Fri, 01 Jul 2022

No breaks early, but two late rest periods could prove beneficialMike Spofford

GREEN BAY - If they can survive it, it could really pay off.

The Packers' 2022 schedule isn't normal. It doesn't have a bye until Week 14, the latest possible timing. It also doesn't have what's often referred to as a mini-bye - a long weekend off following a Thursday contest - until Week 11.

Those two areas of respite are among the first things players look for when the schedule comes out. The grind is now even longer than it used to be, thanks to the 17th game added last year, and the grinders want to know when they'll get opportunities to rest and recover.

In 2022, the Packers are going to be waiting awhile for their short break and even longer for their full one. They'll be playing 10 straight Sundays - six on the road, four at Lambeau Field - before the short-week Thursday night home game vs. Tennessee on Nov. 17.

At that point, finally, they'll have a chance to catch their breath. Then two more road games, followed by the traditional bye week, and three of four at home to finish up the regular season.

Given how all this came together, the obvious question many are asking is why the Packers don't have their bye after the trip to London in Week 5. That's been common across the league.

Well, the short answer is the Packers didn't want it then. Teams traveling overseas can request to have their bye the week after the extended trip, but the Packers didn't make that request and, according to General Manager Brian Gutekunst's comments to Larry McCarren, asked for it to be later than Week 6, which is the earliest possible slot.

For reference, only five of the first 60 teams that played in London from the start of the NFL's international series in 2007 through last year did not have their bye the week after. Indianapolis was the first one, in 2016, and then three teams followed suit in 2017 - Baltimore, Jacksonville and Miami.

Things reverted to the norm in 2018 and '19, as all 14 teams involved took a post-London bye, and then last year Miami was the only one of the four teams to not take the week off right away.

This year, the Vikings and Saints are playing in London in Week 4, so they didn't even have the option, with byes not starting until Week 6. The Packers' London opponent, the Giants, reportedly didn't request an immediate bye either.

All that said, the Packers didn't actually have control over when their bye would fall, just that they asked for it not to be tied to the London game. They also had no say in their Thursday night game coming so late as well.

And there was no telling that the one home game after returning from London would be followed by three straight road games (at Washington, Buffalo and Detroit). The Packers are one of only four teams in the league with a three-game road stretch this year.

But in the end, this is how it all shook out, and it could end up working to the Packers' benefit.

"The season is hopefully going to be one of those seasons where our guys kind of bond together as we go through it," Gutekunst said. "Because obviously the ultimate goal is getting to that second season of the playoffs."

Those first 11 games before the mini-bye will pose a number of tests. They'll test the team's focus, as well as its health and stamina. It won't be easy, and the players are going to get worn down.

LaFleur will certainly adjust the practice schedule while he monitors the team's workload, as he's always done and which the players greatly appreciate. Part of LaFleur's MO is to strike that balance between keeping the players' bodies fresh and getting in the requisite preparation, and he's been very successful in that regard.

But with this schedule, the players inevitably will be wiped come mid-November.

Provided the team survives those first 2½ months, though, both in terms of its health and the NFC playoff chase, the schedule sets up for the Packers to be feeling fresher and stronger when they need to play their best football - in December and January.

"Hopefully we've got a lot to play for during that time," Gutekunst said.

With the defending Super Bowl champion Rams coming to Lambeau Field right after the late bye, and then two division opponents in the Vikings and Lions visiting Green Bay after the Christmas trip to Miami, there's a home-friendly reward at the end of the road. The payoff for the extensive early-season challenge could be well worth it.

Getting a weekend off before Thanksgiving and then a full week off in early December should help the grind, at that stage of the season, feel less long and arduous to the Packers than a lot of other teams.

A regular-season finishing kick could be more readily accessible for Green Bay, which LaFleur has made a hallmark of his tenure already, with a post-Thanksgiving winning streak of at least five games each of his first three seasons.

If that tradition continues, maybe this time it'll set the Packers up for an even stronger postseason push.

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