Packers to dominate national airwaves in 2011
MILWAUKEE Nationally televised primetime games, football under the bright lights, holiday football - the National Football League is going to showcase the Super Bowl XLV champion Green Bay Packers in the 2011 season.
As long as there is a season.
The NFL released its schedule Tuesday night - despite the NFL lockout that has dragged on for a month and a half - and the Packers figure prominently on the national scene, beginning with the opener Sept. 8 against the 2010 Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints at Lambeau Field. The Thursday night kickoff to open the NFL season is customary for the reigning Super Bowl champion.
It's also the first of four nighttime nationally televised games for the green and gold.
The others are at Atlanta Oct. 9, vs. Minnesota Nov. 14 and vs. Chicago Dec. 25.
Additionally, the Packers have a chance to capture a wider national audience with five kickoffs that start at 3:15 p.m.: at Chicago, vs. Denver, at Minnesota, at San Diego and at the New York Giants.
That leaves just six noon games in a 16-game schedule (three at home).
"You would prefer a noon game, just to get up early in the morning, eat breakfast and go to work," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said in statements that were released by the team. "There is nothing wrong with a 3:15 p.m. game. Playing under the lights, I know our players enjoy that too and it's good for our fans to see us playing on a national level."
The Packers play on Thanksgiving Day in Detroit, Christmas night at Lambeau Field against the Bears and on New Year's Day against Detroit. The Packers said they are the first team in NFL history to play on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's in the same season.
McCarthy said he didn't put much stock in being thrust in to the spotlight, saying he wasn't interested in "paper" championships, which this schedule might imply. The Packers are poised to make another championship run because of their depth and returning injured players, and the NFL clearly wants to capitalize on the team's quest to repeat as Super Bowl champion.
Green Bay is no stranger to a national audience anyway, as the Packers played in four primetime regular-season games in 2010 and three the year before. The abundance of 3:15 starts is the biggest change this year.
The first thing that jumped out to McCarthy on the schedule was the three-game stretch between Nov. 14-24 featuring Minnesota on Monday night, Tampa Bay on Sunday and then Detroit on the road on Thanksgiving Day. Detroit gave the Packers fits last year, coming within a field goal of winning at Lambeau and then stunning the Packers, 7-3, in Detroit when Aaron Rodgers went out with a concussion. Minnesota, though looking for a quarterback, is a rival that plays Green Bay hard no matter what.
"I like the schedule but there definitely is a stress point with Minnesota, Tampa Bay and Detroit," McCarthy said.
"Two of those are division games. We're working on them right now."
But perhaps the biggest mettle test for the Packers will be playing outside.
The Packers have loved playing in domes and on fast tracks, or in warm-weather cities, so much the last two years - even though it meant leaving Lambeau. They don't get a break in that department this year. At all.
As sleet and snow fell throughout Wisconsin all day Tuesday, it was a reminder that the weather can get brutal around here in November, and this is what the Packers have to look forward to when they come home from San Diego Nov. 6: five games at Lambeau in possibly bitter conditions. Then on the road, the Packers play in New York at the new Meadowlands Stadium and at Arrowhead against the Chiefs, where the wind and weather also can be a factor, especially in December.
The only dome game after the bye week is Turkey Day in the Motor City.
"I think that is awesome," McCarthy said. "I think that is a definite plus, to have three at home to end your season in December. I am fine with the five outdoor games. I know offensively, those guys always look to hopefully get a dome game down the stretch."
Thursday, Sept. 8 -- New Orleans, 7:30 p.m., NBC
Sunday, Sept. 18 -- At Carolina, noon, Fox
Sunday, Sept. 25 -- At Chicago, 3:15 p.m., Fox
Sunday, Oct. 2 -- Denver, 3:15 p.m., CBS
Sunday, Oct. 9 -- At Atlanta, 7:20 p.m., NBC
Sunday, Oct. 16 -- St. Louis, noon, Fox
Sunday, Oct. 23 -- at Minnesota, 3:15 p.m., Fox
Sunday, Oct. 30 -- Bye
Sunday, Nov. 6 -- At San Diego, 3:15 p.m., Fox
Monday, Nov. 14 -- Minnesota, 7:30 p.m., ESPN
Sunday, Nov. 20 -- Tampa Bay, noon, Fox
Thursday, Nov. 24 -- At Detroit, 11:30 a.m., Fox
Sunday, Dec. 4 -- At New York Giants, 3:15 p.m., Fox
Sunday, Dec. 11 -- Oakland, noon, CBS
Sunday, Dec. 18 -- At Kansas City, noon, Fox
Sunday, Dec. 25 -- Chicago, 7:20 p.m., NBC
Sunday, Jan. 1 -- Detroit, noon, Fox