The countdown to the first week of the NFL regular season is already underway following the much-anticipated release of the schedule. There are multiple marquee matchups slated for the opening week, which should ensure that the season gets off to a strong start.
After embarking on a tremendous playoff run that ended with a victory in the Super Bowl, the Baltimore Ravens will help kick off the season by taking on Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos. It's a playoff rematch between two teams in the contender category again in 2013.
Let's take a closer look at that game and the other ones that will likely attract a lot of attention leading up to Week 1, which is less than five months away. For a complete look at the 17-week schedule, visit the league's official site.
Baltimore Ravens at Denver Broncos (Thursday, Sept. 5 at 8:30 p.m.)
The Broncos were less than a minute away from eliminating the Ravens before Joe Flacco found Jacoby Jones for a miracle touchdown pass. It's amazing how one play can change the entire course of the season as it did for Baltimore.
A victory in the opener wouldn't completely wash away the disappointment from that loss for Denver, but it would be a great start to the new season. It will also mark Manning's first regular-season game working with new target Wes Welker.
The Ravens have undergone some major changes on defense following the retirement of Ray Lewis and the departure of Ed Reed. The revamped unit will receive a major test right out of the gate with the Broncos featuring plenty of firepower.
Atlanta Falcons at New Orleans Saints (Sunday, Sept. 8 at 1 p.m.)
While Atlanta was tied for the best record in the league last season with Denver, it suffered another playoff setback in a loss to the San Francisco 49ers. The Falcons have been on the brink of breaking through for several years now but haven't been able to get over the hump.
Their latest championship quest will begin with a game against the division rival Saints. New Orleans will be hoping to bounce back from a disappointing season that featured some truly dreadful defensive play and a 7-9 record.
Beating the Falcons would make a major statement right out of the gate. Given the immense amount of talent on both of these offenses, there should be no shortage of points and plenty of lead changes. That's the type of excitement that the league loves to see in Week 1.
New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys (Sunday, Sept. 8 at 8:30 p.m.)
The NFC East is always a fight to the finish, so even though this game is happening in Week 1, it wouldn't be a surprise if it ends up being a key factor when the division gets decided 16 weeks later. That small margin for error has helped fuel the Giants-Cowboys rivalry.
Even though they missed the playoffs last season, the Giants remain one of the league's most well-rounded teams. The biggest key will be getting the vaunted pass rush back in top gear. After ranking third in sacks in 2011, they dropped to 22nd in 2012.
The Cowboys also possess a lot of talent on both sides of the ball but have struggled to live up to the hype in recent seasons. One problem has been losing a lot of battles in the trenches along both lines, something that they still have time to address in the draft, which is the next stop on the NFL carousel.
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