With the release of the Green Bay Packers' 2013 schedule, the first section of the team's route to Super Bowl XLVIII has been mapped out. The schedule is daunting, with seven games against teams who were in the playoffs last season. The entire Packers schedule can be found here (via Packers.com).
There aren't many easy games on the Packers' schedule, as the weakest teams all seem to be on the rise. The other big challenge on the schedule is having a bye in Week 4. The early bye isn't ideal, but the Thursday game in Week 13 can be used as a mini-bye.
Here is a list of each game on the Packers' schedule—ranking from easiest to most difficult.
Sunday, October 20, 4:25 p.m. ET
Even the easiest game on the Packers' schedule is rather challenging. The Cleveland Browns seem to be headed in the right direction with a talented young defense and Trent Richardson at running back. While the Browns have some pieces, they don't have enough to compete with the Packers yet.
This game would be considered much more difficult if the game was on the road. The Packers need to make sure to handle business with this game and escape the Week 7 showdown with a victory. Sandwiched in between tough road games in Baltimore and Minnesota, the Packers can't afford a letdown.
This is a must-win against an inferior opponent.
Sunday, October 6, 1 p.m. ET
The Packers have a 22-game winning streak in Wisconsin against the Detroit Lions. While there have been some close calls, the Packers just seem to have the Lions' number outside of Michigan. While Brett Favre did plenty of damage against the Lions, Aaron Rodgers has picked up right where he left off.
Another reason this game has to considered as one of the easier games on the Packers' schedule is that it falls immediately after the Packers bye week. Under Mike McCarthy, the Packers have been very good coming off of extra time prepared.They should be expected to come out sharp in their first division game of the season.
Sunday, November 24, 1 p.m. ET
While the Packers lost to the Minnesota Vikings at the end of the 2012 regular season, the Green Bay Packers already got their revenge in the playoffs. Despite winning two of the three meetings, the Packers have a lot to prove against the Vikings and Adrian Peterson.
In the regular-season meetings, Peterson embarrassed the Packers' defense as he barreled over defenders, often times taking them with him down the field. Peterson ran for 210 yards in the first meeting and 199 yards in the second meeting.
The Packers should come away with a victory at home against the Vikings. Look for them to make a statement against Peterson by holding him to fewer yards than last season.
Sunday, November 10, 1 p.m. ET
This is a tough game to measure in terms of difficulty because of the uncertainty surrounding the Philadelphia Eagles. With a new head coach and their quarterback situation completely up in the air, it's hard to determine what the Eagles will look like in Week 10.
If the Eagles look to run a lot of zone read with an athletic quarterback, the Packers could be challenged if they haven't improved their defense. The earlier matchups with the San Francisco 49ers and Washington Redskins should prepare the Packers for this scenario.This could be the Packers' last chance to brush up on the zone read before the playoffs.
Regardless, the Packers are in a much better state as the more secure franchise. The Eagles have a lot of talent, but they shouldn't be expected to be competitive just yet.
Sunday, December 22, 4:25 p.m. ET
The Pittsburgh Steelers are in a state of flux as their defense ages. Also, their offense will struggle to replace the speedy Mike Wallace. They have a tough task to add some new talent without much cap flexibility. By Week 16, the Steelers could be in a position of being eliminated for the playoffs or could have figured out ways to improve.
Heading into this matchup, the Packers are the more athletic of the two very experienced teams. Aaron Rodgers and the Packers' offense will be too much for the slower Steelers defense to handle. With this game at home, the Packers shouldn't have much trouble getting a win.
This will be the first meeting between the teams following their epic battle in Super Bowl XLV.
Sunday, December 15, 4:25 p.m. ET
The Dallas Cowboys are an interesting team heading into next season. By this Week 15 meeting, they could be anywhere from heading towards a high draft pick to squarely in the postseason hunt. Depending on where they are entering this game, the difficulty will definitely shift.
The big storyline in this game will be the Packers returning to the stadium where they won Super Bowl XLV and the two well-paid quarterbacks. Tony Romo already got his extension this offseason, and Rodgers should soon join him among the league's highest-paid quarterbacks.
If the Cowboys are in the hunt, this game could present a challenge. Either way, the Packers are the more talented team. They should be able to get out of Dallas with a victory.
Thursday, November 28, 12:30 p.m. ET
The Packers last Thanksgiving matchup with the Detroit Lions came in 2011 as Green Bay opened up a 24-0 lead before holding off Detroit and earning a 27-15 win. With Matt Stafford, Calvin Johnson and Reggie Bush, this is a dangerous Lions team.
This second meeting with the Lions is much more challenging than the first for a number of reasons. Firstly, this meeting is in Detroit, where the Lions have been much more competitive against the Packers. Secondly, the Lions have treated their annual Thanksgiving Day game with much pride.
Detroit has the potential to make his game much more difficult if they can tighten up its discipline and be more like the 2011 version of the team rather than the 2012 edition.
Monday, November 4, 7:40 p.m. ET
The Chicago Bears will head into Lambeau Field with a new identity following an interesting offseason. After winning 10 games but missing the playoffs in 2012, the Bears fired head coach Lovie Smith and brought in Marc Trestman.
While the Bears have a different leader, they still have most of their personnel in place from the last few seasons. Jay Cutler will still be himself and likely offer up multiple opportunities for the Packers secondary to come away with turnovers. That's been the difference since the two teams have lined up with Cutler and Aaron Rodgers at quarterback.
