GREEN BAY – Winning on the road is never easy in the NFL, and it won’t get any easier for the Packers in 2015.
As if traveling to the West Coast on a short week weren’t difficult enough, a look ahead at future road trips reveals perhaps even more daunting tasks.
Three of the Packers’ remaining road opponents have matched Green Bay’s 3-0 start – Denver, Carolina and Arizona. Another upcoming road foe, Minnesota, is 2-1 and appears to be the strongest challenger to the Packers’ four-year run atop the NFC North.
Throw in that surprising Oakland is also 2-1, while the Packers have lost in their last two trips to Detroit, and it all points to one thought: A win on Sunday at 1-2 San Francisco would help set up the Packers to survive the tough road gauntlet later on.
“We say we like to go 8-0 at home and steal a few on the road,” Clay Matthews said this week. “I know it’s real early, but these are big games, too.”
This one sure is, especially given the Packers’ recent history on the road against the league’s better teams.
Over the last two regular seasons, not counting the games in 2013 quarterback Aaron Rodgers missed due to injury, the Packers are 0-5 on the road against teams that would finish the season with a winning record.
Include 2012, when the Packers played six road games against teams that would finish above .500, and the three-year mark is 2-9.
It’s reason for pause given what lies ahead. It’s an illustration of just how tough it is to beat opponents at their place when they have something going for them. The Packers have been a darn good team with a healthy Rodgers the last three years, yet road games against quality foes have remained significant obstacles.
With this year’s 49ers, it’s too early to tell where they’re headed. Featuring a new coaching staff and a ton of personnel turnover, San Francisco began the season with an impressive home win over Minnesota but was blown out the last two weeks on the road at Pittsburgh and Arizona.
The Packers would love to keep them down, of course, while the 49ers will be looking to make a gigantic statement for their new coach and home fans on Sunday.
What kind of statement can the Packers make? Not much of one, really. They’re heavily favored despite being away from home, and while there’s a demon to exorcise in finally beating 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick, he’s playing with such a different cast of characters around him the history is borderline irrelevant.
The statement games on the road will come later, against some of the aforementioned fast-starting foes. At that point, the narrative will start taking shape as to whether the Packers are a regular-season juggernaut similar to 2011, when they won their first seven road games, including three against eventual playoff teams. Or if top-flight road opponents will remain the stumbling blocks they’ve been in more recent years.
The hope is it’s the former, and Sunday is a precursor to a potentially dominant run. If it’s the latter, all the more reason to put this road win in the back pocket now.
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