This year’s contest features two 2008 division winners as the Super Bowl XLIII champion Pittsburgh Steelers host the Tennessee Titans.

‚I’m excited about getting things started in 2009,” says Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin. ‚It’s going to be an exciting atmosphere and environment for our fans.”

The Thursday night celebration will get started with ‚NFL Opening Kickoff 2009 presented by EA Sports,” a free concert open to the public in Pittsburgh’s Point State Park that will feature three-time Grammy Award-winning artists Tim Mc Graw and The Black Eyed Peas. There will be simulcast coverage of the 30-minute pregame show which will air from 8-8:30 PM ET on NBC and NFL Network.

Every last player, coach and fan is ready!

The NFL returns this week and it’s time to ‚Own the Moment.” That means the next four months will be packed with the sizzle and suspense that comes only with the National Football League. And then come the playoffs!

Everybody is ready for the unique unpredictability of the NFL. And every team enters the new season with hope.

Last year, almost half the games (46.1 percent) were decided by one score (eight points or less). Fourteen percent were decided in the final two minutes or overtime. And for the 13th consecutive year, at least five teams made the playoffs after missing out the year before.

All the anticipation that started with the NFL Combine last February, heightened by the NFL Draft in April, and peaked with the opening of training camps in July comes to realization this weekend. The NFL – under the season theme of ‚Own the Moment” – is back, bigger and bolder than ever.

As the 2009 NFL season kicks off, it comes packed with changes, quests and questions:

Can the Super Bowl Champ Steelers repeat?
It’s tough. It’s happened only eight times since the first Super Bowl in 1967. However, the Steelers have pulled it off twice (IX, X and XIII, XIV) and are the only franchise in NFL history to capture six Super Bowl titles. ‚We simply are just going to prepare and attack the challenges that lie ahead for us,” says Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin. ‚We have to be a driven group. We have to seek greatness.”

Milestones on the horizon
Records are made to be broken…So what records will be set this season? Some milestones that can be reached this season: On Kickoff Weekend, Minnesota QB Brett Favre will start his 270th consecutive game, believed to be tied for the longest starting streak in NFL history with Jim Marshall (Marshall started 270 games in a row for Minnesota from 1961-79. He played 12 games with Cleveland in 1960, but official records of starters were not kept before 1961. However, the Browns‘ internal records indicate that Marshall did not start the final 11 games of that season)…Indianapolis QB Peyton Manning can become the first quarterback with 10 4,000-yard seasons and needs 10 TD passes to move into third place all-time…San Diego RB La Dainian Tomlinson can extend his NFL-record streak of consecutive 10-TD seasons to begin a career to nine…Buffalo WR Terrell Owens & New England WR Randy Moss, who meet on Monday night of Kickoff Weekend (ESPN America, 1:00 AM CET), need 11 and 15 receiving TDs respectively to join Jerry Rice as the only players with 150 TDs…Atlanta’s Tony Gonzales needs 84 catches to become the first TE in NFL history with 1,000 receptions…and the Green Bay Packers, who celebrated the organization’s 90th birthday in August, need seven wins to join the Chicago Bears, Green Bay’s Kickoff Weekend opponent (Sunday, NBC, 2:30 AM CET) as the only teams with 650 regular-season victories.

New Coaches/Players in new places
There are 11 new head coaches in 2009 – nine ‚rookies” in their first job as the head man – Tom Cable in Oakland (interim for 12 games in 2008), Jim Caldwell in Indianapolis, Todd Haley in Kansas City, Josh Mc Daniels in Denver, Raheem Morris in Tampa Bay, Rex Ryan with the New York Jets, Jim Schwartz in Detroit, Mike Singletary in San Francisco (interim for nine games in 2008) and Steve Spagnuolo in St. Louis – and two ‚veterans” – Eric Mangini in Cleveland and Jim Mora in Seattle. Last year, new head coaches John Harbraugh (Baltimore), Mike Smith (Atlanta) and Tony Sparano (Miami) all led their teams to the playoffs, only the second time in NFL history that three rookie head coaches reached the postseason.

And there are a lot of well-known players with new teams, such as Brett Favre with the Vikings, Jay Cutler and Orlando Pace with the Bears, Albert Haynesworth with the Redskins, Terrell Owens with the Bills, Bart Scott with the Jets, Tony Gonzales with the Falcons, Brian Dawkins with the Broncos, T.J. Houshmandzadeh with the Seahawks, Matt Cassel with the Chiefs, Fred Taylor with the Patriots, Torry Holt with the Jaguars and Jason Taylor back with the Dolphins.

On-The-Field Trends
Scoring soared…rookies impressed…the ‚Wildcat” formation gained popularity…and double-threat running backs continued to give defensive coordinators fits.

