NFL Schedule: 2011 Primer

Official NFL Release

The NFL announced yesterday its 17-week, 256-game regular-season schedule for 2011, which kicks off on Thursday night, September 8 in Green Bay and concludes on Sunday, January 1 with 16 division games.

The season begins with the NFL's annual Thursday primetime kickoff game.  The opener on September 8 on NBC (8:30 PM ET) will feature the past two Super Bowl winners when the defending-champion Green Bay Packers welcome the Super Bowl XLIV- champion New Orleans Saints to Lambeau Field.  In a format introduced in 2004, the Super Bowl champion annually hosts the NFL Thursday night season kickoff. 

The NFL will commemorate the 10th anniversary of the September 11th attacks on Sunday, September 11, the first Sunday of the regular season.  On that day, the New York Giants will travel to Washington to face the Redskins (4:15 PM ET, FOX) followed by the New York Jets hosting the Dallas Cowboys (8:20 PM ET, NBC). 

The Cowboys-Jets contest is the second of NBC's two primetime games on Kickoff Weekend (Thursday and Sunday nights).  The network will televise a total of 18 primetime regular-season games (the opening Thursday night kickoff and 17 Sunday Night Football games).

Among the highlights of Kickoff Weekend are eight division games, including a pair on Monday night, September 12.  ESPN's Monday Night Football doubleheader will feature the AFC East's New England Patriots at the Miami Dolphins (7:00 PM ET) followed by the AFC West's Oakland Raiders visiting the Denver Broncos (10:15 PM ET). 

For the remainder of the season, ESPN will televise one game each Monday night for the next 15 weeks.  There will be no Monday night game on the final regular-season weekend (Week 17), enhancing the ability to schedule the opening weekend of the NFL playoffs.

The regular season will conclude with Week 17 on Sunday, January 1.  For the second consecutive year, all 16 games scheduled for Week 17 are division contests.  In the final three weeks, there will be a total of 29 division matchups (three in Week 15, 10 in Week 16) - up from 28 division games in the final three weeks of 2010 and 15 in 2009 - to enhance the potential for more games at the end of the season with playoff ramifications.   

The 2011 season concludes on Sunday, February 5 when the NFL will crown a champion at Super Bowl XLVI at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis (NBC).

As always, the NFL has the holidays covered.  Thanksgiving will feature an NFL tripleheader.  The early game will send the Packers to Detroit to face their long-time rivals, the Lions (12:30 PM ET, FOX).  The late afternoon game will feature the Dolphins at the Cowboys (4:15 PM ET, CBS).  The holiday feast concludes with an evening of firsts. It's a family affair when the San Francisco 49ers, led by new head coach JIM HARBAUGH, meet the Baltimore Ravens (8:20 PM ET, NFL NETWORK) and head coach JOHN HARBAUGH.  The game - the first NFL Thanksgiving game in Baltimore - is the first between sibling head coaches in NFL history.

On Christmas night, it's a renewal of one of the greatest rivalries in football history when the Chicago Bears travel to Green Bay to face the Packers (8:20 PM ET, NBC).  Bears-Packers is the only game scheduled for December 25.  There are 13 Week 16 games set for Saturday, December 24, including the matchup between the Giants and Jets (1:00 PM ET, FOX).

The NFL will again extend beyond the borders of the United States this year.  On October 23 at London's historic Wembley Stadium, the league will resume its international series of regular-season games when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers host the Chicago Bears (1:00 PM ET, FOX).  Then on Sunday, October 30, the Buffalo Bills will venture north to Canada for the fourth consecutive season when they host the Washington Redskins in Toronto at the Rogers Centre (4:05 PM ET, FOX).

NFL Network will kick off an eight-game schedule on Thursday, November 10 when the San Diego Chargers host the Raiders.  The network will televise seven games on Thursday night and a Saturday night game on December 17 between the Cowboys and Buccaneers in Tampa Bay.  All NFL Network games will start at 8:20 PM ET.

The season again will utilize "flexible scheduling" in Weeks 10-15 and 17.  In Weeks 10-15, the schedule lists the games tentatively set for Sunday Night Football on NBC.  Only Sunday afternoon games are eligible to be moved to Sunday night, in which case the tentatively scheduled Sunday night game would be moved to an afternoon start time.  Flexible scheduling will not be applied to games airing on Thursday, Saturday or Monday nights.  A flexible scheduling move would be announced at least 12 days before the game.  For Week 17, the change will be announced no later than six days before the game.  The schedule does not list a Sunday night game in Week 17, but an afternoon game with playoff implications will be moved to that time slot to conclude the season.  The Christmas night game between the Bears and Packers in Week 16 will not be flexed.  Flexible scheduling will ensure quality matchups in all Sunday time slots in those weeks and give "surprise" teams a chance to play their way into primetime.

The NFL's 32 teams will each play 16 games over 17 weeks.  Byes will begin in Week 5 and end in Week 11.

The 2011 playoffs will include four division winners and two wild cards from each conference.  The playoffs begin with Wild Card Weekend on Saturday and Sunday, January 7-8.  The two division winners with the best records in each conference will earn first-round byes. 

Wild Card Weekend winners join the top two division champions in each conference in the Divisional Playoffs on Saturday and Sunday, January 14-15.  The AFC and NFC Championship Games will be played on Sunday, January 22.  The winners meet two weeks later on Sunday, February 5 in Indianapolis in Super Bowl XLVI.

The 2012 Pro Bowl will be played on Sunday, January 29 at Aloha Stadium in Hawaii.

FOX will carry NFC games, the NFC playoffs and the NFC Championship Game.  CBS will present the AFC, the AFC playoffs and the AFC Championship Game.  The 64 AFC-NFC interconference games (excluding primetime) are carried by CBS when the AFC team is the visitor and by FOX when the NFC team is on the road.  All postseason games are televised nationally.  In addition to its Sunday night package, NBC will televise a Wild Card playoff doubleheader on Saturday, January 7, the Pro Bowl and Super Bowl XLVI. 

By NFL policy, ESPN and NFL Network games also will be carried on free, over-the-air television in the city of the visiting team and in the city where the game is played if it is sold out 72 hours in advance of kickoff. 

The NFL is the only sports league that carries all regular-season and postseason games on free, over-the-air television.

Westwood One Radio will broadcast all NFL primetime games, the three Thanksgiving Day games and the entire NFL playoffs.

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