Packers 2011 Schedule: Ranking the Difficulty of All 16 Games

Michael DulkaContributor IAugust 23, 2011

Packers 2011 Schedule: Ranking the Difficulty of All 16 Games

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    The Green Bay Packers are looking to add a 14th NFL Championship and their fifth Lombardi Trophy this year. They begin the year against the New Orleans Saints on September 8th and finish the season against the Lions on January 1st. 

    In order to make the playoffs, the Packers must fight their way through the 13th most difficult schedule in the NFL with their opponents finishing a combined 130-126 last season. The Packers play the NFC South and AFC West as well as the second place finishers of the NFC West and the NFC North.  

    This list ranks the difficulty of each game on the Packers' schedule from the easiest to the most difficult.   

16. Week 4: vs. Denver Broncos.

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    The Denver Broncos visit Lambeau Field for the first time since 2003. The Packers won that game 31-3 and clinched a playoff spot with a glorious Vikings collapse. The result should be similar as the Broncos are just not a good football team. 

    They finished last season tied with the Cincinnati Bengals and the Buffalo Bills for the second worst record in the NFL at 4-12. They averaged just under 100 yards on the ground per contest, but allowed an astounding 154 yards per game. 

    Von Miller's addition is great for the Broncos, but he alone will not be able to slow down the Packers' superior offense. The Broncos are in full rebuilding mode and should not be much trouble to the Packers at Lambeau.   

15. Week 2: At Carolina Panthers

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    The Packers' game with the Carolina Panthers would have been the easiest on the schedule if it wasn't a road game. This game features a matchup of the league's best and the league's worst. 

    The Panthers finished the year at 2-14 with the worst record in the NFL. Horrible on offense, the Panthers averaged an awful, league-worst 12.25 points per game. Not much better of defense, they gave up 25.5 points per game.

    They were in complete rebuilding mode after last season and added several talented players this offseason. Even with the added talent and new coach, however, they are still fairly far away from competing. The Packers will get the Panthers after some rest playing the Thursday before the game.

    This game could feature Cam Newton in his second NFL start. It should be very fun to watch Newton attempt to figure out the Dom Capers lead defense.

14. Week 10: vs. Minnesota Vikings

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    It will be quite different this year when the Minnesota Vikings come to Lambeau Field. After a disastrous end to last season, the Vikings are trying to rebuild quickly in order to keep pace with the other teams in the NFC North.

    The Vikings feature a dangerous back in Adrian Peterson and an athletic wide receiver in Percy Harvin, but few other pieces that could put fear into the Packers. The addition of Donovan McNabb is a few years too late and at this point in the season it wouldn't be shocking to see Christian Ponder as the starter.

    This is a Monday Night Football game and Lambeau should be rocking. It is said that rivalry games are always difficult. Not this year, as the Vikings are clearly behind the rest of the pack in the North.

13. Week 14: vs. Oakland Raiders

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    The warm-weather Oakland Raiders travel to the Frozen Tundra for a December showdown with the Super Bowl champs of a year ago.

    The Raiders under-performed what their 8-8 record saw them do last season. Tight end Zach Miller and cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha were the Raiders' best offensive and defensive players, but both bolted via free agency. They are one of the fastest teams in the league, but on a potentially cold, slow field that advantage disappears.

    Giving up just over 23 points per game, the Raiders had the league's 22nd worst defense. Losing the best player on that side of the ball is only going to make that defense worse and should be exploited by Aaron Rodgers and the rest of the Packers offense.

12. Week 7: At Minnesota Vikings

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    It is tempting to place this game as even easier on the list because of Rodgers' performances in domed stadiums, but the Metrodome is a hostile environment regardless of the Vikings' record. 

    Again, the Vikings just aren't on the same level as the other teams in the NFC North and certainly not up to the level of the Packers. Their weakness happens to line up against the Packers' strength. Rodgers should be able to obliterate their swiss cheese secondary with his many weapons. 

    Peterson is an extremely talented back and has home run ability on every play, but if the Packers can score early they can take Peterson out of his game. He is at his best when he is getting the ball constantly and is able to get into a rhythm. With a suspect defense, this will be hard for the Vikings to accomplish.

