Slate includes two Christmas Day games
NEW YORK -- Peyton Manning knew he would be on stage facing the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots in the Thursday prime time opener. He found out Wednesday that he also will be working on Thanksgiving Day.
The NFL announced its 17-week, 256-game regular season schedule, whick kicks off with the Patriots hosting the Indianapolis Colts on September 9 in a rematch of the AFC championship game and concludes on Sunday, January 2.
The opening Monday night game will have the NFC champion Carolina Panthers hosting Brett Favre and the Green Bay Packers. But for the second straight year, there will be no Monday night game on the final regular season weekend, enhancing the flexibility of scheduling the opening weekend of the playoffs.
The traditional Thanksgiving Day doubleheader will feature Manning and the Colts at Detroit and the Dallas Cowboys will host the Chicago Bears. Dallas will also play the final regular season Sunday night game, visiting the New York Giants.
In fact, the Cowboys have five national television appearances. That will be the most for Dallas since appearing in a franchise-high six in 1999, when the team made its last playoff appearance before head coach Bill Parcells took over last year.
"The national television appearances certainly give us an indication of the interest level in our team for next year," Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said Wednesday.
"Those national games always bring about a heightened sense of excitement, and I'm hopeful that our team can continue to progress to the level where the networks and the schedule-makers think we should be."
For the first time since the 1971 playoffs, there will be an NFL doubleheader on Christmas Day. The Kansas City Chiefs host the Oakland Raiders at 5:30 p.m. ET and the Tennessee Titans meet the Denver Broncos at 8:00 p.m. ET.
A Friday afternoon game will be held for the first time in five years on December 24 when the Packers visit the Minnesota Vikings.
Because of college bowl games on Saturday, January 1, all NFL games over the New Year's weekend will be played on Sunday, January 2.
The playoffs begin with wild card weekend on January 8-9.
The Patriots will be on prime time four times, including two Monday night games.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will face two of their former Pro Bowl players -- defensive tackle Warren Sapp and safety John Lynch -- in consecutive weeks. Sapp signed as a free agent with the Oakland Raiders, who will host the Bucs on September 26. Lynch was cut by the Bucs and signed with the Denver Broncos, who visit Tampa Bay on October 3.
The Houston Texans will return to national television for the first time since their inaugural game when the Packers come calling on Sunday night, Nov. 21.
"Anytime you play either a Sunday night or a Monday night it's special to players, coaches and everybody in the organization. You always want to go out and put on a good show," said coach Dom Capers.
Information from The Associated Press and SportsTicker was used in this report.
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