Keeping score: Scoring was at a 43-year high last year as games averaged 44.1 points, the most since 1965 (46.1)… The Rookies: Joe Flacco of Baltimore and Matt Ryan of Atlanta became the first rookie QBs in NFL history to start all 16 games and lead their teams to the playoffs. ‚It’s unprecedented what they did,” says Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Steve Young. Meanwhile, running backs Steve Slaton of Houston, Matt Forté of Chicago and Chris Johnson of Tennessee became the first rookie RB trio to each rush for at least 1,200 yards in a season…King of the Jungle: The ‚Wildcat” formation, which involves a direct snap from center to an offensive player – usually a RB or WR – other than the QB, was employed by many teams last season and brought great success. ‚The Wildcat is going to be part of this league,” says Atlanta head coach Mike Smith. ‚I feel it will be more prevalent this year than last year. It’s going to grow and expand”…Double Trouble: Those dual-threat RBs, who can run and catch the football, played a big role in offenses as eight running backs rushed for at least 1,000 yards and caught 40 passes. ‚Any time your best player is capable of playing downs one through three, you want him out there,” says Steelers RB coach Kirby Wilson.

New rules
There are several new rules in 2009, most related to player safety…Teams are no longer permitted to intentionally form a wedge of more than two players on a kickoff return in an attempt to block for a runner…The ‚bunch formation” on kickoffs has been eliminated…It is now an illegal ‚blindside” block if the blocker is moving toward his own endline and approaches the opponent from behind or from the side and the initial force of the contact by the blocker’s helmet, forearm or shoulder is to the head or neck area…It is now an illegal hit on a defenseless receiver if the initial force of the contact by the defender’s helmet, forearm or shoulder is to the head or neck area…If a fumble or backwards pass goes out of bounds, the clock starts on the referee’s ready signal. This is consistent with all other timing rules…Instant replay has been expanded to include plays that include possession after a quarterback pass/fumble when the ruling on the field is an incomplete pass, and loose balls ruled to have hit the sidelines… And the automatic re-kick after an illegal onside kick has been eliminated at all times throughout the game.

The International NFL
For the third consecutive year, the NFL will play a regular-season overseas game in the United Kingdom when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers face the New England Patriots at London’s Wembley Stadium on October 25. Closer to home, the Buffalo Bills will host the New York Jets on December 3 in Toronto (NFLN, 8:20 PM ET), the third of eight games over a five-year span for the Bills at the Rogers Centre.

AFL Celebration
This year, the NFL will celebrate the 50th season of the American Football League (AFL). During one home and one road game, the eight original AFL franchises – Buffalo Bills, Denver Broncos, Kanas City Chiefs (played as the Dallas Texans), New England Patriots (played as the Boston Patriots), New York Jets (played as the Titans of New York), Oakland Raiders, San Diego Chargers (played as the Los Angeles Chargers) and Tennessee Titans (played as the Houston Oilers) – will meet head-to-head in ‚Legacy Games” while wearing an historic uniform. The Monday-night doubleheader on Kickoff Weekend will be part of the celebration as New England hosts Buffalo (ESPN America, 1:00 AM CET) and San Diego visits Oakland (ESPN America, 4:15 AM CET).

Special batches
All NFL teams will wear a pink ribbon decal on their helmets to celebrate Breast cancer awareness month in October…The original eight AFL teams will wear an AFL patch during the 16 ‚AFL Legacy Games.” Each of those eight clubs also has its own patch celebrating the franchise’s 50th season…The Detroit Lions will honor the memories of defensive end Corey Smith and director of security Ricky Sandoval with helmet decals…The Oakland Raiders will honor the memory of linebacker Marquis Cooper with a helmet decal…The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New England Patriots will wear an ‚Internation Series” patch during their October 25 game at London’s Wembley Stadium…The Tennessee Titans will honor the memory of quarterback Steve Mc Nair with a helmet decal…The Buffalo Bills will wear a ‚Toronto Series” patch when they host the New York Jets on December 3 at the Rogers Centre.
THU, SUN & MON, Sept 10, 13-14
(All times local except Live on ESPN America = CET)

Thursday, Sep. 10
Tennessee at Pittsburgh 2:30 am ESPN America
Sunday, Sep. 13
Kansas City at Baltimore 1:00 pm
CBS-HD (Regional)
Philadelphia at Carolina 1:00 pm FOX Regional
Minnesota at Cleveland 7:00 pm ESPN America
Miami at Atlanta 1:00 pm  CBS-HD (Regional)
Detroit at New Orleans 1:00 pm FOX Regional
Jacksonville at Indianapolis 1:00 pm 
CBS-HD (Regional)
Denver at Cincinnati 1:00 pm CBS-HD (Regional)
Dallas at Tampa Bay 1:00 pm FOX Regional
N.Y. Jets at Houston 1:00 pm CBS-HD (Regional)
St. Louis at Seattle 4:15 pm FOX Regional
Washington at N.Y. Giants
10:00 pm ESPN America

San Francisco at Arizona 4:15 pm FOX Regional
Chicago at Green Bay 02:00 am ESPN America
Monday, Sep. 14
Buffalo at New England 1:00 am ESPN America
San Diego at Oakland 04:30 am  ESPN America

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