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Flavorful schedule puts Packers on prime time


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Thanksgiving Day in Detroit and Christmas night at Lambeau Field with the Chicago Bears highlight what might be the most flavorful 2011 schedule in the NFL. Oh, by the way, the season will open at Lambeau on Thursday, Sept. 8, in a nationally televised game against the 2009 Super Bowl-champion New Orleans Saints.

Try to calm yourself, Packers fans. Football season will get here eventually.

Coach Mike McCarthy gave his approval of the schedule the Packers were handed by the league on Tuesday.

"I like the schedule but there definitely is a stress point with Minnesota, Tampa Bay and Detroit," McCarthy said.

He was referring to three games in 11 days, which will begin with a Monday nighter at Lambeau Field against the Vikings on Nov. 14, followed by a Sunday game against the visiting Bucs, which will be followed by a Thanksgiving Day game in Detroit that might harken memories of Thanksgivings past.

"The thing I look at is the three (games) in 11 days," McCarthy said when asked his impression of the schedule.

Upon further examination, McCarthy also sees:

A game on Christmas night against the visiting Chicago Bears and a regular-season finale against the visiting Lions on New Year's Day that'll make the Packers the first team in NFL history to play on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's. Christmas and New Year's, of course, fall on Sunday this year. The Bears-Packers game on Christmas night promises to be one of the season's feature attractions.

Circle games, as McCarthy called them, at Atlanta (Sunday night, Oct. 9) and the New York Giants (Sunday afternoon, Dec. 4). The Falcons and Giants will no doubt circle their game against the Packers, since it was the Packers that effectively ended their seasons in 2010.

The opener against the Saints. "I'm excited to be the team that opens the season. Our players will enjoy the competition of an excellent Saints team," McCarthy said.

Two games on the road in the first three weeks of the season. The first of those two games will be at Carolina (Sunday afternoon, Sept. 18); the second will be an early-season showdown in Chicago (Sept. 25). McCarthy is concerned about the "new staff" challenge Carolina will present. "I always look at the first four games. The identity of your football team has to form early," McCarthy said.

On the plus side of the three-games-in-11-days challenge, "two of those are division games. We're working on them right now. Your prep work will be easier," McCarthy said.

The third of those three games, against the Lions, offers a lot of flavor. The Lions beat the Packers, 7-3, in Detroit last year, in a game that saw Aaron Rodgers leave with a concussion. During this offseason, McCarthy made a point of saying the Lions are one of the most improved teams in the league and might be on the verge of big things.

"I think they're a talented football team. They've been drafting high for a pretty long period of time," McCarthy said of the Lions.

The Packers' schedule is clearly that of a Super Bowl champion; they will be featured by the league either in prime time or on holidays five times: Saints, Thursday night, Sept. 8, on NBC; at Falcons, Sunday night, Oct. 9, on NBC; Vikings, Monday night, Nov. 14, on ESPN; at Lions, Thanksgiving Day, on FOX; Bears, Christmas night, on NBC.

Bye weeks will begin in week five and continue through week 11 and the Packers' bye week is set for week eight, Oct. 30. Division games in the final three weeks of the season were increased to 29, with 10 in week 16. All week-17 games will be division games. The Packers finish with consecutive NFC North games.

Vic Ketchman is a veteran of 39 NFL seasons and has covered the Steelers and Jaguars prior to coming to Green Bay.

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