While Mike McCarthy did claim Tuesday evening to be “just like everybody else at this time of the year” with the release of the coming NFL season’s schedule, the Green Bay Packers coach wasn’t looking at his team’s slate of 2012 games the way the rest of us were.
So instead of looking at the stretch of three straight road games his team will play, or at the fact that five of the team’s seven games after the bye week are against NFC North rivals, McCarthy was paying closer attention to what he’s referred to in the past as “stress points” in the schedule, and how often his wildly popular team would be playing at his favorite time: Noon on Sundays.
What did McCarthy find? A challenging, imbalanced early-season schedule – one that includes a Week 2 Thursday night game against the archrival Chicago Bears at Lambeau Field and a Week 3 trip to Seattle to face Matt Flynn on Monday Night Football – and 13 consecutive Sunday games, with nine of them scheduled to kick off at noon.
All told, the Packers received five prime-time games, as they received three games on Sunday Night Football on NBC: At Houston on Oct. 14; at the Super Bowl-champion New York Giants on Nov. 25; and at home against the Detroit Lions on Dec. 9.
“I don’t really get too caught up in who we play and where we play them. I focus more on how many days there are between games, the time of games,” McCarthy explained in quotes distributed by the Packers’ public relations department. “That’s really my focus from a scheduling standpoint. We have known since the season ended who we are going to play. Who, what time, how much time we have to prepare is really the key.
“As far as playing three on the road, I don’t look at that as an extraordinary challenge. It is always challenging, period, when you go on the road. We just happen to have three of them in a row.”
That three game stretch – at Indianapolis on Oct. 7, at Houston on Oct. 14 and at St. Louis on Oct. 21 – marks the first time since 1998 that the Packers had to play three straight games on the road. It also makes the Packers one of only two teams – the Texans being the other – with three consecutive road games on the schedule.
Before that three-week window, however, the Packers face a challenging gauntlet that begins with the San Francisco 49ers at Lambeau Field on Sept. 9, followed by a showdown with Jay Cutler, Brandon Marshall and the Bears four days later. The 185th renewal of the NFL’s longest-running rivalry will be the first of the NFL Network’s season-long Thursday night slate, and it’s followed by a trip to Seattle to face Flynn on ESPN’s Monday Night Football, which will mark the Packers’ only Monday night appearance of the season.
And as if September isn’t jam-packed with enough big games, the Packers close out the month with the New Orleans Saints at Lambeau in a fourth straight NFC game to start the year.
“Your home opener is always special and to start the season at home will be great for our football team, our organization and our fans. We have an excellent opponent in the San Francisco 49ers, and I think it is a great way to start the season for both teams,” McCarthy said. “Then we go right into a short week, which is a challenge. I think it is definitely going to be a test for our football team from a preparation standpoint. But our guys are up to the challenge. We’re a mature football team, and anytime we play the Bears it is a lot of fun, especially on national television.”
After the three consecutive road games, the Packers return home to play host to Jacksonville and Arizona before a Week 10 open date, which ties for the latest the team has ever had a bye.
“I don’t mind the late bye. I don’t mind a late bye and I don’t mind a Thursday night game late in the year,” McCarthy said. “I think it gives you a chance to regroup and get ready for the stretch run.”
Following the bye, they’ll face two critical road games: At Detroit on Nov. 18, with the up-and-coming Lions coming off their a playoff appearance, and at the defending Super Bowl-champion New York Giants on Nov. 25, a rematch of the NFC Divisional Playoff game that ended the 15-1 Packers’ season last year.
Green Bay then closes the season with four division games in the final five weeks, including two games against the Minnesota Vikings (at home on Dec. 2 and at the Metrodome to close out the regular season Dec. 30), a Sunday Night Football matchup with the Lions on Dec. 9 and a trip to often frigid Soldier Field in Chicago to face the Bears on Dec. 16. Mixed in is a Dec. 23 home game against the Tennessee Titans.
McCarthy called the five division games in the final seven weeks “unusual.”
“That’s something that we’ll look at from a planning standpoint because division games are obviously the most important. There is more planning and preparation that goes into those games from the offseason up until the point that you play them, and those games take a lot out of you physically,” McCarthy said. “Those are all the variables that we will look at.”
Here’s a look at the full schedule:
Thu., Aug. 9 at San Diego 7 p.m. ESPN
Thu., Aug. 16 CLEVELAND ^ 7 p.m. state
Thu., Aug. 23 at Cincinnati 6 p.m. state
Thu., Aug. 30 KANSAS CITY 6 p.m. state
Sun., Sept. 9 SAN FRANCISCO 3:15 p.m. FOX
Thu., Sept. 13 CHICAGO ^ 7:20 p.m. NFLN
Mon., Sept. 24 at Seattle 7:30 p..m. ESPN
Sun., Sept. 30 NEW ORLEANS 3:15 p.m. FOX
Sun., Oct. 7 at Indianapolis Noon FOX
Sun., Oct. 14 at Houston 7:20 p.m. NBC
Sun., Oct. 21 at St. Louis Noon FOX
Sun., Oct. 28 JACKSONVILLE Noon CBS
Sun., Nov. 4 ARIZONA ^ Noon FOX
Sun., Nov. 11 Open Date
Sun., Nov. 18 at Detroit* Noon FOX
Sun., Nov. 25 at NY Giants * 7:20 p.m. NBC
Sun., Dec. 2 MINNESOTA * Noon FOX
Sun., Dec. 9 DETROIT * 7:20 p.m. NBC
Sun., Dec. 16 at Chicago * Noon FOX
Sun., Dec. 23 TENNESSEE * Noon CBS
Sun., Dec. 30 at Minnesota * Noon FOX
*—Start time and broadcast may shift due to NFL flexible scheduling