We'll find out in the next couple of weeks how many prime-time games the Packers get in 2012. Notice I said how many, not if. The Packers getting prime-time games is a given these days, so everyone might as well embrace it.
And why not? Sure, there's a little downside to getting the players' routine jostled around for the occasional Monday or Thursday game, but the adjustment is worth it. Sixteen games make for a long season, and if there are a few in the spotlight that re-energize the players and fans along the way, that's a good thing. The routine isn't significantly disrupted for a Sunday night game anyway, except if it's on the road and there's that late-night flight home.
Mike McCarthy has always used the occasional Thursday game to his team's advantage, giving the players some extra rest for the next game following the short week of preparation. It's worth noting McCarthy is 5-0 following an extended break after a Thursday game over his six seasons (the Packers played back-to-back Thursday games in 2007, losing the second of those in Dallas on a "regular" week but then winning the following game after a break).
As for the short week following a Monday night game, McCarthy has adjusted fine then, too. He's 6-2 on Sundays following Monday nighters, including 4-0 dating back to Week 17 of 2008.
There are always exceptions, but most players love playing in prime time. They know their peers around the league are watching, and that puts a little extra bounce in their step. These guys crave the big stage and, until playoff time, the biggest stage is in prime time. It provides environmental prep for the postseason.
It's a bonus for the fans, too, especially Packers fans. This team boasts a truly nationwide fan base, and prime-time games allow all of the team's fans to tune in live without having to pony up the cash for a satellite package or a trip to a sports bar. There's nothing wrong with those pursuits, of course, but Packers fans become much more connected to their team when they see it play on national TV under the lights. It drives interest, which builds the brand and that pays off down the road.
Maybe I'm pushing the point too much, but I still think there's something special about playing in the only game of the moment, when the whole country is watching.
And here's the best reason. Playing in prime time means your team is worth watching, because the league and the networks don't showcase duds. The Packers once went six consecutive seasons (1987-92) without a single Monday night game. The number of playoff appearances those years was a big fat zero, as well.
Give me 16 kickoffs at noon on Sunday and I'll see you in the playoffs. Nothing beats routine.
Don't believe me? Then why are coaches obsessed with maintaining routine? They schedule flights for road games to leave at the same time as often as possible. Routine promotes consistency.
It also promotes good sleeping habits. Postgame ritual involves the winding-down period, and late-night games tend to produce sleepless nights and that often results in a day or two of catching up on the sleep and probably a sluggish day or two of practice.
What teams want a lot of prime-time games? Teams that need to expose their brands. Clearly, as evidenced by the Packers fans the Packers draw wherever they play, the Packers brand is not in need of exposure.
Let's look at next year's road schedule: Hey, that game in Seattle is a strong candidate to be played at prime time. Wanna fly back from Seattle in the middle of the night as you turn your watch forward two hours? Try it sometime and let me know whether it's Thursday or Friday that you begin feeling human again.
That rematch with the Giants? It has prime time written all over it. Let's see, game over at 11:30 ET, followed by an hour or so of postgame locker room, then a pleasant drive down the New Jersey Turnpike before a flight back to Green Bay that would likely land at about three in the morning Central Time. Now rush home from the airport, jump in bed and stare at the ceiling until you fall asleep an hour before it's time to wake up and go to work.
It's the penalty high-profile teams have to pay. The Packers are good for TV ratings and TV ratings are good for the league, so the Packers have a pretty good idea they're going to be served a full plate of prime-time games when the schedule is released.
The way I figure, at least two of their division games will be at prime time. Home games against the Saints and 49ers are also candidates for the national TV eye.
Fans love it. National TV makes the fans' team one of the darlings of the league. I would also agree that prime-time games harden a team emotionally for the postseason.
OK, a few won't hurt, but too many can wear a team down. All of those hours spent walking around trying to kill time on a Monday afternoon, or sitting in a hotel room watching other teams play on a Sunday, are hours wasted. They're hours players would love to be able to spend on sleep in the rushed hours following the conclusion of a prime-time game.
I won't be offended if the schedule-maker decides that other brands are in need of exposure, too.
What do you think?