Them NFL People Is Smart

You have to hand it to the NFL. Everything the league announces, whether interesting (flexible scheduling, a new commissioner) or not (anything having to do with NFL Europe) — seems to make news. Besides the fact that the NFL Scouting Combine actually gets a heavy dose of national coverage — hey, Joe Thomas is about to do sit-ups! — nothing is a better example of the NFL’s marketing genius than the hootenanny that is made over the annual release of the NFL’s schedule.

I frankly have no idea when or through what manner the schedules of the other major sports are announced. I think that leprechauns sneak into my house and attach Brewers, Twins, and Badgers schedules to my refrigerator, because I never have any recollection of when or where I picked them up. But I know when that NFL schedule is announced. You can’t avoid it. Talk of the release, the best match-ups, which team got the most primetime games, even the schedule’s impact on your fantasy football team, is everywhere. Hey, it’s even here in your favorite blog.

The irony is that with parity in the NFL, it’s very hard to know, especially in the second half of the season, what will be a “can’t miss” game and what will be a “let’s fondue on that day” game. That’s of course the whole reason that NBC fought for and got flexible scheduling for its late season Sunday night games. When you look at a MLB schedule, you can pretty much know that a Yankees/White Sox or a Red Sox/Indians series is going to be interesting no matter where it falls on the calendar. Same with the NBA — it’s unlikely that a Lakers/Suns matchup is going to be upstaged by a Bobcats/Bucks showdown.

But that Thanksgiving weekend Broncos @ Bears game that looks so intriguing in April could be deemed a yawner by Halloween. And who knows? Maybe you’ll be looking to contact that weird cousin of yours that has the NFL Sunday Ticket just so you can see that Cleveland @ Arizona game in December.

So, with all of those caveats in mind, here’s a quick look at the Packers 2007 schedule:

On paper, The Packers have one of the easier schedules in football, as their opponents had a combined winning percentage of .492 last year. But a closer look at that number shows that that stat holds true because of the weak NFC North — the Lions are the only team in the division whose opponents had a better-than-.500 (.504) winning percentage in 2006.

While the schedule may be favorable overall, it doesn’t start out that way — of the six games before the bye, only two — at Minnesota (I don’t see the Vikings doing anything positive next year; can you believe that Brad Childress may be a worse coach than Mike Tice?) and Washington at home look like gimmes. But that second-week game against the Giants is very winnable, especially considering how much Eli Manning is likely to struggle not that he doesn’t have Tiki Barber to carry the load. Otherwise those Philadelphia, San Diego, and Chicago early games look tough. Yes, they are all in Green Bay, but the last time the Packers enjoyed a measurable home field advantage, Howie Mandel was collecting unemployment.

If the Packers survive the first half of their schedule, look for fans to be making plans for the playoffs. Nothing in the last six weeks looks challenging, except for that December 23 game at Chicago, and chances are Rex Grossman (if healthy) will be too concerned about a Christmas party at the Playboy Mansion to play even at his normal level of mediocrity.

Oh, and the Packers have another game on the NFL Network — November 29 at Dallas. Sorry, Charter subscribers.

Oh, and no matter what the endless stream of ESPN analysts try to shove down your throat, Monday Night Football is not the biggest game of the week anymore. Although now with Theismann out of the booth, it should be a lot more watchable.

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