As the first of the Packers only back-to-back home games during the year, this is an important game for the Packers to win.
Sunday, September 15, 1 p.m. ET
The difficulty of this game hinges on the status of Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III as he recovers from his ACL injury. If he's back in the lineup and healthy, it will present a second strong zone-read test immediately following the Packers' meeting with the San Francisco 49ers.
If Griffin isn't able to return from his injury by this game or he's not at 100 percent, the difficulty of this game drops drastically. The Redskins still have a capable quarterback in Kirk Cousins, but he's not as much of a threat as Griffin.
Even if Griffin is in the lineup, the Packers should be expected to handle the Redskins and get a win in their home opener.
Sunday, September 22, 1 p.m. ET
The Bengals have improved greatly since drafting Andy Dalton. Pairing with him A.J. Green has made their offensive respectable, as it helped them earn a playoff berth in 2012. In Week 3, the Bengals present the third-straight playoff team from 2012 for the Packers to open their season.
While the Bengals offense gets most of the attention, the major matchup to watch in this game will be the Bengals' front seven versus the Packers' offense line. Geno Atkins had an absolutely beastly season in 2012, as he finished the year with 12.5 sacks and four forced fumbles.
The Packers offensive line will likely decide the outcome of this game. If they can contain Atkins and give Aaron Rodgers time to make plays, the Packers have the weapons to expose the Bengals' secondary. If not, it could be a long game for the Packers and Aaron Rodgers.
Sunday, October 27, 8:30 p.m. ET
The Metrodome isn't quite the "House of Horrors" that it was for the Packers during Brett Favre's career, but it's still a tough place to play. Even with the better team, the Packers are vulnerable to an upset in this rivalry with the Minnesota Vikings. Such was the case at the end of last season as Adrian Peterson ran all over the Packers and earned the Vikings a 37-34 victory.
This game also offers the first matchup of Greg Jennings against his former team. The wide receiver is the latest of a slew of Packers to travel west and join the hated rivals. It will surely be a big talking point leading up the game.
The other big storyline will be the Packers trying to stop Adrian Peterson. They did a better job against Peterson in the playoff matchup, holding him to 99 yards, but they still allowed an average of 181 yards over the three 2012 meetings.
Sunday, October 13, 1 p.m. ET
The Packers didn't do well last time they played the reigning Super Bowl champions, as they lost 38-10 to the New York Giants in 2012. This time they get to play the Baltimore Ravens coming off their triumph in Super Bowl XLVII.
While the well-paid Joe Flacco presents a challenge for the Packers' defense, his regular-season performance hasn't matched his postseason production. When it comes down to the quarterbacks, Aaron Rodgers gives the Packers the advantage.
Another interesting storyline in this game is the Ravens' signing of defensive lineman Chris Canty. The Packers had interest in Canty, but NFL Network's Albert Breer reported the team passed on him because of medical concerns (via ESPN Milwaukee's report of Breer's NFL Network Appearance).
The Ravens present a nice measuring stick for the Packers early in the season.
Sunday, December 29, 1 p.m. ET
The Packers end their 2013 regular season on the road against the Chicago Bears in a tough division battle. With the NFC North having multiple talented teams, this game could be huge for playoff implications. While the Minnesota Vikings sneaked into the playoffs last season, the Packers and Bears have to be considered the class of the NFC North.
The Bears always play the Packers tough, especially in Chicago. While the Packers have some other tough non-division road games, this is the toughest road game in the division. Winning this game could mean a sweep of the Bears.
It's a tough challenge as the Packers hopefully head into the playoffs, but in the crowded NFC, this game could act as a nice launching point for a playoff run.
Sunday, December 8, 8:30 p.m. ET
The Atlanta Falcons have been a consistent powerhouse in the NFC over the past couple of seasons. After adding Steven Jackson and Osi Umenyiora in the offseason, the Falcons are in a position to be even better next season. They are the best opponent coming to Lambeau Field this season in a game very worthy of the prime-time slotting.
This game features two incredible offenses with defenses that are looking to take their teams to the next level. While the Packers have the better quarterback in Aaron Rodgers, the Falcons have the better receiving duo in Julio Jones and Roddy White.
This matchup has potential shootout written all over it, but it truly could come down to which defense has the better performance.
Sunday, November 17, 8:30 p.m. ET
Since the Packers destroyed the New York Giants 45-17 in 2010 and narrowly beat them 38-35 in the 2011 regular season, the Giants have had the Packers' number. They walked into Lambeau Field in the 2011 playoffs and completely out-played the Packers on their way to a 37-20 victory. In 2012, the Giants once again embarrassed the Packers to the tune of a 38-10 beating.
The Giants seem to be treading downward with a defense that has lost many of its key contributors. With a more timid Giants pass rush, the Packers could actually be in good shape against the New York Giants.
Until they prove otherwise, this Giants team presents a stiff challenge for the Packers.
Sunday, September 8, 4:25 p.m. ET
The toughest game on the schedule happens to the first. The Packers will certainly have revenge on their minds when they travel back to the scene of the playoff blowout that ended the season. Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers' zone-read offense gave the Packers fits as San Francisco racked up 579 yards of total offense.
In both games last year, the 49ers were definitely the more physical team, bullying the Packers throughout. How the Packers respond in this game could go a long way in determining the attitude and demeanor of the 2013 team.
This game offers the Packers a great chance to exercise their collective demons and start the season on the right foot. The 49ers will enter the game extremely hungry after falling just short of winning the Super Bowl.