You will get Manning-Brady again; it will just be with one different uniform. November 21, 2010 was the last time you saw the NFL's former greatest rivalry -- the New England Patriots and Indianapolis Colts, or more specifically, Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning. On October 7 at Gillette Stadium, the Denver Broncos (now, of course, led by Peyton Manning), will take on the Patriots. The Broncos open their season against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the team whose postseason they ended with an overtime touchdown pass from Tim Tebow to Demaryius Thomas.
Monday Night Football loves Da Bears. The team with the most Monday Night Football games didn't even go to the playoffs last year; perhaps the ghost of George Halas is messing with the Ouija board. The Chicago Bears have three Monday Night Football jags: At the Dallas Cowboys on October 1, at home against the Detroit Lions on October 22, and at the San Francisco 49ers on November 19. Last season's Super Bowl entrants -- the New York Giants and New England Patriots -- each have one MNF appearance, and sight teams (49ers, Broncos, San Diego Chargers, Philadelphia Eagles, Atlanta Falcons, New York Jets, Detroit Lions, and Houston Texans) each have two.
The Packers and Texans irked the schedule gods. Only two teams have three straight road games -- the Green Bay Packers and Houston Texans. The Packers take their jaunt starting at Indianapolis, then Houston, then St. Louis from October 7 through October 21. The Texans start at Detroit on Thanksgiving Day; then they head to Tennessee on December 2, and end up at Foxboro on Monday Night Football against the New England Patriots on December 10.
On the other hand, the Texans may have forgotten what going on the road is like by that point -- they have three straight home games from October 14 through November 4 (Packers, Ravens, Bills), with a bye to boot. The Packers don't get any three-game home swings, but they have some fairly advantageous swings -- they have the Jaguars on October 28 and Cardinals on November 4 before their bye, and four of their last six games at home -- they travel only to meet division rivals Detroit and Minnesota.
The best announcing crew in the business has an expanded schedule. No, the NFL Network will not react to its expanded schedule by bringing back Matt Millen and Joe Theismann -- they're sticking with Brad Nessler and Mike Mayock in the booth, and Alex Flanagan on the sideline. That's great news for a populace tired of hearing Phil Simms say ... well, anything. Nessler is the consummate pro, and Mayock can break down a play before it happens. This year, they're rewarded for their 2011 excellence with a few barn-burners.
The network's first Thursday game features the Bears and Packers on September 13. Then, the Super Bowl champion New York Giants at Cam Newton's Carolina Panthers on September 20. The aforementioned Seahawks-49ers game hits on October 18, and Peyton Manning's first trip to Oakland as a Broncos quarterback happens on December 6. It really doesn't matter, though -- I'd rather hear Nessler and Mayock call a Jaguars-Colts game (as they'll do on November 8) than Joe Buck call the Ice Bowl or the Immaculate Reception.