Though the full NFL schedule was announced a few weeks ago, I didn't really get a chance to analyze it closely until this weekend. What struck me is that the Green Bay Packers are scheduled to play five--count 'em, FIVE--night games in the 2012 season.
As a team with a large nationwide following and fan base, the Packers typically get a few games on national television each year. Frequently over the past two decades, Green Bay would play two or three times on Monday night and maybe the occasional Sunday night game. The 2010 and 2011 seasons saw the Pack under the lights four times apiece, but five would be a team record.
After opening on Sunday afternoon with the 49ers, the Packers get a short week to prepare for their arch-rival Bears on Thursday night, with the game shown on the NFL Network. Packers fans with certain cable providers will get their first chance to complain about the NFL Network in five years, as the team hasn't played on Thursday night since their game against Dallas in 2007. However, can you really fault the NFL for opening its Thursday night series with the oldest rivalry in the game? I think not.
This kicks off a string of three night games in five weeks. In week 3, the Packers play their only Monday night game of the year at Seattle. I expect that the Aaron Rodgers-Matt Flynn matchup intrigued ESPN enough to request this game, and the talking heads on SportsCenter will undoubtedly be pimping that matchup as the primary storyline leading up to the game. Knowing ESPN, the Seahawks' selection of Wisconsin quarterback Russell Wilson in this year's NFL Draft will probably make for some discussion as well.
After a home game against New Orleans (most likely sans coaches and starting linebacker) and a road trip to Indianapolis, the Packers will roll into Houston on Sunday night for what should be one of the more interesting and entertaining games in the league all season. Both teams have talent all over both sides of the ball, but my guess is that the defenses end up being the keys to this game and that it will end in a score more like 23-20 instead of 35-31.
Green Bay then has a few early afternoon games and a bye before a rematch with the Super Bowl Champs on Sunday night. It's hard to imagine this game getting flexed to an earlier time slot, as the Packers and Giants played one of the best regular season games a year ago. I won't bother talking about the Packers' motivation in this game or the teams themselves, since we know plenty about both; this would simply be a fantastic game to watch if you were an AFC fan.
Two weeks later, the upstart Lions will come to Lambeau for the Packers' third Sunday night game of the season (again, depending on the flexible scheduling), and divisional supremacy could very well be at stake. I hope Evan Dietrich-Smith starts untying Ndamukong Suh's shoes again.
All in all, it seems to me that the NFL chose wisely when selecting which of Green Bay's games would be shown in prime time. You have the oldest rivalry in football, a quarterback mentor-protege matchup, a fascinating NFC-AFC clash, a playoff rematch, and another divisional battle between an established power and a young, upstart rival. Well done, NFL.
Packers' Prime Time Schedule (all times Central)
Week 2: Thursday September 13th vs. Chicago Bears, 7:20 PM, NFL Network
Week 3: Monday, September 24th @ Seattle Seahawks, 7:30 PM, ESPN
Week 6: Sunday, September 14 @ Houston Texans, 7:20 PM, NBC
Week 12: Sunday, November 25th @ New York Giants, 7:20 PM, NBC
Week 14: Sunday, December 9th vs. Detroit Lions, 7:20 PM, NBC