Green Bay Packers

Rodgers or No Rodgers, These are 3 Must-Watch Games in 2021

Photo Credit: Benny Sieu (USA TODAY Sports)

The 2021 NFL schedule is finally out.

It’s funny how the schedule release comes at such a slow burn, building hype throughout the day with little leaks like appetizers. The Christmas and Thanksgiving games are announced early on, with a couple of primetime games emerging soon after, and then the full slate of games comes in the evening. It’s quite the flashy event for football savants. The NFL is great at milking otherwise mundane information for the sake of the press.

With this release comes many conjectures regarding the impending fates for each team. It is especially hard to predict any surefire outcomes for the Green Bay Packers until the whole Aaron Rodgers situation — if you can call it that — gets sorted out. While I will be talking about a few games to look forward to, I will be assuming that the starting quarterback will be Rodgers until further notice.

Let’s take a look at a couple of games on the Packers’ schedule that will, implications notwithstanding, be entertaining to watch. Although the team has a bevy of primetime games once again, there are reasons to watch this team every week. Opening week against the New Orleans Saints aside, there are plenty of fun matchups that will provide marquee storylines and early insight into how other teams within the NFC North will stack up.

Week 2: Home vs. the Detroit Lions

Monday, Sept. 20 @ 7:20 PM on ESPN

This is going to be a great game to watch for many reasons. For one, any primetime slot is reason enough to tune in. The opportunity to watch Green Bay embarrass a division rival on national television is just an added bonus.

In past years, the Detroit Lions have often played the role of division spoiler interchangeably with the Chicago Bears. The 2021 Lions will look nothing like the team we have been so accustomed to seeing over the past decade. Matthew Stafford has been shipped out of town for a multitude of resources, including but not limited to Jared Goff.

We’ve seen extended flashes of competence and borderline great play from the former No. 1 overall pick, but will that be the Goff that shows up to play in Detroit? His surrounding talent in the Motor City is nowhere near the same level as it was in Los Angeles, so he may be hard-pressed to be impactful out of the gate in an entirely new system. What Goff will be able to do with this Lions team will give division rivals a clue as to whether they need to start worrying about Detroit as anything other than a middling spoiler in the cellar of the division.

This game in Lambeau will also see the return of fan-favorite Jamaal Williams. Detroit typically employs a running-back-by-committee approach, so there will likely be ample opportunity for Williams to stick it to his former team. He will come into the game motivated, and I would not be surprised to see a productive game out of him early in the season as he makes his case for a prominent role in the Lions offense.

Assuming the Packers don’t lose in horrific fashion to New Orleans in the season opener, this game against Detroit should be a good tune-up early in the season to make sure all of our players are comfortable with the current systems. How will Dan Campbell fare in his first matchup against Green Bay? Will he bite anybody’s knees if they get blown out? This will be a great watch for Packers fans.

Week 9: Away vs. the Kansas City Chiefs

Sunday, Nov. 7 @ 3:25 PM on FOX

Perhaps a no-brainer here. Any game that Patrick Mahomes is playing in is automatically a must-watch. He’s just that good.

Assuming Green Bay’s season goes according to plan and title contention is within reach, this game will be a great barometer with which to assess whether or not a Super Bowl ring should be the expectation. Playing well against teams in the upper echelon of the NFL’s highest order should be the primary focus of a ball club with championship hopes. If last year’s regular-season drubbing at the hands of Tampa Bay told us anything, it was that these games matter.

This game will gather national attention due to the two MVP quarterbacks going head-to-head, but the real test in this game will be whether or not new Packers defensive coordinator Joe Barry can have his men playing well enough to stop the onslaught of Mahomes, Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce and Clyde Edwards-Helaire. The Chiefs have the most explosive offense in the league, and if Green Bay wants any shot at a ring this year it will need to learn how to slow down these dynamic teams.

If they do not, we could see another blowout here. Hopefully, last year’s NFC Championship game sent enough shockwaves through the Packers coaching staff and front office to realize that they need to play some semblance of defense in these big matchups. Rodgers, as incredible as he is, can’t do it all.

Week 11: away vs Minnesota Vikings

Sunday, Nov. 21 @ 12:00 PM on FOX

The first time that Green Bay plays the Minnesota Vikings next year doesn’t come until Week 11. The Vikings will be fresh — or fresher, anyway — off a Week 7 bye, while the Packers do not get their bye until Week 13.

This game is a huge deal for many reasons, though the first of which is that Minnesota poses the biggest immediate threat within the NFC North. With Dalvin Cook, Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen, and Harrison Smith all healthy and ready to go this year, there is a slim chance that the Vikings will sputter off to a 1-5 start like they did last season. This is a team that is coming into the season ultra-motivated after missing the playoffs last year.

Of course, there is always a little extra drama and flair in the border battle games anyway. Thielen in particular, who plays in a stadium that’s under its 30th renovation, made some inflammatory remarks about Lambeau Field a week or so ago. He was talking about the single most historically significant football field in the world when he dismissed it for having bleachers as seats. Though these comments likely come from a place of deep insecurity, Packers players should be motivated to blow the Vikings out of the water in this one.

With two fully healthy rosters going at it, this will be an excellent predictor of how Minnesota’s future as a club looks as well. The play of embattled and overpaid quarterback Kirk Cousins will be telling in regards to how soon highly-touted second-round pick Kellen Mond sees the field as Cousins’ eventual replacement. Minnesota in general will be a fascinating team to watch this upcoming season, as they have much at stake with a young defense and a stellar coach who has come under fire in recent years. This game against the Packers will be the culmination of a fraught offseason spent by both fanbases claiming their rights to the NFC North throne.

Only one team can emerge.

We all know which one it will be.

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