Super Bowl champion Packers, Saints to kick off 2011 season

The NFL announced Tuesday that it will ring in the 2011 season with a meeting between the last two Super Bowl champions in the Sept. 8 Kickoff game.

The Green Bay Packers, who defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLV, will play host to the New Orleans Saints, who topped the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLIV, at 8:30 p.m. ET at Lambeau Field in a nationally televised Thursday game on NBC.

The game pits two of the league's top-five passing offenses from the 2010 season. The third-ranked Saints and Drew Brees averaged 277.6 yards per game through the air, and the No. 5 Packers averaged 257.8 behind Aaron Rodgers.

It's the marquee matchup on a schedule that also features both New York teams and the Washington Redskins in action on the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in Manhattan and the Pentagon in Arlington, Va., outside Washington, D.C.

The New York Giants will visit the Washington Redskins, and the New York Jets will play host to the Dallas Cowboys in the Sept. 11 games.

The NFL and its locked-out players are in mediation over a new labor agreement, and there is a risk the season might not begin on time -- if at all -- but Commissioner Roger Goodell said Tuesday that the league has "every intention of playing a full schedule."

"We're doing all we can to prepare for the 2011 season," Goodell said in Minneapolis, where he attended the third day of court-ordered mediation before U.S. Magistrate Judge Arthur Boylan. "We're announcing the schedule as usual, around this time of year, because we know that is an important point where fans start looking forward to the season, and I think there's every reason for them to do that. ... We've set the schedule up to play the full 16-game schedule, and that's certainly our intention, that's how we put the schedule together, and we certainly are working towards that."

The first Sunday features several high-profile games, including Indianapolis at Houston and Atlanta at Chicago. But much of the national focus will be on Washington and New York, the cities most affected by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

"That stadium is going to be full of emotion, not only the people from the area, but in the entire country," said Jets coach Rex Ryan, who will match wits with his twin brother, Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. "The fact that it's the 10th anniversary of 9/11, that's where the focus should be, not me playing against my brother."

The Redskins and Giants kick off at 4:15 p.m. ET, with the Jets and Cowboys at 8:20 p.m. ET.

"For nearly 10 years, we have felt an obligation to use our platform to make sure none of us ever forget the tragedy and heartbreak and courage and heroism of Sept. 11," Giants spokesman Pat Hanlon said. "That responsibility becomes even greater."

The Pittsburgh Steelers also will play on Sept. 11, visiting the Baltimore Ravens. Pittsburgh is just 80 miles from the site near Shanksville, Pa., where Flight 93 crashed on Sept. 11, 2001.

New England travels to Miami, and Oakland visits Denver on the opening Monday night.

The final Sunday of the regular season falls on New Year's Day, when all 16 scheduled games are between division rivals, enhancing the potential for playoff ramifications.

The regular season covers 17 weeks, with the opening round of the playoffs scheduled for Jan. 7-8, 2012, and the Super Bowl on Feb. 5, 2012, in Indianapolis.

The NFL has expressed a desire to stretch the season to 18 games, one of the sticking points in the contentious fight between owners and players over a new labor agreement.

In its statement announcing next season's schedule, the NFL didn't provide contingencies should negotiations on a new collective bargaining agreement stretch into the fall.

"I'm confident we will have (a) season," Rex Ryan said Tuesday night. "We're going to be ready to play. Whenever they say, 'OK, we're going back to work,' we'll be ready to play."

Among other schedule highlights, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will face the Chicago Bears at Wembley Stadium on Oct. 23, one of two games outside the United States and the fifth consecutive year the NFL has played a regular-season game in suburban London.

The Bucs lost to the New England Patriots at Wembley in 2009; the Bears will be marking the 25th anniversary of their preseason game against the Cowboys in England.

The Buffalo Bills will play a game in Canada for the fourth consecutive season, playing host to the Redskins on Oct. 30 at Rogers Centre in Toronto. The Bills have a deal with Rogers Communications through 2012 to play five regular-season games in Canada's largest city.

The Thanksgiving Day games are Packers at Detroit, Miami at Dallas and San Francisco at Baltimore, with new 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh facing Ravens coach John Harbaugh in the first meeting between sibling head coaches in NFL history.

The Packers play the Bears in the only Christmas Day game. There are 13 games scheduled for Dec. 24, including the Giants against the Jets.

The NFL will again use "flexible scheduling" for Weeks 10 through 15 and the final week of the regular season, allowing the league to move the start times for select games.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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