Week 1 is the most important game on any new schedule because it is the first. But Matt LaFleur isn't shying away from the importance of a few more dates on Green Bay's calendar this fall.
The Packers hit the road for a season-opening divisional showdown with the Vikings, a matchup that produced a thrilling shootout in Week 11 of the 2021 campaign. But two weeks later, a boogeyman awaits the Packers along Florida's Gulf Coast.
Green Bay travels to Tampa to face the team that has held the upper hand in their last two meetings: the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The matchup is certainly on LaFleur's radar.
"We did play them two years ago twice," LaFleur said during an appearance on NFL Network's '22 Schedule Release. "And we did play down there and we got smacked pretty good, so we'll definitely have our work cut out for us. They're a great football team, obviously, you know, adding Tom back into the mix presents a lot of problems for everybody."
Tampa Bay has stood as the largest hurdle between Green Bay and its Super Bowl ambitions, dominating the Packers in a 2020 regular-season meeting before scoring an upset win at Lambeau Field in the 2020 season's NFC Championship Game. A rematch was anticipated between the two teams for much of 2021, but both fell in the Divisional Round before they could secure another meeting on the familiar stage of the conference title game.
Both squads are looking for redemption in 2022, and they might have to face off again in order to earn the right to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. Tom Brady is back for another title pursuit, as is Aaron Rodgers, and there's little time to waste.
But before they can reach such a stage, they'll have to successfully navigate regular-season slates that each include games overseas. Green Bay is making its first appearance in Europe in franchise history, but it's not unfamiliar territory to LaFleur.
"Well, it's actually personally my third time going, you know, over to England," the Packers coach said. "It definitely has its own set of challenges going over there in terms of just preparation and travel, and it takes a little bit of a toll on the body, but, you know, that's where the NFL decided to send us and so we're going to give it our best shot against a team that we are not really familiar with."
The Packers could have a tougher matchup for their London debut than the New York Giants, but challenges remain in crossing the Atlantic Ocean to play an NFL game. Green Bay might learn the true toll LaFleur spoke of after that game is complete, when the Packers return home to face the other team that calls New York home: Robert Saleh's Jets.
Instead of receiving a bye week following an International Series game, the Packers will get right back to work to prepare to face the Jets. It will be a grueling two weeks, but LaFleur believes the challenge will be worth it by the time Green Bay's bye arrives in Week 14.
"Instead of taking the early bye, we thought it might be best -- in the best interest of our football team -- to kick that down the road," LaFleur said. "We were fortunate to have that game sandwiched with a home game versus New England and then coming back versus the Jets."
Sure, there's a benefit to playing two of those three games at home, but a lack of a week off will add to the challenge of what is already a long regular season. The goal remains the same, though: Get over the hump and reach the Super Bowl.
The Packers will have plenty of hurdles to clear to get there. They now know precisely when -- and how they must prepare for -- such obstacles.