Packers, Rams among 4 clubs with particularly tricky 2018 NFL schedules

And the reboot season of Giants and Browns full of big tests

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The NFL released its full 2018 schedule on Thursday night and, although attempting to read too much into it on April 19 is the ultimate exercise in futility, let's take a look at a few of the more difficult slates on paper. Again, on April 19, one week before the draft and months before injuries and other factors change completely the complexion of how things appear now.


We start, naturally, with the club facing the toughest slate of opponents based on 2017 win percentage, the Green Bay Packers, whose 2018 foes won 53.9 percent of their '17 games. The Packers play five prime-time games, including the first "Sunday Night Football" clash of the year, when they'll play host to their oldest rivals, the Bears. Green Bay welcomes back Aaron Rodgers from his broken collarbone, but one of the NFL's more stable franchises faces a lot of other change after firing both coordinators and its general manager in the offseason.

The Packers face a particularly grueling two-week stretch following the bye in Weeks 8-9, when they'll span the country by visiting the NFC West champ L.A. Rams prior to heading to the opposite coast to play the AFC champ Patriots, just the third meeting between future Hall of Famers, Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers.

The Packers, who play three of their first four at home, must also travel to Seattle two weeks later to play on Thursday Night Football before visiting the division champion Vikings following the "mini bye" in Week 12.


Although it lightens up in the second half, Cleveland's early schedule, after just one win in the previous two seasons, is entirely unforgiving. After hosting the division champ Steelers in Week One, the Browns visit the NFC South champion Saints — a brutal early two-game stretch for Gregg Williams' 'D.'

The Browns don't have the bye until Week 11, before which they play a trio of 2017 postseason participants — the Steelers on the road and home games with the Chiefs and Falcons. The Browns also visit a pair of 2016 playoff clubs looking for rebounds in the Oakland Raiders (Week Four) and Houston Texans (Week 13) and close in Baltimore, where they're just 4-16.

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After hosting the AFC South champion Jaguars in the "Coughlin Bowl" to begin the season, Big Blue visits the Cowboys and Texans — each two years removed from division titles and getting major reinforcements back — before a four-game stretch of 2017 postseason foes in the Saints, (at) Panthers, Eagles and (at) Falcons.

We assume it'll be Eli Manning's offense, and it might be for the better to have an experienced vet at the helm for that fearsome group of defenses out of the gate. Although some relief might be expected thereafter, the Giants emerge from the Week Nine bye with trips to the Niners and Eagles — both potentially dangerous offenses led by franchise signal-callers.

A Week 15 visit from the Titans is followed by a trip to Indianapolis and home game vs. the Cowboys, who matched the Giants' series sweep in 2015 — Dallas' only two losses — by taking both meetings handily last season.


The honeymoon for Sean McVay and Co. might end quickly with three strong defenses on the docket in the first four weeks, including a Vikings club that humbled the Rams last year and an explosive Chargers outfit that will have some extra incentive after playing clear second fiddle in L.A. last season.

Of course, the Rams made a few defensive upgrades of their own this offseason, and Marcus Peters, Aqib Talib and Ndamukong Suh will need to make their presence felt from Weeks 7-9, when visits to the Niners and Saints serve as bookends to a home clash with Aaron Rodgers' Packers.

McVay's December push, he hopes, back toward the playoffs will also be full of obstacles. A visit from the defending champion Eagles in Week 15 will serve as a clash of NFC titans, but closing against the 49ers, who whooped L.A. in a meaningless regular-season finale for the Rams last year, figures to have a lot more at stake for Jimmy Garoppolo's club this time around.

Pro Football Weekly