NFL

Highlights, quirks of 2012 NFL schedule

Cincinnati Bengals
A favorable early schedule could help the Cincinnati Bengals get off to a hot start.
The Daily Chris Corbellini
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Some highlights from the 2012 NFL regular-season schedule released on Tuesday.

Key games

Cowboys at Giants, Week 1
Sept. 5, 8:30 p.m. ET, NBC

BREAK IT DOWN

The schedule is out, but what about your favorite squad? Team-by-team breakdown

Here’s a ratings grabber on a Wednesday night. The grudge game between Dallas and New York last Jan. 2 scored a 17.1 overnight rating, the highest in the history of NBC’s "Sunday Night Football" package. The defending Super Bowl champions have the toughest strength of schedule this go-around, and it all starts with an explosive division rival.

Broncos at Patriots, Week 5
Oct. 7, 4:15 p.m. ET, CBS

A classic matchup between two of the finest quarterbacks of all-time: Tom Brady versus Peyton Manning (in new clothes). New England trounced Denver twice last season, including in the second round of the playoffs, so the Broncos have every reason to want payback. The difference this season, naturally, is there will be no more Tebow-mania related distractions.

Giants at 49ers, Week 6
Oct. 14, 4:15 p.m. ET, FOX

A rematch of that black-and-blue NFC Championship Game from last season. These clubs have played in some epics before during the regular season — Monday night games at Candlestick Park in 1986 and '90 come to mind — and the stakes in this one will be just as big as any of them. The winner could easily be considered the NFC’s top dog.

Ravens at Steelers, Week 11
Nov. 18, 8:20 p.m. ET, NBC

“This Steelers-Ravens game is a game for men,” said Baltimore coach John Harbaugh. Indeed, it could be the nastiest rivalry in football, and it all starts this season in prime time. Last season Baltimore scored a sweep of Pittsburgh for the first time since 2006 and won the division. The Steelers will want this one bad.

LET IT BEGIN

Giants-Cowboys starts the madness, but that's just the beginning. 2012 NFL season schedule.

49ers at Saints, Week 12
Nov. 25, 4:15 p.m. ET, FOX

Another postseason sequel, tinged with controversy. The New Orleans-San Francisco divisional playoff was one of the great games of 2011, capped with a last-minute touchdown grab by tight end Vernon Davis. Davis was one of the 49ers singled out by Saints former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams in his infamous pregame “bounty” speech caught on tape.

Easiest stretch

Cincinnati Bengals
Sept. 16 Browns, 1 p.m.
Sept. 23 at Redskins, 1 p.m.
Sept. 30 at Jaguars, 4:05 p.m.
Oct. 7 Dolphins, 1 p.m.
Oct. 14 at Browns, 1 p.m.

If the Bengals, a team that advanced to the playoffs last season, manage to upset the Ravens on the road in the season opener, they could start the season 6-0. Just look at the cushy weeks ahead: the Browns twice, and two opponents breaking in new coaching regimes in the Jaguars and Dolphins.

Toughest stretch

Tennessee Titans
Sept. 9 Patriots, 1 p.m.
Sept. 16 at Chargers, 4:15 p.m.
Sept. 23 Lions, 1 p.m.
Sept. 30 at Texans, 1 p.m.
Oct. 7 at Vikings, 1 p.m.

The Broncos have a brutal slate and the Texans have three straight road contests at one point, but no one has a rougher sub-section of their season than the Titans’ start. The Patriots, Lions and Texans were playoff teams last year. Tennessee could begin 0-4.

Extra points

• The Manning brothers don’t have the easiest schedules this season, at least on paper. Eli’s Giants play the league’s most difficult projected slate. Peyton’s Broncos have the second.

• The Saints, despite the bounty scandal, will enjoy four prime-time games next year. Given their bye in Week 6, interim head coach Joe Vitt’s six-game suspension will be extended into Week 7 against the Buccaneers. Vitt’s first two games (at Denver, vs. Philadelphia) will be nationally televised.

• Barring injury, Tim Tebow will make his first appearance in a Thanksgiving game. His Jets face the Patriots on NBC in the night matchup.

Tagged: Browns, Broncos, Patriots, Saints, Giants, Jets, 49ers, Ravens, Steelers, Texans, Peyton Manning, Tim Tebow

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