Division games come early

The Green Bay Packers will be challenged early on this season in defending their NFC North Division title. Three of Green Bay's first four games are against division opponents, including the season opener at renovated Lambeau Field and a Monday night game at Chicago in renovated Soldier Field.<p>

The Packers will open the season – the seventh straight time that they have opened at home – on Sept. 7, but this will be extra special as the team officially unveils its $295 million renovated stadium (71,600 capacity).

The Packers, who will be launching their 83rd NFL season, have opened at home every year since 1986 with the exception of the Super Bowl year of 1996. They have won six of their last eight season-opening home games, including a 37-34 overtime decision of the Atlanta Falcons in their 2002 inaugural.

The Packers host the Detroit Lions in Week 2, and two weeks later travel to Chicago to play the Bears in their home opener on ABC's Monday Night Football.

"I think the most challenging part of the schedule is the fact that we play all the divisional opponents within the first four weeks of the season ... You're kind of making your bed early in the season," Packers coach and GM Mike Sherman said. "It doesn't mean you can't come back (after a poor start), but it's going to be important to have success early."

Thanks to their nationwide appeal, the Green Bay Packers will be in a featured network game eight times this season. They will play on Monday Night Football the maximum three times, and also will play on Thanksgiving Day for the second time in three years.

"To have eight games featured on national TV is a great honor," said Packers President/CEO Bob Harlan. "I think it shows that the networks have tremendous interest in us.

"That's something we ought to cherish because there were a lot of times in the 1970s and 80s when every game we played was at noon, and people always asked why we weren't on national television."

After a bye week at the end of October, the Packers face perhaps their toughest stretch of the season, beginning with a Sunday night game (ESPN) at Minnesota on Nov. 2. The Packers return home for a Monday Night Football game (ABC) against the Philadelphia Eagles, then play the following Sunday against the Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Tampa on Nov. 16 in a featured game on Fox. The Packers will host the San Francisco 49ers on Nov. 23 before playing on Thanksgiving Day Nov. 27 on Fox against the Lions at Detroit.

Green Bay finishes its division schedule Dec. 7, hosting the Bears. Two of Green Bay's four December games are at Lambeau Field but against cold-weather city teams – the Bears and Denver. Green Bay travels to the West Coast Dec. 14 against the San Diego Chargers and Dec. 22 on Monday Night Football at Oakland against the Raiders.

The consecutive December trips to California will be the first for Green Bay since 1963. The Oakland trip will mark the Packers' first regular-season venture to that city since Oct. 24, 1976. The 27-year period is one of Green Bay's longest stretches without an appearance in one city.

The Packers finish their schedule Dec. 28 at home against Denver.

The Packers will enter the '03 season with 11 consecutive regular-season home victories and are tied with Oakland (33-15, .688) for the second-best overall winning percentage in the NFL over the past three years (2000-2002). The Packers own the league's best mark since 2001 (24-8, .750), 1998 (tied with the Titans, 52-28, .650), 1997 (65-31, .677), 1996, (78-34, .696), 1995 (89-39, .695), 1994 (98-46, .681) and the 1993 start of unrestricted free agency and the salary cap (107-53, .669).

Here is the 2003 regular season and NFL postseason schedules, including date, opponent, time (CT) and network:

Sun., Sept. 7, Minnesota Vikings 12 noon, FOX

Sun., Sept. 14, Detroit Lions* 12 noon, FOX

Sun., Sept. 21, at Arizona Cardinals 3:05 p.m., FOX

Mon., Sept. 29, at Chicago Bears 8 p.m., ABC

Sun., Oct. 5, Seattle Seahawks 12 noon, FOX

Sun., Oct. 12, Kansas City Chiefs 12 noon, CBS

Sun., Oct. 19, at St. Louis Rams 12 noon, FOX

Sun., Oct. 26, Open Date

Sun., Nov. 2, at Minnesota Vikings 7:30 p.m., ESPN

Mon., Nov. 10, Philadelphia Eagles* 8 p.m., ABC

Sun., Nov. 16, at Tampa Bay Buccaneers 3:15 p.m., FOX

Sun., Nov. 23, San Francisco 49ers 12 noon, FOX

Thurs., Nov. 27, at Detroit Lions 11:30 a.m., FOX

Sun., Dec. 7, Chicago Bears 12 noon, FOX

Sun., Dec. 14, at San Diego Chargers 3:15 p.m., FOX

Mon., Dec. 22, at Oakland Raiders 8 p.m., ABC

Sun., Dec. 28, Denver Broncos 3:15 p.m., CBS


Jan. 3-4, 2004, AFC-NFC Wild Card Playoffs (ABC, CBS & FOX)

Jan. 10-11, 2004, AFC-NFC Divisional Playoffs (CBS & FOX)

Jan. 18, 2004, AFC-NFC Championship Games (CBS & FOX)

Feb. 1, 2004, Super Bowl XXXVIII, Houston, Texas (CBS)

Feb. 8, 2004, AFC-NFC Pro Bowl, Honolulu, Hawaii (ABC)

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