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2013 NFL schedule: Ravens, 49ers loaded with marquee games

The SportsXchange

The Baltimore Ravens will open the defense of their Super Bowl title on the road at the Denver Broncos on Thursday, Sept. 5 in a rematch of last season's classic playoff game.

That announcement was made official with the release of the NFL's 256-game regular-season schedule for 2013 on Thursday.

Other premier matchups include:

Week 1: The Green Bay Packers play at San Francisco 49ers in a rematch of last season's playoff game, while the New Orleans Saints open at home at the Atlanta Falcons in head coach Sean Payton's return. The traditional Monday night doubleheader will feature the Philadelphia Eagles at the Washington Redskins and the Houston Texans at the Dallas Cowboys.

Week 2: The New York Jets travel to the New England Patriots to kick off their annual rivalry.

Week 3: Andy Reid makes his return to Lincoln Financial Field when the Kansas City Chiefs travel to Philadelphia on Sunday Night Football.

Week 7: Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning makes his return to Indianapolis to face the Colts and successor Andrew Luck on Sunday Night Football.

"It's going to be fun. It's going to be a great game," said Colts general manager Ryan Grigson. "(Manning is) a great player. Andrew is a great player. Two great organizations.

"Just like any game though, we'll be trying to win, he'll be trying to win, and at the end of the day, whoever has the most points goes home the winner. That's the beauty of our staff, our organization, is just a simplistic way we look at everyone."

Week 12: Denver travels to face the Patriots in wide receiver Wes Welker's return to Gillette Stadium.

Week 16: The Ravens play host to the Patriots on Sunday night football.

The Ravens were forced to open the season on the road due to a scheduling conflict with the Baltimore Ravens. The teams were unable to work out an agreement to move the start times of both games to enable both teams to play at home on Sept. 5.

The Ravens' loss became the Broncos' gain, as they get an opportunity out of the gate to avenge last season's heartbreaking lost to the Ravens in the AFC Divisional Playoffs.

"This prestigious game has become one of the league's most celebrated traditions, and we are thrilled to play in it for the first time in our history," Broncos owner Pat Bowlen said of the team hosting the NFL's Kickoff Game. "Opening the NFL season on a national stage against our playoff opponent from the previous year, the Super Bowl-champion Baltimore Ravens, will be a challenge for our team and very exciting for our fans."

The Ravens do have a well-place bye in Week 8 - right after their first-meeting of the season with the division-rival Steelers at Pittsburgh. The rematch will be in Baltimore on Pittsburgh on Thanksgiving. The Ravens also have a Monday night road game at the Detroit Lions.

The 49ers follow their tough season opener with a trip to the Seattle Seahawks on "Sunday Night Football" in Week 2. San Francisco also has a Thursday night game at the St. Louis Rams in Week 4, a Sunday night home game against the Houston Texans the following week and a pair of Monday Night Football games - at Washington in Week 12 and at home against Atlanta on Week 16, two days before Christmas.

The Colts' rise from a one-win team in 2011 to a playoff contender in the first season under Luck's direction brought four primetime games in 2013. A Monday night game at the San Diego Chargers in Week 6 is followed by Manning's visit. After a bye week, the Colts travel to the Texans for a Sunday night game. They also play at the Tennessee Titans on Thursday night in Week 11 - giving Indianapolis four primetime dates in five games.

"How long am I going to have to sit on a plane? That's pretty much the first thing I think about it," Grigson joked about what he looked for first when the schedule is announced.

The Colts' road schedule features trips to San Francisco, San Diego and Arizona.

The Seahawks are another primetime darling. Seattle plays host to the 49ers on Sunday night in Week 2, travels to the Arizona Cardinals on Thursday night in Week 7 followed by a Monday night tilt with the Rams and also play host to the Saints in Week 13 following their bye.

The Packers have an early Week 4 bye week, but then play four of six games at home, including the division-rival Lions in Week 5 and the Bears on Monday night in Week 9, which follows a difficult Sunday night game at the Minnesota Vikings in Week 8. Green Bay also travels to the New York Giants on Sunday night in Week 11 and plays host to the Falcons on Sunday night in Week 14.

"We've known since the end of the season who we're playing, and now we've found out where we're playing them," said Packers head coach Mike McCarthy. "Frankly, I've never looked past the first four weeks, and that will be the same as far as how we prepare our team."

The Giants missed the playoffs last season, but that didn't take the luster off their ability to draw television audiences. They were awarded five primetime games, and only one of the eight 2012 playoff teams they will face next season will come on the road.

The Giants open the season at the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday night, Sept. 8. Quarterback Eli Manning will face brother Peyton for the third time, at home the following week.

"When I looked at the schedule the first word that came to mind is 'challenge,'" Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. "The schedule presents us with many challenges, because of the outstanding teams we play and the way it is set up. Anytime you're in the NFC East and you're playing the AFC West and the NFC North, you're going to be faced with a challenging and competitive schedule."

Coughlin did add he was pleased with the placement of the team's Week 9 bye.

"The bye is at the right time for us," Coughlin said. "That's something I think we can look at, plan toward, play hard for. The break has been a nice spot for us to regroup."

The Eagles and the Tennessee Titans are the only teams with three-game road trips. Philadelphia is on the road Weeks 4-6 at Denver, the Giants and Tampa Bay, while the Titans are at Oakland, Indianapolis and Denver Weeks 12-14.

There will be two games played at Wembley Stadium in London: the Steelers and Vikings in Week 4 and the 49ers and Jaguars in Week 8.

Other notes about the 2013 schedule:

--Week 17 will feature all divisional matchups for the fourth consecutive season.

--The traditional Thanksgiving tripleheader will feature the Packers at Detroit, the Raiders at the Cowboys and the Steelers at the Ravens.

--The NFL Network will broadcast Thursday night games from Weeks 2-15, excluding Week 13 on Thanksgiving night.

--Flexible scheduling is again in effect for Weeks 11-17. In Weeks 11-16, the games listed on Sunday night are tentatively set and can be swapped with a Sunday afternoon game with at least 12 days notice before the game. For Week 17, the Sunday night game will be announced no later than six days before Dec. 29.
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