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Packers: Open 2020 season in Minnesota against Vikings; have 5 prime time games
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Packers: Open 2020 season in Minnesota against Vikings; have 5 prime time games

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Players get set on the line of scrimmage during a game between the Minnesota Vikings and the Green Bay Packers on Dec. 23, 2019, at Minneapolis. The two teams will start their 2020 NFL seasons against each other Sept. 13 at Minnesota.

GREEN BAY — The Green Bay Packers will open the 2020 NFL season on the road against the Minnesota Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, and they’ll have to wait to show that they’ve closed the gap with the San Francisco 49ers until Nov. 5.

Fans, meanwhile, will have to wait until Oct. 18 for future Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady to face off for just the third time in their careers.

All of this, of course, assumes the NFL schedule, which was released by the league Thursday evening, goes off as planned in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has killed thousands of Americans and forced the cancelation or postponement of virtually all events that are held before large crowds.

Nevertheless, the league pressed forward Thursday with its schedule release, just as it did with the start of the new league year in March, unrestricted free agency and last month’s NFL Draft, despite all 32 teams’ facilities remaining closed. And the Packers’ slate is as intriguing and challenging as any they’ve had in recent years.

Coming off an unexpected 13-3 season under rookie head coach Matt LaFleur and a berth in the NFC Championship Game, which they lost to the 49ers on Jan. 19, the Packers’ first-place schedule includes seven games against teams that made the playoffs in 2019: Two matchups with the NFC North rival Vikings, road matchups against the 49ers, New Orleans Saints and Houston Texans, and home games against Philadelphia Eagles and Tennessee Titans at Lambeau Field.

They’ll kick things off with a noon start on Sept. 13 with the Vikings, whom they swept in the season series last year with a 21-16 Week 2 win at Lambeau Field and a 23-10 victory at U.S. Bank Stadium in the second-to-last regular-season game of the year. This marks the first time in franchise history that the Packers have opened a season at Minnesota.

Meanwhile, Brady and his new team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, are set to open the season on NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” against the Saints that day in New Orleans.

The Packers’ home opener follows with a noon start against the Detroit Lions on Sept. 20, meaning for third consecutive year the Packers will start the season with back-to-back games within the NFC North.

But the Packers will head back out on the road for a difficult Week 3 matchup with the Saints at the Mercedes Benz Superdome on Sept. 27 – also on “Sunday Night Football” in the Big Easy.

The second of the Packers’ five scheduled prime-time games follows on Oct. 5, when they play host to the Atlanta Falcons on ESPN’s “Monday Night Football.” That game is scheduled to be played two days after Lambeau Field is set to host a college football showdown between the University of Wisconsin and Notre Dame on Oct. 3.

The Packers reportedly had asked the NFL not to schedule them for a home game the weekend of Badgers-Fighting Irish, but that request apparently was not honored. The league did put the Packers on the road for the weekend of the Ryder Cup in Kohler Sept. 25-27, another request the team had made.

The Packers’ other prime-time games are the rematch with the 49ers, which will be on “Thursday Night Football” on FOX, the NFL Network and Amazon, plus two more “Sunday Night Football” games: At home against the Chicago Bears on Nov. 29 and at home against the Titans on Dec. 27.

The bye week comes after four games, with the Packers having the weekend of Oct. 11 off. They’ll come out of the bye and travel to Tampa Bay to visit Brady and his trusty sidekick, tight end Rob Gronkowski, on Oct. 18 at Raymond James Stadium.

Rodgers and Brady have faced each other as starters only twice in their illustrious careers during Brady’s previous two-decade tenure with the New England Patriots: In 2014 at Lambeau Field (a 26-21 Packers victory) and in 2018 at Gillette Stadium (a 31-17 Patriots victory).

The two missed out on a 2010 matchup in Foxborough, Mass., when Rodgers miss the teams’ December matchup with a concussion and backup Matt Flynn started in his place for the Super Bowl XLV-bound Packers, and the Packers’ meltdown in the final minutes of the 2014 NFC Championship Game at Seattle prevented them from a showdown with Brady’s Patriots in Super Bowl XLIX.

The Packers go back on the road the following week to visit the Texans, led by former University of Wisconsin star J.J. Watt, before facing the Vikings again in a Nov. 1 noon start at Lambeau Field.

Then comes a challenging midweek trip to the West Coast to face the 49ers again on Nov. 5. The 49ers trounced the Packers in both of their meetings at Levi’s Stadium last season in Santa Clara, Calif., dominating the Packers in a 37-8 win on Nov. 24, 2019, and a 37-20 victory over Green Bay with a berth in Super Bowl LIV on the line.

The Packers’ other home games are Nov. 15 against the Jacksonville Jaguars; Dec. 6 against the Eagles; and Dec. 19 or 20 against the Carolina Panthers, a game with his part of the league’s flexible Saturday-Sunday scheduling that weekend.

The Packers’ other road games are Nov. 22 at Indianapolis; Dec. 13 at Detroit and Jan. 3 at Chicago in the regular-season finale against the Bears at Soldier Field.

This marks the fifth time over the past 20 years that the Packers and Bears have met on the final day of the season, having also done so to finish the year in 2004 (a 31-14 Packers victory in Chicago); 2006 (a 26-7 Packers win on New Year’s Eve night at Soldier Field); 2010 (a 10-3 Packers triumph at Lambeau Field that got them into the playoffs); and 2013 (a dramatic last-minute 33-28 Packers victory at Solider Field to win the NFC North title). The Packers had closed out the last four regular-seasons against the Lions.

The NFL and teams are preparing to play the 2020 season as scheduled and with increased protocols and safety measures for all players, personnel and attendees, the league has said, emphasizing that decisions will be based on the latest advice of medical and public health officials, as well as in full compliance with current and future government regulations.

The Packers’ four preseason opponents are also set, should those games be played. They’ll open preseason play at home against the Arizona Cardinals sometime between Aug. 13 and 17; then play at home against the Cleveland Browns between Aug. 20 and 24; then travel to face the New York Giants between Aug. 27 and 30; and close out preseason play at the defending Super Bowl-champion Kansas City Chiefs on Sept. 3 or 4.

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