GREEN BAY—By the first week in October, the Green Bay Packers will have played the defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks on the road, plus three straight NFC North Division games in a span of 12 days.
Those are the highlights of an eventful early-season schedule as the entire slate of 2014 games was released by the NFL on Wednesday.
The Packers are Seattle's opponent for the annual NFL Kickoff Opener, traditionally hosted by the reigning league champs. The game will take place at CenturyLink Field on Thursday, Sept. 4, in prime time on national TV.
The Packers hosted the Saints three years ago coming off their Super Bowl XLV triumph, but this time they'll be the visiting team in a venue that's plenty difficult even without all the hype and excitement that will surround the Seahawks' first game since their rout of the Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII.
"It's a tremendous opportunity for our football team," Head Coach Mike McCarthy said. "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."
Adding to the drama is that the Packers and Seahawks haven't met in the regular season since the infamous "Fail Mary" game on a Monday night at CenturyLink back in September of 2012.
Officiated by replacements, the game ended the negotiating stalemate between the league and its regular officials, but not before a controversial call and replay review gave the Seahawks a last-play touchdown catch when the Packers thought they had an interception.
"This game won't be about the past," McCarthy said. "It will be about the 2014 Green Bay Packers."
After a Week 2 home opener against the Jets, the Packers will embark on a crucial stretch of three straight division games in a span of 12 days.
It begins with back-to-back road trips to Detroit and Chicago on Sept. 21 and 28, respectively, and concludes with a Week 5 home Thursday night game against Minnesota on Oct. 2.
"Two of our division opponents have new head coaches, so that's an added challenge, but division games always carry extra importance, no matter when they're played," McCarthy said.
The Packers last played three consecutive division games in 2012, late in the season, and won all three on their way to the second of what is now three straight NFC North titles.
"That was a key stretch in our season," McCarthy said. "This will be no different."
The two early-season Thursday night games are two of five prime-time contests for which the Packers are scheduled in 2014.
Green Bay will play on Monday night in Week 14, vs. Atlanta at Lambeau Field on Dec. 8. The Packers will also play two Sunday night games (subject to flex scheduling) in Weeks 8 and 10, traveling to New Orleans on Oct. 26 and hosting Chicago on Nov. 9.
"It's an honor. I know our fans around the world always appreciate the chance to watch us on national TV," McCarthy said. "Playing under the lights always adds to the atmosphere at Lambeau Field, and on the road."
In between those two Sunday nights is the Packers' bye in Week 9, which falls precisely in the middle of the regular season, with eight games done and eight to go.
The Packers have had either a Week 8 or Week 10 bye multiple times in the past under McCarthy, but never at the exact midpoint.
"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."
Following their bye, the Packers will play four of their next five games at home, beginning with the Sunday night meeting against Chicago and ending with the Monday night game vs. Atlanta.
"That's a potential plus, but we have to be in position to take advantage of it," McCarthy said. "That will be the third quarter of our season and it will be important to make the most of playing at home during that stretch."
The stretch also includes a home game vs. New England, which would feature the first head-to-head meeting between quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady, barring injury. The last time the two teams met, in 2010, Rodgers missed the game due to a concussion.
As per NFL custom, the Packers will end the regular season with a division opponent, at home vs. Detroit. It's Green Bay's only division game over the season's final five weeks. Related links: