Peyton’s Broncos to Open 2012 NFL Season Against Steelers

The September 9 game, announced by the NFL on Tuesday along with the full 2012 schedule, will be the first in 20 months for the four-time Most Valuable Player, who was cut by the Indianapolis Colts in March after missing the 2011 campaign recovering from neck surgery.

“The opening game in Denver obviously will be an interesting way to start the season,” Steelers’ President Art Rooney said in a statement.

“There will be a lot of attention paid to Peyton Manning’s first game with the Denver Broncos, so it’ll be exciting to start out that way.”

Plenty of attention on the first Sunday of the season will also be paid to the New Orleans Saints when the scandal-ravaged team hosts the Washington Redskins, who are expected to draft Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Robert Griffin III next week.

Saints coach Sean Payton is suspended the entire season for his part in a scheme that paid bonuses to players for knocking opponents out of games, several players could still be banned and quarterback Drew Brees is dealing with a contract dispute.

Tim Tebow, who was released by the Broncos to make way for Manning, could make his Big Apple debut when the New York Jets host the Buffalo Bills in Week One.

Opening week will also feature a Monday Night double-header with the Cincinnati Bengals visiting the Baltimore Ravens and the Oakland Raiders hosting the San Diego Chargers.

“From our team’s standpoint and our fans’ standpoint, I don’t know that you could put together a more exciting schedule when you look at the number of great teams we play and when we play them,” Chargers head coach Norv Turner said in a statement.

“We start our offseason program on Monday and I think it really gives our guys something to look forward to. It should give our guys great motivation.”

The Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears will add another chapter to their long-standing rivalry when they open Week Two with a Thursday meeting at Lambeau Field, while defensive end Mario Williams, who left the Houston Texans to join the Buffalo Bills in the biggest off-season signing after Manning, makes his home debut against the Kansas City Chiefs.

Williams, the NFL’s highest-paid defensive player, will face his former team when the Bills visit the Texans on November 1 for a Week Nine game.

The U.S. Thanksgiving Day lineup will see familiar names suiting up November 22 as Tom Brady and the New England Patriots visit the rival New York Jets, Houston heads to the Motor City to face the Detroit Lions and the Dallas Cowboys host Washington.

Two games will be played outside the United States as the St. Louis Rams and Patriots play at London’s Wembley Stadium on October 28 while the Buffalo Bills make their annual visit to Toronto for a December 16 game against the Seattle Seahawks.

The NFL had already announced that the regular season will kick off September 5 with the champion New York Giants hosting the division rival Dallas Cowboys.

(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto; Editing by Frank Pingue)

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Buffalo Abuzz as Upstart Bills Look Like Contenders

Something different.

The buses and cars that inched their way across the border were not packed with the usual cross-border shoppers looking for bargains but with flag-waving, horn-honking Buffalo Bills fans looking for a win.

Later, in the dark of night, the flood would reverse, with giddy Bills fans returning home declaring an unlikely victory over Tom Brady and New England Patriots to customs officials.

A team as downtrodden as the Rust Belt economy a year ago, the Bills are the surprise package of a young National Football League season (NFL) and their 3-0 record is matched only by the Detroit Lions and champion Green Bay Packers.

While the Lions, who became the first NFL team to go winless through a 16-game season in 2008, may have fallen on harder times than the Bills, their recovery was as clearly mapped out as the auto industry bailout.

A number one pick on quarterback Matthew Stafford, a number two selection on game-changing defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh and a four-game win streak to end last season all signaled better times were ahead in the Motor City.

But even though nobody saw the Bills coming, the team is alone in first place in a division that includes the Patriots, New York Jets and Miami Dolphins.

The Bills, started last season a woeful 0-8 and finished an uninspiring 4-12, have only once won more games than have lost since 1999, when Buffalo made its last playoff appearance.

“We know what it feels like to be on the losing end,” Bills center Eric Wood told reporters. “We were kind of the loveable losers last year.

“Everyone rooted for us because we tried so hard but that’s not what it’s about in this business and that’s not what keeps you around.”

Winning games and being competitive is what keeps the turnstiles humming and seats filled.

Over the last decade as the Bills record and the Buffalo economy slowly eroded so did fan support.

Facing a and declining support at home, the Bills ownership put together their own stimulus package by selling five regular season games and three preseason contests to their northern neighbors in Toronto for $78 million.

The shockwaves of the Bills’ win over the Patriots has been felt in Toronto, which has seen a bump in interest for the October 30 clash with the Washington Redskins, but it is in Buffalo where the fast start has shaken things up by providing a boost to a city that has had little to cheer about.

“I didn’t know really, until after the game yesterday, the significance of that game and beating that team (the Patriots) for our fans, for the city,” said Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. “As players, it meant a lot to us but you could tell even more to our fans.”

A seventh round draft pick of the St. Louis Rams in 2005, Fitzpatrick, a Harvard graduate, came to Buffalo via Cincinnati and eventually got the Bills starting assignment by default.

While Harvard has produced a dazzling list of Pulitzer and winners, scholars, Supreme Court Justices and U.S. Presidents, there are no Super Bowl winning quarterbacks among the school’s alumni.

But Fitzpatrick, whose nine touchdown passes are second only to Brady’s 11, could change that as he is at the helm of the NFL’s highest-scoring offence through three weeks.

Buffalo’s other big offensive weapons have emerged from equally anonymous backgrounds.

Stevie Johnson, Buffalo’s seventh round selection in 2008, has developed into a big play wide receiver while undrafted running back Fred Jackson, whose path to Buffalo included stops in the Arena Football League and NFL Europe, is fourth in the league with 303 rushing yards.

Buffalo’s quick start has also been helped by a determined and opportunistic defense has an NFL-high six interceptions.

Like the city they call home, the Bills are proving to be resilient and masters of the comeback.

After routing the Kansas City Chiefs in their season opener, Buffalo needed stirring comebacks against Oakland and New England to become the first NFL team to win consecutive games by rallying from 18-point deficits.

“This is a league about what have you done lately and you can’t rest on your laurels, you’ve got to go to work,” said Bills coach Chan Gailey.

“The objective is to win the game, whatever you have to do to win the game but we’d like to not have to set records for coming back.”

(Editing by Frank Pingue)

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