11. Week 17: vs. Detroit Lions

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    The Lions come to Lambeau on New Year's Day to end the 2011 season. Both teams look as if they might be playoff teams this season and this could be a pivotal matchup. Best case scenario is having home field advantage wrapped up before this game. 

    The Lions are steadily improving and with a healthy Matthew Stafford, they have the potential to compete in the NFC. They are not quite near the top of the NFC where the Packers find themselves, but look to make that jump in the next few years. 

    This game has so many different possibilities based on the two teams' records. Both teams could be fighting for playoff seeding, one team could be eliminated with the other fighting for a playoff spot, or if all hell breaks loose, neither could be fighting for a spot.

10. Week 6: vs. St. Louis Rams

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    The St. Louis Rams feature an athletic, young and talented defense that is just a couple years and a few pieces away from being elite. With Sam Bradford developing quickly, it won't be long until the Rams are back near the top of the NFC.

    But until then, Rodgers and the Pack remain the kings and shouldn't have too many problems with the Rams. Finishing 26th in the league in scoring really hurt the Rams on the way to their 7-9 record last season. They need to be more efficient on the offensive side of the ball.

    In a couple years, this would be one of the toughest games on the schedule, but it is just too soon for the Rams to be taken that seriously, especially on the road at Lambeau.

9. Week 13: At New York Giants

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    The New York Giants have been a very good football team over the last couple of seasons, but have always collapsed down the stretch. They did so last season with DeSean Jackson's famous walk-off punt return touchdown. They host the Packers in a December matchup with possible playoff implications. 

    In the last matchup between the two, Aaron Rodgers put on one of the best performances by a quarterback last season as he threw for 404 yards and four touchdowns. The Giants offense was able to stay with the Packers for a while, but couldn't keep up with fiery Rodgers. 

    Traveling to New York will add some difficulty, but the Giants team remains fairly similar to last year and has weaknesses in the secondary. This is delightful news for Rodgers as he looks for encore against the Giants late in the season once again. 

    The Packers will also be coming off extra rest after playing the previous Thursday before in Detroit. Mike McCarthy has proven he is very dangerous with extra time to game-plan. 

8. Week 16: vs. Chicago Bears

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    The oldest rivalry in the NFL gets renewed on Christmas Day. If last season is any indicator, these two teams are going to battle it out down to the wire whenever they play. In this rivalry, every game is tough and hard-fought. 

    The Packers have the advantage after winning two of the three matchups last season. Rodgers has had some struggles against the Bears defense in the past due to the Cover-2 that the Bears employ. The best way to combat this defense is with a tight end that can work the seams and stretch the field. Hello Jermichael Finley.

    Last season, the Packers defense seemed to have a good grasp on Jay Cutler and forced him into bad decisions facing pressure. With an offensive line that gives up more sacks than anybody, the Bears could be in trouble again.

7. Week 12: At Detroit Lions

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    The Packers kick off their holiday trio of games with a Thanksgiving Day game visiting the Detroit Lions. Always a great day for football, this game has been the Lions' Super Bowl of sorts over the last couple years, but with the Lions approaching playoff contention, will it remain that way?

    In this matchup last season, the Lions beat up on the Packers on their way to a 7-3 win. They knocked Rodgers out with a concussion and contained Matt Flynn's passing attack. The Lions played the Packers better than most of the teams the Packers faced last season.

    The Thanksgiving Day matchup has always been a challenge for the Packers. With Detroit's fear-inducing defensive line, the Packers are in trouble if they cannot protect Rodgers from big hits. Another team with a weak secondary, the Packers should be able to exploit the Lions' weakness.

6. Week 11: Vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are another young, talented team that will be a force in the NFC. They are on the come up with Josh Freeman leading the offense. 

    The Buccaneers have given Aaron Rodgers nightmares after playing against each other twice. They have been a team that even though the Packers were favored, has stopped Rodgers in his tracks and beaten the Packers.

    Under head coach Raheem Morris, the Buccaneers have rapidly increased and barely missed out on the playoffs last season. They are a team very capable of making the playoffs, but will be hurt by having to be in a division with the New Orleans Saints and the Atlanta Falcons.

