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NFL to tribute 9/11



From the Meadowlands to Arrowhead Stadium to Candlestick Park, the NFL on Sunday will remember the victims and heroes of the terrorist attacks of 10 years ago. Then it will fully open a season that was in doubt for 4½ months during the lockout.

Coaches and players are both eager and nervous about getting started. Perhaps no one expressed those feelings better than Jets coach Rex Ryan, whose team hosts the Cowboys on Sunday night just a few miles from ground zero.

"The significance of it, I think it's stronger than any game I've ever felt," Ryan said. "I feel more pressure on this game for whatever reason than any game I've ever coached, it seems like."

Before each of the 13 games Sunday, tributes will be synchronized on network telecasts and shown on videoboards in each stadium hosting games. Coaches, players and local first responders will hold field-length American flags for the playing of the national anthem.

Players, coaches and sideline personnel will wear an NFL 9/11 ribbon as a patch or pin on their uniforms and sideline apparel. All stadiums hosting games Sunday will feature the ribbon logo on the field.

This will be a season opening unlike any other.

"Every week, it's my responsibility to make sure our team is prepared," Ryan said. "But I don't know, it just feels different to me."


Atlanta at Chicago

Many of the pieces for a championship run are in place for the Falcons, who gambled in the draft that receiver Julio Jones was the game-breaking missing element on offense. Defensively, they brought in end Ray Edwards to complement sackmaster John Abraham.

For their opener, they get a Bears team many felt won the NFC North with mirrors. If Chicago can protect Jay Cutler after yielding 56 sacks a year ago — and with an offensive line minus its leader, center Olin Kreutz, now in New Orleans — it has a chance to surprise again.


Pittsburgh at Baltimore

Not a bad way to start the season: the NFL's most intense, physical rivals facing off.

Baltimore blew a 21-7 lead at Pittsburgh in last January's playoffs, a 31-24 loss. Don't expect to see that many points this time around, even though both sides have bolstered their offenses — receiver Lee Evans joining the Ravens in a trade with Buffalo; Pittsburgh's young wideouts Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders developing quickly.

Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco wants to make it clear this is not him versus Ben Roethlisberger to determine who gets a big jump in the AFC North.

"We have to go out there and beat them as a team," Flacco said. "I don't ever want to go out into a game and feel like I have something to prove personally."


Dallas at NY Jets

The Cowboys turned around their losing ways at the same stadium last season, beating the Giants in Jason Garrett's first game as interim coach. This is his first outing as full-time coach, after going 5-3 as the replacement for Wade Phillips.

Garrett hired Rex Ryan's twin brother, Rob, to run his defense. Their father, famed coach Buddy Ryan, will be at the game despite battling cancer.


Detroit at Tampa Bay

Two teams on the move, although the Bucs made their big surge last season, going from 3-13 to 10-6. They have a strong chance of winning 10 again if quarterback Josh Freeman, running back LeGarrette Blount and wide receiver Mike Williams keep improving. The draft yielded key help on the defensive line and the Bucs already had a standout there in Gerald McCoy.

McCoy is not Ndamukong Suh, however. Suh, taken second overall in the 2010 draft, one spot ahead of McCoy, was the league's top defensive rookie. He just might be the NFL's top defensive player overall this season.

Keeping QB Matthew Stafford and RB Jahvid Best healthy will be critical to Detroit contending.


Philadelphia at St. Louis


Already anointed as the winners of free agency with the additions of Nnamdi Asomugha, Cullen Jenkins, Ronnie Brown, and Vince Young to back up QB Michael Vick, and with a trade that netted solid cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, the Eagles will face tremendous pressure every week.

This week, Philly will try to put pressure on 2010 Offensive Rookie of the Year Sam Bradford. St. Louis' receiving corps is mediocre, which means Bradford must raise the wideouts' level of play while also relying on workhorse running back Steven Jackson.


New England at Miami

The NFL's best team in the 2010 regular season must prove it can stop the run and, despite a solid offensive line, protect Tom Brady. The Jets exposed some flaws in New England's protection last January, and other teams will try to emulate New York's strategies.

Miami might not have the players to do it, although its cornerbacks, Vontae Davis and Sean Smith, are comers. Where the Dolphins could be weakest is on their offensive line, aside from all-star tackle Jake Long.


Minnesota at San Diego

Two teams that specialized in drama last year. The Vikings no longer have the Favre Factor, with Donovan McNabb now the veteran behind center for a new head coach, Leslie Frazier. As always, the Vikings will want to get Adrian Peterson going quickly; the last time these teams met in 2007, Peterson set the NFL rushing record with 296 yards.

San Diego hopes it has cleaned up one of the worst special teams units in football and can avoid the slow starts that have plagued it in recent years.

Carolina at Arizona

Top overall draft pick Cam Newton makes his first real start, and Kevin Kolb takes over as quarterback in Arizona. Both teams come off distressing 2010 seasons, with Ron Rivera replacing John Fox as Panthers coach and relying on veterans such as DeAngelo Williams, Steve Smith, Jon Beason and Jordan Gross to carry the team to respectability while Newton learns.

Kolb should put a stop to the revolving door that swung in Arizona after Kurt Warner retired.


Indianapolis at Houston


Peyton Manning has done dozens of things no one else has managed in the NFL, including winning four MVP awards. Now he does something else unprecedented for his career — sitting out a game.

His slow recovery from neck surgery means Manning's 227-game starting string, including playoffs, is over. Kerry Collins, signed out of retirement a few weeks ago, steps in.

"Obviously, we're not used to not having him (Manning) out there," defensive end Dwight Freeney said. "He's a great player. There are 52 other guys on the team, and one guy does not win the game."

One guy Indy must stop is Arian Foster. If he is fully recovered from his hamstring injury, he could challenge the 231 yards he gained in last season's opening win over the Colts. That performance catapulted Foster toward the league rushing title.


Seattle at San Francisco

Jim Harbaugh and Pete Carroll renew a coaching rivalry that wasn't exactly friendly when they were in the Pac-10. Harbaugh moved up from Stanford to take over a 49ers team that hasn't made the playoffs or had a winning record since 2002. Carroll's first season in the Pacific Northwest gave the Seahawks an NFC West title, albeit at 7-9 — the first losing record for a division champion. Then they upset New Orleans in the playoffs.

But Carroll has been just as busy retooling the roster in Year 2 as he was in his debut season, with leaders Matt Hasselbeck and Lofa Tatupu gone.


Cincinnati at Cleveland

Forget the Battle of Ohio. This is a mild skirmish between two teams that should finish miles behind the Steelers and Ravens in the AFC North. Cleveland does seem to be on the rise, though, while some believe the Bengals will win the Andrew Luck derby this year.