As far as the NFL and its schedule-makers are concerned, the Green Bay Packers have not lost their national and primetime appeal despite the retirement of quarterback Brett Favre.
The Packers are scheduled for four primetime games in 2008 plus two games that will serve as national doubleheader games on back-to-back late Sunday afternoons in October. That's six national broadcasts, beginning with the Monday night season opener on Sept. 8 against NFC North rival Minnesota, as Aaron Rodgers takes over at quarterback for the first-ballot Hall of Famer, Favre.
"I think there's a lot of interest in what the Packers are going to look like without Brett Favre," said Packers President/CEO Mark Murphy, speaking to a group of local reporters in the Lambeau Field Atrium on Tuesday afternoon, a short while after the schedule was released.
"We had a very successful year last year, we were a play away from the Super Bowl, and I think there's a lot of interest in our team. You look at the ratings the Packers have produced over the years, and I think those are all factors."
In addition to the season opener, the Packers also play on Monday night in New Orleans (Nov. 24) and at Chicago (Dec. 22), on Sunday night against Dallas (Sept. 21), and in late afternoon national doubleheader games at Seattle (Oct. 12) and vs. Indianapolis (Oct. 19).
Murphy noted that because of potential weather concerns, the retirement of Favre's No. 4 jersey would most likely take place during one of the first four home games against Minnesota, Dallas, Atlanta (Oct. 5) and Indianapolis. The first two are in primetime, and then following the Indianapolis game is the bye week and two road games, leading the team to look at mid-October or earlier for the Favre ceremony.
"We'll see which one works best for Brett," Murphy said. "I think fortunately as you look through those there are some very attractive games."
The early portion of the schedule as a whole is loaded with key matchups for the Packers.
After beginning with division games against Minnesota and at Detroit (Sept. 14), Green Bay will play five of its next six contests against teams that made the playoffs in 2007, including road trips to Tampa Bay (Sept. 28) and Tennessee (Nov. 2) among the playoff foes already mentioned.
The Packers played four of their first five games in 2007 against teams that made the playoffs in 2006 and went 4-1 during that stretch, so the team is no stranger to the early-season task.
Green Bay also has perhaps its toughest slate of AFC foes in some time. The NFC North is paired with the AFC South for 2008, a division that had three playoff teams (Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Tennessee) last season, and the division as a whole went 42-22 in 2007.
"I was excited to see the 2008 schedule," Head Coach Mike McCarthy told packers.com. "I look forward to the new challenges it presents. Certainly, playing the AFC South where three teams went to the playoffs last year, will be a good test for us. Having four primetime games presents challenges from a coaching standpoint as far as practice schedules, etc.
"But it's also a reflection of the respect our team earned last season and all part of becoming a championship team."
As they have each of the past two seasons, the Packers also will end the regular season with consecutive division games, at Chicago and vs. Detroit (Dec. 28). The 2007 schedule ended with the same two matchups, while in 2006 the season ended with three straight division games.
Though not a direct result of discussions at the recent annual owners' meetings, the conclusion of the schedule reflects what could become a trend in years to come. Murphy said as the owners discussed a proposal to re-seed playoff teams (the idea was tabled), other measures to add meaning to some late-season games were discussed, and one of those was to schedule more division games in the final weeks.
"Those games mean so much," Murphy said. "I'm excited about that. You never know how division is going to play out, and having those games end of the year really lends itself to some excitement."