pressure will be immense.
That's the kind of pressure the Packers have thrived on, and the Bears have struggled with, for the past several years. Trestman is the right man for the job, but he'll need his players to carry him through this massive rivalry game, and they won't be able to do it.
SCORE PREDICTION: 28-20, Packers