Got NFL Network? The Packers 2006 Schedule Is Out

Well, we still don’t know for sure who the team’s quarterback will be, but we do know who and when the Packers will play during the 2006 season, as the full schedule of games was announced today by the NFL. Actually, we don’t know for sure when some of the Packers games will be, thanks to the NFL’s new “flexible scheduling,” which allows for NBC to reserve quality late-season Sunday games for its national coverage. Here’s what we do know:

Right now, Charter Cable and Dish Network subscribers in the Madison area won’t be able to see one of the regular season Packers games — and it’s not just any game, but a home game against division rivals Minnesota. The Vikings visit Lambeau field on Thursday, December 21, and the game will be televised only by the NFL Network as part of the channel’s new series of late-season Thursday night games.

The problem for most local TV viewers is that neither Charter nor Dish carry the NFL Network. Charter had the network as part of its digital tier, but dropped it around the first of the year. Packer fans shouldn’t look elsewhere for coverage — no local Madison stations will be allowed to pick up the game either, since the NFL doesn’t consider Madison a “home market” for the Packers. That leaves fans two options: Hope that Charter and/or Dish adds the network before December 21 or switch to DirecTV, which carries the NFL Network as part of its most basic package. I’m biased to the latter, since that’s the service I subscribe to.

Local NBC affiliate WMTV is undoubtedly happy to have the NFL back, but probably not happy at the very real prospect of zero Packer games. None of the Packers’ early season games have been scheduled for NBC, and although the network could pick up one later in the year, it’s unlikely to happen if the Packers don’t play better than last season. And it doesn’t help WMTV’s cause that the Packers’ late-season opponents include league doormats the Jets, the 49ers, and the Lions. The best chances for a late-season Packer Sunday night game would be the November 19 game against the New England Patriots, which would mean local CBS affiliate WISC would lose one of its only two Packer games. But of course, both WISC and WMTV are in a enviable position compared to WKOW, home to the now NFL-free ABC. (How “official” can the “official Packers station” be if it is possibly the only one of the four big network affiliates not to air any regular season games?)

The Packers open (at home) and close (in Chicago) the season against the Bears, marking the first time in the history of this long rivalry that this scheduling oddity has occurred.

New Packers head coach Mike McCarthy will return to San Francisco on Sunday, December 10, to lead his new team against his old. McCarthy was the 49ers offensive coordinator last year.

Although it’s always hard to predict these things in these times of NFL parity, the Packers appear to have one of the league’s easiest schedules: Out of 16 games, the Pack play only four games against 2005 playoff teams, and two of those are against division rivals the Bears, who haven’t been able to string together back-to-back winning seasons since the days of Ditka.

Here is the 2006 Packer regular-season schedule:
Sun, Sept 10 Chicago (3:15, FOX)
Sun, Sept 17 New Orleans (12 noon, FOX)
Sun, Sept 24 at Detroit (12 noon, FOX)
Mon, Oct 2 at Philadelphia (7:30 PM, ESPN)
Sun, Oct 8 St. Louis (12 noon, FOX)
Sun, Oct 15 OPEN DATE
Sun, Oct 22 at Miami (12 noon, FOX)
Sun, Oct 29 Arizona (12 noon, FOX)
Sun, Nov 5 at Buffalo (12 noon, FOX)
Sun, Nov 12 at Minnesota (12 noon, FOX)*
Sun, Nov 19 New England (12 noon, CBS)*
Mon, Nov 27 at Seattle (7:30 PM, ESPN)
Sun, Dec 3 New York Jets (12 noon, CBS)*
Sun, Dec 10 at San Francisco (3:05 PM, FOX)*
Sun, Dec 17 Detroit (12 noon, FOX)*
Thu, Dec 21 Minnesota (7 PM, NFL Network)
Sun, Dec 31 at Chicago (12 noon, FOX)*

*games that could be moved to 7:15 PM to accommodate NFL flexible scheduling.

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