The Green Bay Packers just announced their 2009 schedule, and it includes three prime-time games, an early bye and a stretch of three road games in four weeks to end the season.
Last month, the NFL announced a handful of matchups, including Chicago at Green Bay on NBC's "Sunday Night Football" on Sept. 13 to open the season.
The Packers play at Minnesota on Monday night, Oct. 5, and host Baltimore on Monday night, Dec. 7, in their other prime-time games.
Counting a marquee afternoon game against Dallas and the Thanksgiving game at Detroit, and the Packers have five nationally televised games.
"It's great to see that the NFL and our network partners feel strongly about the national appeal and popularity of the Packers, with five of our games slated for national broadcasts," President and CEO Mark Murphy said in a press release. "For those taking in games at Lambeau Field, we'll now begin our detailed planning with our sponsors for creating the great gameday fan experience."
The Week 1 prime time matchup pays tribute to the Packers-Bears rivalry and teams with two of the best young quarterbacks in the league in Aaron Rodgers and Jay Cutler.
"The Packers are always a national draw and the Bears may be the most interesting team heading into the season," NBC's Cris Collinsworth said. "There's so much anticipation on what effect Cutler will have on a team that's always been built around defense and a running game. It's the most significant offseason acquisition in many years."
Here's the schedule:
Week 1: vs. Chicago, 7:20 p.m., NBC.
Week 2: vs.Cincinnati, noon, CBS.
Week 3: at St. Louis, noon, Fox.
Week 4: at Minnesota, 7:30 p.m., ESPN (Monday).
Week 5: BYE.
Week 6: vs. Detroit, noon, Fox.
Week 7: at Cleveland, noon, Fox.
Week 8: vs. Minnesota, noon, Fox.
Week 9: at Tampa Bay, noon, Fox.
Week 10: vs. Dallas, 3:15 p.m., Fox.
Week 11: vs. San Francisco, noon, Fox.
Week 12: at Detroit, 11:30 a.m., Fox (Thanksgiving).
Week 13: vs. Baltimore, 7:30 p.m., ESPN.
Week 14: at Chicago, noon, Fox.
Week 15: at PIttsburgh, noon, Fox.
Week 16: vs. Seattle, noon, Fox.
Week 17: at Arizona, 3:15 p.m., Fox.
The schedule gives the Packers the potential to start the season on a roll. They host Chicago and new quarterback Jay Cutler in Week 1 and Cincinnati in Week 2 before visiting St. Louis in Week 3. The Bengals and Rams combined for six wins last season. That could put the Packers in strong position to visit Minnesota on a Monday night in Week 4.
Then, after the bye, the Packers host Detroit and play at Cleveland. Thus, among their first six games, the Packers play games against teams that select first, second, fifth and sixth in the first round of the NFL draft in the first six games.
One negative is the Packers have an early bye. For the last decade, their break had come around midsesaon, but this year, it's in Week 5. On the plus side, it comes after the Monday night game at Minnesota, so they won't have a short practice week. Also a plus, the Packers have a long break between their Thanksgiving game at Detroit and a Monday night game against Baltimore, so that partially offsets having to play 12 consecutive weeks.
After the Packers host the Ravens on Dec. 7, Green Bay finishes with three of four on the road. They play last year's Super Bowl teams, Pittsburgh and Arizona, on the road on Dec. 20 and Jan. 3, respectively.
"I think when you look at the entire schedule, first of all having a chance to open with two games at home right away is something that is a positive," Murphy told reporters at Lambeau Field on Tuesday night. "And then although the bye is early, the fact that after our Thanksgiving game we don't play until the following Monday gives you almost like a second bye later in the season. So, I think the combination of having a bye early and then a bigger break than normal with five games to go in the season does give you a chance to set yourself up for a good run at the end of the season."
Thanks in large part to facing the 0-16 Lions twice, the Packers have the third-easiest strength of schedule in the NFL. Their opponents have a combined .428 winning percentage. Even if you threw out Detroit's 32 losses, though, the Packers' opponents would have a 109-114-1 record.
The Packers will host Cleveland (Saturday, Aug. 15) and Buffalo (Saturday, Aug. 22) to start the preseason, followed by games at Arizona (Friday, Aug. 28) and Tennessee (Thursday, Sept. 3).
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Bill also is giving Facebook and Twitter a try. Find him on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport