For the second time in little more than a decade, the NFL is serving up the Green Bay Packers in a prime time game to christen an NFC North Division rival’s new stadium.
As it should be.
In 2003, the Packers played the first regular-season game in Chicago’s refurbished Soldier Field. This year, in Week 2 of the NFL schedule, they’ll play the Minnesota Vikings in their new U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.
The Packers won that game at Chicago, 38-23, against a Bears team that started Kordell Stewart at quarterback, something I did not remember from that day.
About all I do remember is getting off the elevator at the press-box level and touching the new walls in the long corridor. They were plaster and felt thin and fragile, like some of the “affordable” apartments in which I’ve lived. I remember thinking, “They spent $690 million on this, and they still did it on the cheap?”
PACKERS 2016 SCHEDULE: How we're picking it
To be fair, after the payoffs it takes to get something like this done in Chicago, there probably was only about $350 million for the actual project.
By the looks of it, that won’t be the case in Minnesota’s new, $1.061 billion stadium, which is about $100 million more than Soldier Field’s renovation cost in today’s dollars.
You never know until you’re there in person, and it won’t be finished until the start of the season, but based on recent photos it looks like a huge improvement over the building it’s replacing, the Metrodome.
The new stadium’s roof is primarily glass, as is one of the walls. So it will allow in plenty of sunlight. Game games will seem less indoors. It won’t matter for the opener because that’s on a Sunday night, but even then it should make for a better game atmosphere, something more like Dallas’ AT&T Stadium.
The Packers were by far the best choice for this game. They and the Vikings were the two best teams in the division last year and figure to be so again this season. The annual border rivalry game in the Twin Cities always draws thousands of Packers fans from the western part of Wisconsin, which makes for an electric atmosphere.
The NFL got this one right.
Here are some quick takes on the rest of the Packers’ schedule:
Opener at Jacksonville: I’m sure most people, maybe even coach Mike McCarthy, see the Packers at a huge disadvantage playing in Florida in early September, when it’s guaranteed to be hot and humid. I disagree.
Based on what I’ve learned the last couple years about the body’s adaptability to temperature, I think they’re better off playing there in the first game than, say, in October or November.
The Packers will be adapted to heat from going through training camp. The hotter camp, the better in that regard. Both teams will be equally worn down by camp, and the Packers will be as well adapted for the heat as they’re going to get.
If they played there a month or six weeks later, or more, the Packers would have lost their heat acclimation. The Jaguars, though, would have practiced and played home games in that weather, so they’d be well adapted. Even if it were a little cooler in October or early November than early September, it’s still hot, with average temperatures in the 80s. That would pose a bigger problem for the team from Green Bay.
Ideally, you probably want to play in Jacksonville in December, when the average temperature is 67 degrees. But even then there’s no guarantee, because coming from the Wisconsin winter, playing on a day in the mid-70s could be rough.
I remember talking to guard T.J. Lang after the Packers had played at Tampa Bay in December of 2014. The high was 75 degrees, and walking around before and after the game it seemed pleasant enough. But Lang sat in front of his locker long after the game was over, still wearing his football pants, and I asked what was up. He said he was absolutely spent from the heat.
Yeah, it’s going to be hot in Jacksonville in Week 1, but that’s not the worst the schedule could have given the Packers.
Bye week blues: The Packers have the worst of all worlds for their bye. It’s the earliest possible, Week 4. After that they’ll still have 13 regular-season games to play. Brutal.
McCarthy undoubtedly would have preferred the bye to be at least halfway through the regular season, and better still a little later. Players always can use the week's rest, but generally it’s more valuable later in the year as the games accumulate.
Compounding the early bye is that their Thursday night game is early also, in Week 7. The Thursday game is tough on players, but the upside is that the week after is a mini-bye. So the Packers will have their bye and mini-bye before the season is half over.
Color challenged: The Packers and Bears will wear color rush (all one color) uniforms in their Thursday night matchup on Oct. 20, and it could make for some tough watching. There have been no announcements, but it sounds like the Packers will be all green, which will look strange. Not sure if it will be ugly.
But if the Packers are all green, the Bears can’t be all navy blue. The colors would be too close. If Chicago goes all orange, that would be an eyesore, and at least in my mind’s eye a terrible mix with all green. The Bears conceivably could go all white, too, which would be plain but at least not ugly.
The quirks: It's a safe bet McCarthy hates the rhythm of the Packers' schedule — it's worse than most years. But ultimately, so be it.
Four straight road games to end the preseason and open the regular season isn’t great. Playing four straight home games before and after the bye is too many in a row. Three-game road stretches are never fun, and the Packers have one in November. And closing the schedule with three straight division games is unusual.
But them’s the breaks. Every schedule has its quirks. You get eight home and eight away, and you gotta play’em sometime. Based on last year’s records, the Packers’ second-place finish in the division left them with the easiest schedule in the league (their opponents had a combined .457 winning percentage last season). That matters most.