Mike McCarthy has seen the electrifying vibe the NFL Kickoff game creates in a city.
The Green Bay Packers ninth-year head coach hasn’t seen Titletown rocking like it did on that warm September Thursday in 2011, when the stadium district was abuzz all day long, leading up to his defending Super Bowl champions taking on the New Orleans Saints at Lambeau Field that evening.
McCarthy and the Packers will experience that vibe again – as visitors. As part of the 2014 schedule announced by the NFL on Wednesday night, the Packers learned that they’ll be the defending Super Bowl-champion Seattle Seahawks’ opponent in the NFL Kickoff game at CenturyLink Field on Sept. 4.
“It’s a tremendous opportunity for our football team,” McCarthy said in quotes distributed by the team’s public relations department after the coach was again not made available to the media following the schedule release. “We have experience playing in the kickoff opener three years ago, and we will draw on that. Obviously, being the visiting team this time presents new challenges. It will help sharpen our focus even more during training camp and the preseason.”
The Packers’ appearance at CenturyLink Field will be their first since they lost, 14-12, on Monday Night Football on Sept. 24, 2012, on the Seahawks’ controversial touchdown on the game’s final play in what came to be known as the “Fail Mary” game. This year’s game will be without three of the principals in debacle, as wide receiver Golden Tate, who caught the game-winning touchdown, signed with Detroit during the offseason; safety M.D. Jennings, who appeared to intercept quarterback Russell Wilson’s pass, was not retained by the Packers and signed with Chicago; and replacement official Lance Easley, who made the touchdown call, is back doing … whatever it is he does.
“This game won’t be about the past,” McCarthy said. “It will be about the 2014 Green Bay Packers.”
The game against the Seahawks is one of five prime-time games that the Packers have been slated to play, although both of their scheduled appearances on Sunday Night Football are subject to flex scheduling. The Packers are set to play at New Orleans on Oct. 26 and at home against Chicago on Nov. 9 on NBC, but the NFL has adjusted their flexible scheduling rules. While flex scheduling is still in place for Weeks 11 through 17, as always, it may also be applied this year during Weeks 5 through 10, although it can be used in no more than two weeks during that period.
The Packers will also make their regular Thursday night appearance on CBS and the NFL Network’s Thursday Night Football against the Minnesota Vikings at Lambeau Field on Oct. 2, and their Monday Night Football appearance on ESPN against Atlanta at Lambeau Field on Dec. 8.
“It’s an honor,” McCarthy said of playing five prime-time games. “I know our fans around the world always appreciate the chance to watch us on national TV. Playing under the lights always adds to the atmosphere at Lambeau Field, and on the road.”
After having their bye week after only three games last season, the Packers’ bye is smack-dab in the middle of the 2014 schedule, after eight games.
“Ideally, that’s how you draw it up,” McCarthy said. “It will be a great time to re-evaluate and re-charge heading into November and December football.”
Certainly the opening month will be challenging, as the opener at Seattle is followed by two more road games in the month: At Detroit on Sept. 21 and at Chicago on Sept. 28. The Packers’ lone home game is Sept. 14 against the New York Jets, marking only the second time in franchise history that the Packers have opened a season with three of their first four games on the road. (The only other time it happened: 1922.)
Also, although the NFL mandated that all Week 17 games be intra-divisional games, the Packers’ lone game against an NFC North opponent down the stretch is the Dec. 28 regular-season finale against Detroit at Lambeau Field.
According to the NFL, the Packers’ schedule is the 13th-toughest in the 32-team league, based on the 2013 winning percentages of their opponents. The schedule includes five games against 2013 playoff teams, with three of those contests at Lambeau Field (Carolina, New England, Philadelphia) and two on the road (New Orleans, Seattle).
Here’s a week-by-week look at each of the Packers’ 16 regular-season games.
Thursday, Sept. 4
at Seattle Seahawks
This marks the third straight season that the defending Super Bowl champions are on the Packers’ schedule, having faced the New York Giants in 2012 and the Baltimore Ravens last season. … While a return to the scene of the crime of the “Fail Mary” game might draw some of the attention, there are plenty of other connections between the teams, from Seahawks GM John Schneider being a former Packers executive, to Packers GM Ted Thompson having left Seattle to come to Green Bay in 2005, to ex-Packers Jon Ryan and Greg Van Roten on Seattle’s roster and quarterback Matt Flynn, who left the Packers expecting to be the Seahawks’ starting QB in 2012 and is now back as Aaron Rodgers’ backup.
Sunday, Sept. 14
vs. New York Jets