Packers face TV-taxing schedule in 2013

While the Packers will be on national television often, that exposure comes with a price. They won't have many "conventional" noon starts and plenty of prime-time action, which could help the rest of the NFC North catch up.

We've got some bad news for fans of the Packers that is eerily mindful of what Vikings fans experienced during the 2010 season. You can forget the regimentation inherent to the NFL that makes so many underdog teams successful.

An NFL team is a lot like indoctrination into the military. Everything is rigidly timed. Schedules are set and adhered to. They have things called drills. Game day is "going to war." Outside distractions are discouraged. The comparisons are hard to deny.

One of the tenets of the disciplinarian system of the professional football is that you structure a work environment that is consistent. In the realm of the NFC North, that means playing at noon Central Time (1 p.m. if your in Michigan) on Sundays.

The body clock is a strange thing. It's used to the time you live in. If you live in New York, what is noon to you is 9 a.m. to a Californian. When a team from the West Coast heads east for an early start time, they're playing at 10 a.m. according to their own body clocks – which may explain why so many of them lose when they head east.

Coming off their 2009 Favre-based revival, the NFL's corporate money-printing engine wanted a piece of the Vikings. The Vikings were scheduled for just 10 games that would start at noon local time in 2010. Five of their first seven games were scheduled for times other than noon Sunday. Thanks to the Metrodome collapse and predictions of Snowpocalypse in Philadelphia, the Vikings played just half their games at the noon time specified when the schedule was released in early April.

In 2010, the Vikings played on a Thursday night in New Orleans, a Monday night in New Jersey, a Sunday night in a college stadium, a Tuesday night in Philadelphia and a home game in Detroit. In short, it was messed up. Is it any wonder that team finished 6-10? What their opponents didn't do, the schedule did.

Last year, the NFL wanted nothing to do with the Vikings. They had 12 games set for noon local time and only one game in prime time. In games that didn't stick to the "standard routine," the Vikings had a record of 1-3. In the 12 games that started at the "regular time," the Vikings went 9-3. Coincidence? Don't bet on it. Effective soldiers run most effectively on a tight time schedule and prepare as such. Deviations from the norm cause problems that can't be anticipated.

As the 2013 schedule was released, there was a major disparity with one team in the NFC North – Green Bay. The other three teams in the division have 12 games that start at the "normal" start time for NFC North games. Detroit probably has it that best, because not only do the Lions have 12 games at 1 p.m. Michigan time, they also have their annual home game on Thanksgiving that any Detroit veteran knows is coming and the organization is annually prepared for.

Then comes Green Bay. The Packers have just seven games that start at the standard noon Wisconsin time and four of them come in the first five games. The NFL wants a big piece of the Packers and they're going to get it – which may be good news for fans of the Vikings, Bears and Lions.

As things currently stand, the Packers are scheduled to play four late Sunday afternoon games, four games in prime time and at Detroit on Thanksgiving. And, if their game with Chicago in Week 17 has any playoff implications, it will surely get pushed out of the noon time slot on FOX and pushed to the late-afternoon showcase at a minimum.

One of the victims of the roller coaster of success the NFL enjoys is that Monday games late in the season are sometimes unwatchable. The league tries to schedule games that are thought to be of interest to fans. Unfortunately, future profits can't be based on past results. It's hard to forget the collective national yawn that was expelled in Week 13 when Carolina played Philadelphia or Week 15 when the Jets and Titans gave insomniacs a reason to sleep. They tried. It looked good on paper. It looked rancid in Hi-Def.

In a sport where conformity and adherence to rules, schedules and protocol is vital to success (going relatively injury-free is a happy accident), having solid regimentation is critical. In a sport where the competitive advantage is so slim – the difference between being a 12-4 team or an 8-8 as well as the difference between being 8-8 and 4-12 can come down to less than a dozen critical plays – one team being put at a disadvantage to their peers is enormous.

From opening night on, 32 teams will play games on Thursday – each team once. The league was specific about spreading out the pain and not creating a big advantage by getting into the business of beings a rights-holder to broadcast NFL games. The playing field for Thursdays is equal.

If you're a Packers player, coach or executive, you hate the 2013 schedule. The fans will love it because they will see the Green and Gold early and often as the "only show in town" as far as the NFL goes. They will be happy … until they realize what recent history has taught us. Take even the most veteran-laden of teams out of its comfort zone and bad things can happen.

It's hard to argue that Green Bay isn't the best team in the NFC North. You will be hard-pressed to find someone outside of Chicago taverns that doesn't pick the Packers to win the division. What they may not realize is that the NFL did its best to level the playing field in a covert way – by putting them in the spotlight.


John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.

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