    The Packers will need Jermichael Finley in order to stretch the field for the Packers defense. If they can pair that with a solid running attack, they are still the favorite in this matchup.

5. Week 9: At San Diego Chargers

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    This game would be a lot more difficult if it was not following the Packers' bye week. Mike McCarthy has proven time and time again that he is brilliant when he has extra time to prepare. He will have that time as the Packers travel to the west coast to face the San Diego Chargers

    A matchup of the two best next-generation quarterbacks after Brady and Manning retire, this game should be extremely exciting in the afternoon California sun. Phillip Rivers is an excellent quarterback and has big play ability at any time. 

    If it wasn't for the extra time for McCarthy and Dom Capers to prepare, this would be one of the scariest and most difficult games on the schedule. The Chargers are extremely dangerous and have some good leaders.

    This could provide one of the most entertaining games of the season from an offensive point-of-view as both offenses love to sling it out. With the extra days, the Packers will look to create matchup problems all over the field on both sides of the ball.

4. Week 15: At Kansas City Chiefs

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    The Packers will travel to Arrowhead Stadium to face the Chiefs for only the second time since 1997 for the two teams' third meeting in that time span. The unfamiliar foes will play a late-season game in December as they both look to make the playoffs.

    The main difficulty here lies in the fact that Arrowhead is one of the most difficult stadiums to play in. Chiefs fans are incredibly loud and passionate about their team. This will be one of the most hostile environments that the Packers will find themselves in. 

    If the weather is poor and prevents the Packers from throwing the ball and it turns into mainly a rushing game, the Packers could be in trouble. Jamaal Charles is one of the league's best backs and Matt Cassel is a very good check down quarterback.

    The Chiefs defense isn't the strong suit of the team and the Packers should have a significant advantage if they are able to play as they wish.

3. Week 3: At Chicago Bears

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    Another rematch game, the Packers visit the Chicago Bears in a Week 3 matchup. The last time the teams played, the Packers were victorious, earned a Super Bowl berth, and celebrated in the Chicago Bears visitor's locker room.

    Jay Cutler will surely be out to show that he can bounce back from his embarrassing performance before leaving with a knee injury. For a Packers team that has struggled out of the gate in recent seasons, this could be a tough matchup against a great defense.

    As mentioned, Jermichael Finley should be the key player for the Packers as they look to break down the pesky Bears defense. It has been years since either team has scored more than 21 points in this rivalry and this should be another defensive battle.

    The Packers have the edge defensively, but this type of game could rest one whichever team makes the critical mistake. In the game at Chicago last season, James Jones' fumble and an incredible number of penalties cost the Packers that close game.

2. Week 5: At Atlanta Falcons

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    After the Packers scorched them in a playoff game last season, the Falcons will surely be out for revenge when they host Green Bay. This will be the third game in the last two seasons that the teams have played in Atlanta. 

    The Falcons decided to ignore their glaring weakness of last season and added strength to their already high-powered offense. In order to keep up with the Packers, the Falcons added pieces on offense in order to match the Packers score for score. 

    Aaron Rodgers will be licking his lips for this game after his magical performance in the last matchup. This is a challenging matchup due to the revenge factor, and this is the one of the top two offenses the Packers will face all season long. 

    An exciting Sunday Night Football matchup will feature two of the elite teams in the NFL and this game should be as close to playoff intensity as you can get in Week 5.

1. Week 1: vs. New Orleans Saints

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    The toughest game of the Packers schedule will be their first game of the season. The last two Super Bowl champions will get the 2011 NFL season underway as the Saints come marching in to Lambeau. 

    A matchup of two of the premier quarterbacks in the league should make for great television, but the game may suffer from beginning-of-the-season sloppiness. The Packers have struggled out of the gate over the last couple of seasons. They will need to come out firing against the Saints.

    While the Packers would gain a small amount of momentum going forward with a win, they have a lot more to lose in this game. With a loss, the pressure will be off the charts and talk of a Super Bowl hangover will ring loudly.

    The Saints are a great team that looks to bounce back after a disappointing end to last season. One of the top two offenses the Packers will face, this game has all indications of a potential shootout. The Packers defense will need to be on their game to open the season in this difficult matchup.