The nation won’t have to wait long to see Peyton Manning in a Broncos uniform.
Manning’s first game as Broncos quarterback will come in prime time as Denver hosts Pittsburgh on the opening Sunday of the NFL season. The four-time MVP was released by Indianapolis after missing the 2011 season following neck surgery. After conducting a four-city lottery for his services, Manning landed in Denver, which hasn’t won a Super Bowl since his new boss, John Elway, was behind center.
He won’t have an easy assignment against the Steelers, who ranked first in overall defense and against the pass last year.
”The opening game in Denver obviously will be an interesting way to start the season,” Steelers President Art Rooney said. ”There will be a lot of attention paid to Peyton Manning’s first game with the Denver Broncos, so it’ll be exciting to start out that way.”
Pittsburgh’s season ended in Denver in January when Tim Tebow threw an 80-yard TD pass to Demaryius Thomas on the first play of overtime in their wild-card playoff game. Manning presents a whole different challenge.
Steelers at Broncos is one of four prime-time games in the league’s kickoff week, Sept. 5-10. The schedule, released Tuesday, has the Super Bowl champion 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,” Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. ”We play on four different days and we have five night games. Our first three games are Wednesday-Sunday-Thursday. We play two road night games early, come home for a week and then go to San Francisco. Our people are going to have to be really good about it.”
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.
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.