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Several NFL upstarts get prime time looks on national stage

For the first time in awhile, folks in St. Louis, Detroit and Tampa Bay won't have to always watch other teams play in prime time. These long-suffering franchises showed so much progress -- and promise -- last season that they've been put in the pressure cooker of night time TV in 2011.

Some upstarts haven't handled the national attention well. Others have done just okay.

Before they get their shot, though, some of the most popular teams and players get their place on the national stage, starting with the opening week.

Thursday, Sept. 8 -- Saints at Packers: Quarterbacks Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers guide the last two Super Bowl champions in this season-opener, guided by New Orleans coach Sean Payton and Packers coach Mike McCarthy, two of the most ruthless play-callers in the NFL. But keep in mind the defenses quietly are the backbones of these teams.

Monday, Sept. 19 -- Rams at the Giants: In New York, this will get some play as Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo returns to where he made his mark as defensive coordinator, but this game is on Monday night because of Rams quarterback Sam Bradford and Giants quarterback Eli Manning.

Monday, Oct. 3 -- Colts at Buccaneers: The Colts play in prime time for the second straight week, but Tampa Bay is the story here. The Bucs haven't played on Monday night in eight years. Last season, their biggest problem was beating teams of note. They'll get a chance here against one of the league's best. The Bucs better hope cornerback Aqib Talib is on the field.

Monday, Oct. 10 -- Bears at Lions: Detroit hasn't played on Monday night since 2001 -- with good reason. If Matthew Stafford is still on the field at this point, things could be very interesting. It looks like the Lions are headed in the right direction. The early tests for the Bears continue in the Motor City.

Sunday, Nov. 6 -- Ravens at Steelers: Another potential Sunday night doozie. This midseason slugfest likely won't have a significant impact on how these elite teams finish, but it always factors into the psychological gamesmanship between the AFC North rivals.

Sunday Nov. 13 -- Patriots at Jets: The stakes could be fairly high as these AFC East rivals begin jockeying for playoff positioning. Maybe wide receiver Randy Moss is lining up for the Jets against his former team.

Thursday Nov. 24 -- 49ers at Ravens:  The "Bro Bowl" between San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh and Ravens coach John Harbaugh could be tough for the visitors, who have to travel cross country on a short week. The 49ers likely will be in the NFC West playoff hunt, though, and will have some motivation.

Sunday, Dec. 4 -- Colts at Patriots: This marks the latest in the season these perennial playoff teams have met during the regular season in years. They rarely disappoint in drama, but with postseason seeding likely in play, things could be even more exciting this time around.

Monday, Dec. 12 -- Rams at Seattle: The Seahawks ended the Rams' season in Seattle in Week 17 last year. Odds are that one, if not both, of these teams could be vying for the division championship again on Monday night.

Thursday, Dec. 22 -- Texans at Colts: Will Houston once again have faded out of the playoff picture? If not, getting past the Colts in Indy could prove crucial. This might end up being the biggest game in the history of the franchise.

Sunday, Dec. 25 -- Bears at Packers: Playing at Lambeau Field on Christmas night against the Bears? Talk about a gift. Could these teams be vying for division supremacy again?

Monday, Dec. 26 -- Falcons at Saints: One of the most underrated experiences in the NFL is being with Who Dat Nation on a Monday night. Throw in that New Orleans is playing its longstanding rival and that they could both need a win to get into the playoffs … and it's NFL Mardi Gras.

Follow Steve Wyche on Twitter @wyche89

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