NFL schedule kicks off with Peyton Manning vs. Steelers
By BARRY WILNER AP Pro Football Writer April 18, 2012 10:22AM
Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning smiles at a news conference at the NFL team's football headquarters in Englewood, Colo., on Monday, April 16, 2012. Manning addressed questions after working out with the team. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)
Updated: April 18, 2012 12:01PM
NEW YORK — The last time the Steelers played, Tim Tebow sent them home from the playoffs with one stunning play.
The next time Pittsburgh plays a game for real, it also will be in Denver. Tebow won’t be the opposing quarterback, though. Peyton Manning will be — and he’s certainly capable of an 80-yard TD pass in overtime.
The entire nation won’t have to wait long to see Manning in a Broncos uniform. The only four-time league MVP will face the Steel Curtain in prime time on the opening Sunday of the NFL season.
Folks in the Mile High city haven’t been this excited about their quarterback — no not even about Tebow — since John Elway was leading them to five Super Bowls, winning the last two.
“We’re excited about that. Anytime you have a guy behind the center named Peyton Manning, you’re going to get a lot of attention,” said Elway, who now runs the Broncos’ football operations. “That’s going to be exciting. We’re looking forward to it obviously, the offseason program got started yesterday. I think the excitement in the building is great, and then with the schedule coming out today, it’s a difficult one. But I think everybody in the league’s going to look at their schedule and say it’s difficult.”
Yep. Just listen to Tom Coughlin, coach of the Super Bowl champion Giants. The schedule, released Tuesday, has the Giants hosting the Cowboys in the first Wednesday NFL game since 1948; the league moved the game to avoid a conflict with President Barack Obama’s Thursday night speech at the Democratic National Convention.
“We will have a week-in and week-out challenge, not only in who we play, but with the different elements of our schedule,” Coughlin said. “We play on four different days and we have five night games. Our first three games are Wednesday-Sunday-Thursday.”
The now-traditional Monday night opening doubleheader has Cincinnati at Baltimore, followed by San Diego at Oakland.
A juicy opening-day matchup features San Francisco at Green Bay; the teams combined to go 28-4 in 2011. New Orleans, still awaiting league punishment to its players for the bounty program that targeted opponents for dangerous hits, hosts Washington.
The Saints have a bye after their fifth game, which means interim coach Joe Vitt will actually miss seven weeks during his six-game suspension for his role in the bounty system.
A 14-week package of Thursday night games begins in Week 2 with Chicago at Green Bay. All but one of those games will be on NFL Network, which now has games from September until December instead of just the second half of the schedule.
The other Thursday night game is on Thanksgiving on NBC: New England at the New York Jets, Tebow’s new team. Earlier that holiday, Houston is at Detroit, then Washington at Dallas.
Two Sunday games will be played outside the United States. St. Louis hosts New England on Oct. 28 in London, while Buffalo hosts Seattle on Dec. 16 in Toronto.
Byes occur from Weeks 4 through 11. Beginning in Week 11, the league will have flex scheduling for the Sunday night game. Tentatively scheduled for the first prime-time game that could be flexed are the Ravens at Steelers.
Houston has one of the stranger schedules, with a month at home (Green Bay, Baltimore, bye, and Buffalo), and three straight road games (at Detroit on Thanksgiving, at Tennessee, at New England). Plus, the Texans play the Colts twice in the last three weeks.
“Those division games just carry so much weight,” coach Gary Kubiak said. “We’ve always had some big games against those guys. Hopefully, we’ve got ourselves in position right there, that those games are really, really big games for both of us and we can take care of our business.”
In all, 10 teams have three consecutive home games, while Green Bay and Houston are the only clubs with three straight road trips.
“As far as playing three on the road, I don’t look at that as an extraordinary challenge,” coach Mike McCarthy said of Green Bay’s first such string since 1998. “It is always challenging, period, when you go on the road.”
The wild-card weekend is Jan. 5-6, followed the next weekend by the divisional round, then by the conference championships on Jan. 20, The Super Bowl is Feb. 3 in New Orleans, televised by CBS.