GREEN BAY – The gauntlet of the Packers’ 2015 schedule begins now. The question is: does it end?
Sunday night’s showdown of unbeatens in Denver precedes another road trip to Carolina, a team that will be either 7-0 or 6-1 depending on its Monday night result vs. Indianapolis.
After that, the Packers will play four consecutive NFC North games in a span of 19 days. Then it’s a home date with a Dallas team expected to have both quarterback Tony Romo and receiver Dez Bryant back in action, followed by consecutive West Coast road trips to on-the-rise Oakland and NFC West contender Arizona, and a final home date with rival Minnesota, Green Bay’s closest pursuer in the division.
There’s a reasonable chance the only sub-.500 teams the Packers will face from here on out will be the Bears and the Lions, but those will not be times to relax. If the Vikings continue their challenge for the NFC North title, the division-record tiebreaker could very well matter.
The Packers got their best chance to catch a breath over the bye week, and they’ll get another smaller opportunity after the back-to-back Thursday night division games, with a 10-day span between the second Lions matchup and the Cowboys game.
Other than that, buckle up. It’s going to be quite the ride.
“We’re all ready to take this next step,” defensive back Micah Hyde said this week. “We have a good football team, we think that’s clear, and we’re ready to showcase what we’ve got.”
Other odds and ends heading into Sunday night, for whatever they’re worth:
--This game is the fourth in league history pitting two undefeated teams with at least six wins. The first was back in 1921, when the Akron Pros and Buffalo All-Americans played to a scoreless tie.
The other two previous instances occurred right around this same time of year. On Oct. 28, 1973, both the Vikings and L.A. Rams were 6-0, and on Nov. 4, 2007, the Patriots were 8-0 and the Colts 7-0.
In both cases, the winners (the Vikings and Patriots) went on to the Super Bowl that year, and lost, while the losers eventually were knocked out in the divisional round of the playoffs.
--QBs Aaron Rodgers and Peyton Manning will be going head-to-head for just the second time, with Rodgers and the Packers winning the only previous meeting back in 2008.
For his career, this will mark the 24th time Rodgers has faced off against a fellow quarterback who has won (or would eventually win) a league MVP award or a Super Bowl. To date, he is 12-11 in such matchups, including postseason games.
Here’s the breakdown of Rodgers’ record against each MVP and/or Super Bowl-winning QB: 1-0 vs. Peyton Manning and Tom Brady; 2-0 vs. Joe Flacco; 1-1 vs. Ben Roethlisberger; 2-2 vs. Drew Brees, Brett Favre and Eli Manning; 0-1 vs. Kurt Warner; and 1-3 vs. Russell Wilson. (Note: The 2009 regular-season finale vs. Arizona in which Warner only played the first quarter was not included.)
--Strangely enough, the last time the Packers played in Denver, in 2007, the game was in prime time (on a Monday night), right around Halloween, and Green Bay was coming off its bye week. The game, played Oct. 29 that year, is best remembered for Favre’s 82-yard TD pass to Greg Jennings on the first play of overtime.
Only three current Packers played in that game – kicker Mason Crosby, fullback John Kuhn and receiver James Jones, all in their first year with the team. Rodgers was Favre’s backup and did not take a snap.
Crosby made two short field goals and Kuhn did not touch the ball. Jones had the most significant impact, and even though it was overshadowed by Jennings’ game-winner, he remembers it well.
“That’s when I took Champ Bailey 79 to the crib!” Jones said this week, smiling at the memory.
Indeed, Jones hauled in a 79-yard TD pass from Favre in the first quarter for the rookie’s second career score. It remained the longest TD reception of his career until he posted an 83-yarder from Rodgers in 2013.
“I just remember all week we talked about how Champ Bailey played with the bail technique, looking in at the quarterback, and that we could get some balls over the top of him,” Jones said.
“And it played out just the way we talked about it. He was looking in the backfield, I was able to get behind him, and I just remember running as fast as I could zig-zagging across the field trying to get in the end zone.”
Click here for all Packers-Broncos preview coverage