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.
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 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."
"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."
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."
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.