Opener presents 'tremendous opportunity'
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
This marks the first time the Packers have faced the Jets at Lambeau Field since 2006, Mike McCarthy’s first season as Packers coach. … the Packers and Jets’ most recent meeting was in October 2010, when the Packers won, 9-0, at MetLife Stadium. It is the last time the Packers shut out an opponent. … Jets offensive linemen Breno Giacomini and Caleb Schlauderaff are both former Packers draft picks.
Sunday, Sept. 21
at Detroit Lions
As it turns out, the Packers could have played in Detroit on Thanksgiving this year, as the league did away with having the Lions play an AFC team every other year on Turkey Day. The Packers, who in the 2000s have played on Thanksgiving at Detroit in 2001, 2003, 2007, 2009, 2011 and 2013, are 6-2 at Ford Field under McCarthy. … Lions are one of two NFC North teams with a new head coach, having replaced Jim Schwartz with Jim Caldwell this offseason. … Among the Packers connections on the Lions’ roster are former returner Jeremy Ross, who got his career back on track in Detroit after being cut by the Packers after three games last year, and kicker Giorgio Tavecchio, who pushed kicker Mason Crosby in training camp last year and recently signed with the Lions to compete for their kicking job.
Sunday, Sept. 28
at Chicago Bears
Packers defensive end/outside linebacker Julius Peppers gets his first crack at his most recent former team, returning to Chicago in Week 4. The Bears cut Peppers, who signed with the Packers on March 15, in a cost-cutting move after four seasons. … After closing the regular season at Chicago last year – and clinching the NFC North title with an Aaron Rodgers-to-Randall Cobb touchdown pass in the final minute – the Packers play in the Windy City in September for the second time in four years, having also had an early trip to Chicago in 2011. … Including their NFC Championship Game victory in January 2011 en route to Super Bowl XLV, the Packers have won 16 of the last 20 meetings between the teams at Soldier Field, including three in a row.
Thursday, Oct. 2
vs. Minnesota Vikings
This is the first of two Gold Package games for former Milwaukee County Stadium ticketholders. Former Packers president/CEO used to implore the league office not to make Milwaukee-area fans attend night games, but in recent years that apparently hasn’t been a consideration by the schedule-makers. … This marks the sixth time in the last season years that the Packers and Vikings have faced each other in a prime-time game. … Including playoffs, Green Bay has a 7-1-1 mark (.833) against the Vikings at Lambeau Field under McCarthy. … This is the third Thursday night meeting between the teams, as the teams also played Thursday night games in 1994 and 2006. … The Packers will be facing their second new head coach of the season, as the Vikings fired Leslie Frazier and hired ex-Cincinnati defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer during the offseason.
Sunday, Oct. 12
at Miami Dolphins
This marks the Packers’ first visit to Miami since 2006 and only its third trip to South Florida in the last 23 seasons. It will mark the first time that McCarthy has faced his former offensive coordinator from 2007 through 2011, Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin. … Luke Rodgers, the younger brother of the Packers’ quarterback, signed with the Dolphins this offseason and will try to make the roster as a backup.
Sunday, Oct. 19
vs. Carolina Panthers
The Panthers haven’t visited Green Bay since 2008, and the teams haven’t played each other since 2011 in Charlotte. … The teams played each other seven times in a nine-year span from 2000 through 2008. … The Packers have won five of the last seven meetings between the teams. … Peppers began his career with the Panthers, who picked him second overall in the 2002 NFL Draft.
Sunday, Oct. 26
at New Orleans Saints
The Packers return to the Big Easy, where things were anything but for them in their last visit, a 51-29 blowout loss on Nov. 24, 2008 in a Monday night game. … The last two meetings, both Packers victories, came at Lambeau Field in 2011 and 2012. … Three of the last four meetings between the clubs have been prime-time games. … With 55 regular-season wins each since 2009, the Saints and Packers are the two winningest teams in the NFC over that span.
Sunday, Nov. 9
vs. Chicago Bears
The Packers return from their bye week with another Sunday Night Football game, against their division rivals. … For the ninth consecutive season, one of the matchups between the teams is set to be a prime-time game. … The Packers have won five of the last six meetings against the Bears at Lambeau Field, although the Bears did win the Nov. 4, 2013 game after Rodgers’ fractured his left collarbone on the opening series. … McCarthy’s teams are 7-1 (.875) in games immediately after the bye week, which is tied for No. 1 in the league over that span.
Sunday, Nov. 16
Vs. Philadelphia Eagles
The second of two Gold Package games and a rematch of the teams’ 2013 meeting at Lambeau Field, which also happened to be a Gold Package game. … Last season’s meeting came the week after Rodgers was injured, and the Packers lost backup quarterback Seneca Wallace to a groin injury on the opening series, forcing Scott Tolzien into action in a 27-13 loss.
Sunday, Nov. 23
at Minnesota Vikings
The Packers and Vikings will face each other outdoors at TCF Bank Stadium on the University of Minnesota campus after the razing of the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome to make way for the Vikings’ new downtown Minneapolis stadium. … The teams haven’t faced each other outside on Minnesota soil since playing at Metropolitan Stadium on Nov. 29, 1981. Of the past 23 regular-season meetings between the two teams, 17 of those games have been decided by a touchdown or less.
Sunday, Nov. 30
vs. New England Patriots
This will be the Patriots’ first visit to Lambeau Field since 2006 – when they beat the Packers, 35-0, and Rodgers suffered a broken foot while playing in relief of Brett Favre, who suffered an elbow injury earlier in the game. … This is only New England’s third visit to Lambeau Field, having also played there in 1979.
Monday, Dec. 8
vs. Atlanta Falcons
The teams were slated to face each other last year in prime time on Sunday Night Football but were flexed out of the spot by NBC amid the Falcons’ disappointing 4-12 season. … The Packers will be appearing on Monday Night Football for the 22nd straight season, the second-longest active streak in the league. … In an odd coincidence, the teams will be playing on Dec. 8 for the second straight year. … The Packers won the teams’ meeting last year, 22-21 at Lambeau Field, snapping an 0-4-1 schneid without Rodgers.
Sunday, Dec. 14
at Buffalo Bills
This will be the Packers’ first regular-season visit to Buffalo since 2006, when the Bills won, 24-10 in McCarthy’s first season. … The Packers’ last trip to Buffalo before that came in 2000. … The Packers won the most recent meeting between the teams, 34-7 at Lambeau Field in 2010.
Sunday, Dec. 21
at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
This will be the Packers’ first December visit to Tampa Bay since 1999, when they played the day after Christmas. … It also marks Green Bay’s first visit to Raymond James Stadium since 2009. … The Bucs have won three of the last four meetings between the clubs, including victories at home in 2008 and 2009. … The Buccaneers signed ex-Packers center Evan Dietrich-Smith this offseason.
Sunday, Dec. 28
vs. Detroit Lions
This will be the fourth time under McCarthy that the Packers have closed the regular season against the Lions at Lambeau Field, having also done so in 2007, 2008 and 2011. …Including a 1994 playoff victory, the Packers have won 23 consecutive games against the Lions in the state of Wisconsin. The Packers are 14-2 overall (.875) and 8-0 at home against the Lions under McCarthy.
Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on “Green & Gold Today” on 540 ESPN, and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.