Packers' schedule is set

In addition to ‘MNF' opener against Minnesota, the Packers play three more prime-time games, including on Sunday night against Dallas in Week 3

The NFL released its 2008 schedule today, and the Packers were awarded four prime-time games.

As had been announced earlier, the Packers kick off the season at home against Minnesota on Sept. 8 on "Monday Night Football." The Packers get another prime-time home game two weeks later when they host Dallas — an NFC championship game preview? — on NBC at 7:15 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 21.

Green Bay returns to prime time in Week 12 on "MNF" at New Orleans on Nov. 24. In Week 16, the Packers visit Chicago in a Monday nighter on Dec. 22.

The Packers are always fortunate to get a midseason bye, and this season is no different, with the week off coming in Week 8.

Gold Package season-ticket holders will be thrilled by this schedule — and the Green Bay-based fans will be steaming. That Gold Package group, which held season tickets to the games at Milwaukee County Stadium, gets the Cowboys showdown in Week 3 and a Week 11 clash with arch rival Chicago. Gold Package games traditionally are the second and sixth home games.

Due to flexible scheduling to give NBC a quality Sunday night matchup, the non-prime-time games from Week 11 are on are subject to change, so the Packers could get another prime-time game.

Although the list of opponents has been set since the 2007 season ended, the schedule doesn't look any easier in its final version. Starting with Dallas in Week 3 through Tennessee in Week 9, the Packers play five 2007 playoff games in a span of six games. The gauntlet includes games at home against Dallas, at Tampa Bay, a breather at home against Atlanta, at Seattle, home against Indianapolis, the bye, then at Tennessee.

If the Packers can get through that stretch, they should be in fine shape. On paper in April, at least. Of the final eight games, only one team — Jacksonville (11-5) — made the playoffs last season. The other seven games: Minnesota (8-8), Chicago (7-9), New Orleans (7-9), Carolina (7-9), Houston (8-8), Chicago again and Detroit (7-9).

For better or worse, the Packers play four cold-weather games in five weeks to end the season. That includes home games against Carolina and Houston in Weeks 13 and 14, at Chicago in Week 16 and home against Detroit to conclude the regular season on Dec. 28.

Also of note:

— NBC's John Madden and Cris Collinsworth weighed in on the Packers-Cowboys game.

Madden: "Dallas-Green Bay That's just football. What is Green Bay going to be without Brett Favre? Aaron Rodgers was a first-round draft choice and now the world is going to find out about him."

Collinsworth: "When Rodgers came in against the Cowboys last year, he gave them a big lift. Stylistically, he may be a better fit for this offense than Brett Favre. The Packers have one of the most impressive young rosters in the league."

— The Packers begin the season with two division games (home vs. Minnesota, at Detroit) and end the season with two division games (at Chicago and home vs. Detroit). The other division games are also back-to-back: at Minnesota in Week 10 and home vs. Chicago in Week 11.

— The back-to-back division games to end the season is interesting, and is part of the NFL's effort to make late-season games competitive, even if one team has its playoff fate locked up.

— The Packers play back-to-back road games twice: Weeks 9 and 10 at Tennessee and Minnesota, and Weeks 15 and 16 at Jacksonville and Chicago. There are no three-game road trips.

— The Packers played at Kansas City and Denver after their bye last week, and won both to propel their 13-3 season. This year, they visit Tennessee and Minnesota after their bye.

— Good news for those fans who don't get the NFL Network or don't live in an area that has a local affiliate airing the game: The Packers are not part of the NFL Network's eight-game package. Last year, of course, they played at Dallas in one of the NFL's marquee games.

— The Packers do not play on a Thursday. Thursday games are huge advantages the following week because of the extra practice and recovery time. The Packers will be at the wrong end of that equation against Chicago in the Week 16 Monday nighter. The Bears play the Saints on Thursday in Week 15.

— Playing on Monday night meets a short practice week. The bounce-back games are at Detroit, home vs. Carolina and home vs. Detroit. Yes, the Lions twice get the advantage of getting the Packers on a short week.

— While Gold Package ticket holders should be ecstatic, the Green Bay-based fans get Minnesota, Atlanta, Indianapolis, Carolina, Houston and Detroit. Obviously, seeing Peyton Manning is a nice consolation prize for missing out on the Dallas showdown.

— My vote for toughest back-to-back games on the schedule: At Seattle in Week 6, then home to face Indianapolis in Week 7.

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