GREEN BAY—This is the type of game for which a head coach walks a fine line.
Mike McCarthy and the Packers have known since April 23 they'd be opening the 2014 season at Seattle, against the defending league champions in a singular, prime-time NFL showdown.
They built preparation for the Seahawks into training camp, with the offense spending the first 15 minutes or so of each practice inside the Don Hutson Center, running plays amidst crowd noise to work on signals and other non-verbal communication.
They closed two full practices that would normally have been open to the public. They played loud music extensively during 11-on-11 work throughout camp, another way to help prepare for the deafening din of CenturyLink Field (and Ford Field in Detroit and the Superdome in New Orleans, which are also on the schedule before the midway point).
"There's a lot of work that goes into the first game," McCarthy said. "Frankly, you have to guard against doing too much."
McCarthy is as aware as anyone he also must guard against placing too much emphasis on this game, win or lose, come roughly 11 p.m. CT on Thursday night.
"You have to be in tune with the fact that it's one of 16," he said.
No matter the outcome, it will help the Packers to have 10 days before their Week 2 game. They'll have time to process the result and move on.
Should the Packers win, they'd be bucking the long-term trend but continuing the short-term one in this NFL Kickoff Opener.
Until recently, the game had been almost a rite of passage for the reigning champs. The league began having the previous Super Bowl winner host the first game, on a Thursday night, back in 2004, and the home team won the first eight matchups, a streak culminating in the Packers' 42-34 thriller over the Saints in 2011.
The last two years have been a different story, though. In 2012, the Cowboys went into MetLife Stadium and knocked off the Giants. Then last year, the Ravens were forced to go on the road due to a scheduling conflict with Baltimore's baseball team, and the Broncos blew out the defending champs.
Still, that's 9-1 for the home team over the last decade in one of the more charged environments anywhere in the league prior to January.
"Obviously their crowd will be into it," Packers receiver Jordy Nelson said. "They're going to be excited. They would have been if they'd won the Super Bowl the year before or not, knowing the way Seattle is.
"This will be about as close as you can get to a playoff game."
First game or not, whether facing the defending champions provides any extra juice to the opponent is debatable. The previous year's champions always say they have a big target on their backs and get everyone's best shot. Some on the other side will say it's a measuring stick, while others will claim it's like any other game.
For what it's worth, the Packers don't have the best track record against teams that won the Super Bowl the previous year. Green Bay is 7-15 all-time in the regular season (8-17 including playoffs) in such matchups.
McCarthy is 1-2, and would be 2-1 if not for a last-second TD pass by Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger back in 2009. The win came in Baltimore last year.
Of those seven regular-season wins all-time, three actually came consecutively at the start of the previous decade. That streak began against, ahem, the Ravens (in 2001).
At the end of the day, however, this game will be added to that statistical history, and it will start 2014 one way or the other, nothing more.
As McCarthy said, "This is fun. This is what you work for," but at the same time, "it's one of 16."
"You play the game to be in big-time games," Nelson said, "and this is definitely one of them."
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