GREEN BAY – History is on the right side of teams who open the regular season at home on Sunday night, but it’s a challenge for both teams to play the last game of the day in front of a national TV audience.
Both the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears will be playing their opener on a Sunday night for the first time since they met at Lambeau Field in 2009. The Packers will be at home again, which is the place you want to be.
Since 2006 when the NFL introduced "NBC Sunday Night Football," the home team has gone 9-3, including seven straight victories starting with the Packers’ 21-15 victory over the Bears.
The New England Patriots broke the streak in ’16 by winning at Arizona, but Dallas swung it back to the home team with a 19-3 victory over the New York Giants last year at AT&T Stadium.
It’s a challenge to play any night game because most teams practice at midday and are used to sleeping until a certain time, eating at a certain time and preparing mentally to carry out their assignments at a certain time.
Changing their schedule can be upsetting.
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“Night games are frankly a bit of a challenge, more so,” coach Mike McCarthy said Thursday. “It's obviously better when you're at home playing at night. But when you're the last team to play on Sunday, there's a lot of waiting around.
“So, you have to manage that, you have to manage your energy. Don't let the anxiety of wanting to get started, especially when it's the first game.”
As he does with just about every potential pothole the Packers might encounter, McCarthy has had studies done to determine the best way to prepare. The schedules probably don’t vary much from team to team, but McCarthy has things broken down to a basic schedule for every type of game and then adjusts depending on the week of practice.
“There's an anatomy of the first division game, there's an anatomy of the first night game, there's an anatomy of the first away game,” McCarthy said. “So, these are the things, frankly, you spend more time educating the first-year players that are here because this is how we do it, this is the expectation.”
On a home Sunday night game, Packers players still stay overnight in a hotel, but there’s enough time for them to stop at home and relax a bit before heading over to the stadium. The road team has meetings at its hotel and players can wander around after that, but they’re mostly in their rooms.
McCarthy said there are variables when it comes to determining how much time the team needs to be together and how much free time they’ll have.
“Those are really decisions that I make particularly off of how preparation of the week goes,” he said.