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."
Intriguing games abound, including Pittsburgh at Baltimore and Atlanta at Chicago in matchups of 2010 playoff teams.
Also, it's Detroit at Tampa Bay, Philadelphia at St. Louis, Indianapolis at Houston, Minnesota at San Diego, the New York Giants at Washington, Carolina at Arizona, Buffalo at Kansas City, Tennessee at Jacksonville, Seattle at San Francisco, and Cincinnati at Cleveland.
On Monday night, it's New England at Miami and Oakland at Denver.
The season kicked off with the two most recent Super Bowl winners meeting. Defending champion Green Bay beat New Orleans 42-34 on Thursday night, keeping the Saints out of the end zone on a final play from the 1-yard line.
Dallas at New York 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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
New England at Miami (Monday night)
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. In 2010, the Chargers missed the playoffs because of those issues.
New York Giants at Washington
One theme runs through every NFL training camp and in preseason games: don't get hurt.
Doesn't look like the Giants adhered to that philosophy very well, losing defensive starters Terrell Thomas and Jonathan Goff for the season. Also gone are backup linebacker Clint Sintim and second-round pick Marvin Austin. Top choice cornerback Prince Amukamara broke his foot early in camp, but should return, and two-time Pro Bowl DE Osi Umemyiora is still rehabilitating his knee after arthroscopic surgery.
Don't expect any sympathy from the Redskins, who have made changes galore throughout the lineup and will start Rex Grossman at quarterback.
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.
Buffalo at Kansas City
The Chiefs took advantage of a middling schedule and the most prolific running game in the league to win the division. Look for Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones to get plenty of carries against the Bills, who hope they shored up their interior with first-round DT Marcell Dareus.
"I think he's exactly what we thought we were going to get," coach Chan Gailey said of Dareus. "He's a big, strong individual that plays with an edge. He can play the run and convert to pass rush when he reads it. I think he's going to be a very good football player for a long time in this league."
Oakland at Denver
Fox's first game in charge comes against Denver's archrival, which not only swept the Broncos last year, but swept the entire AFC West. The Raiders lost their two most reliable players, cornerback Asomugha and tight end Zach Miller, in free agency. Oakland also could struggle to handle a revitalized Denver pass rush, with Elvis Dumervil back from a season lost to injury, and second overall draft pick Von Miller looking like a force at linebacker.
Tennessee at Jacksonville
Two teams that understand the rebuilding mode. The only problem for Jacksonville is this is the third year of that program - and coach Jack Del Rio cut incumbent QB David Garrard this week, giving the job to journeyman Luke McCown.
Chris Johnson finally reported and signed a lucrative new contract with the Titans. Now the NFL's highest-paid running back, he will need to justify his salary while avoiding the nagging injuries that can come after missing the preseason. And after missing offseason workouts, for that matter, during the lockout.
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.