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If schedule is any indication, Bears are 'it' team for 2009

This is how much the addition of a star quarterback impacts your team's profile: The Chicago Bears -- who were pretty much a non-descript, non-playoff team after the 2008 season -- will potentially make an NFL-leading five appearances on prime-time television during the 2009 season.

That's the same number as the defending Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers, Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants could make, and the perennially strong Indianapolis Colts will make.

Call it the Jay Cutler factor.

After pulling off the blockbuster deal to acquire Cutler from the Denver Broncos, the Bears will have ample opportunity to show him off to the country. Besides their Sunday night season opener at Green Bay on Sept. 13, the Bears also have a Sunday night game at Atlanta on Oct. 18, a Thursday night game at San Francisco on Nov. 12, a tentative Sunday night game against the Philadelphia Eagles on Nov. 22 (Sunday night games in Weeks 11-17 are subject to change) and a Monday night contest against the Minnesota Vikings on Dec. 28.

Other teams that have catapulted into the spotlight because of what happened during or after the '08 season are the Falcons, Arizona Cardinals, Denver Broncos and Miami Dolphins.

After their surprising run to Super Bowl XLIII, the Cardinals have three night games -- two on Sunday night (Sept. 27 against the Colts and Oct. 25 at the Giants) and a Monday night game at San Francisco on Dec. 14. Arizona also will open at home (Sept. 13 against the 49ers) for just the third time in the past 22 years, clearly proud to share the afterglow of an NFC championship with its long-suffering fans. The Cardinals close the season at University of Phoenix Stadium on Jan. 3 against the Packers.

Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt compares the fact that his team is making multiple national-television appearances with the strong representation it had in February's Pro Bowl.

"We had five guys in this year because it was a sign of respect for what we are doing and, hopefully, that is an indication that people are looking at us as a team maybe of interest," Whisenhunt told reporters in Arizona. "Which hasn't necessarily been the case, on a national level, so that is exciting."

In the aftermath of the Michael Vick disaster and Bobby Petrino's departure as coach before the end of the 2007 season, the Falcons made a shocking surge to prominence as a playoff team in 2008. With dynamic quarterback Matt Ryan, the explosive running of Michael Turner and several other components that the bright leadership of second-year general manager Thomas Dimitroff and coach Mike Smith have put together, the Falcons should again be a contender. They'll host the Bears in a Sunday night game on Oct. 18 and travel to New Orleans for a Monday night contest against the Saints on Nov. 2.

The Broncos lost Cutler, but they certainly have one of the NFL's biggest lightning rods in rookie coach Josh McDaniels, whose inability to establish a workable relationship with the Pro Bowl quarterback was ultimately why he was sent packing to Chicago. The nation will see plenty of the Broncos, who have three prime-time games -- two on Monday night, at San Diego on Oct. 19 and against the Steelers on Nov. 9, and a Thanksgiving night game against the Giants on Nov. 26.

The Dolphins' incredible turnaround from 1-15 in 2007 to 11-5 has resulted in potentially four prime-time appearances: Monday night games against the Colts on Sept. 21 and the Jets on Oct. 12, a Thursday night clash at Carolina on Nov. 19 and a tentative Sunday night game against the New England Patriots on Dec. 6.

Here are some other highlights from the 2009 NFL schedule:

» There will be a game on Christmas Day: Chargers at Tennessee Titans, at 7:30 p.m. ET, on NFL Network.

» For the second consecutive year, the Buffalo Bills will face an AFC East opponent in their regular-season game at Toronto's Rogers Centre when they face the Jets on Thursday, Dec. 3, at 8:20 p.m. ET, on NFL Network. Last year, the Bills faced the Dolphins in Toronto. The addition of WR Terrell Owens clearly has enhanced the Bills' national-TV exposure. Besides the Thursday night game, they also have a Monday night game at New England on Sept. 14, followed by four games kicking off at 4:05 p.m. ET and a fifth at 4:15 p.m. ET in the next six weeks.

» Scheduling conflicts with the Minnesota Twins, with whom they share the Metrodome, are causing the Vikings to play their first two games on the road -- Sept. 13 at Cleveland and Sept. 20 at Detroit.

» Two teams will play three consecutive games on the road: the Giants, in Weeks 2 through 4 (against the Cowboys, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Kansas City Chiefs) and the Seattle Seahawks, in Weeks 10 through 12 (against the Cardinals, Vikings and St. Louis Rams).

» The NFC East and NFC South have the most divisional games scheduled in the final four weeks (four, just as last year), and the AFC East has the fewest (one, three fewer than 2008).

» The Pro Bowl will be held Jan. 31 at Miami's Dolphin Stadium, the week before Super Bowl XLIV is played there.

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