Slate includes two Christmas Day games

NEW YORK -- Peyton Manning knew he would be on
stage facing the defending Super Bowl champion New England
Patriots in the Thursday prime time opener. He found out
Wednesday that he also will be working on Thanksgiving Day.

The NFL announced its 17-week, 256-game regular season schedule,
whick kicks off with the Patriots hosting the Indianapolis
Colts on September 9 in a rematch of the AFC championship game
and concludes on Sunday, January 2.

The opening Monday night game will have the NFC champion
Carolina Panthers hosting Brett Favre and the Green Bay Packers.
But for the second straight year, there will be no Monday
night game on the final regular season weekend, enhancing the
flexibility of scheduling the opening weekend of the playoffs.

The traditional Thanksgiving Day doubleheader will feature
Manning and the Colts at Detroit and the Dallas Cowboys will
host the Chicago Bears. Dallas will also play the final regular
season Sunday night game, visiting the New York Giants.

In fact, the Cowboys have five national television appearances. That will be the most for Dallas
since appearing in a franchise-high six in 1999, when the team made
its last playoff appearance before head coach Bill Parcells took over last year.

"The national television appearances certainly give us an
indication of the interest level in our team for next year,"
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said Wednesday.

"Those national games always bring about a heightened sense of
excitement, and I'm hopeful that our team can continue to progress
to the level where the networks and the schedule-makers think we
should be."

For the first time since the 1971 playoffs, there will be an NFL
doubleheader on Christmas Day. The Kansas City Chiefs host the
Oakland Raiders at 5:30 p.m. ET and the Tennessee Titans meet
the Denver Broncos at 8:00 p.m. ET.

A Friday afternoon game will be held for the first time in five
years on December 24 when the Packers visit the Minnesota Vikings.

Because of college bowl games on Saturday, January 1, all NFL
games over the New Year's weekend will be played on Sunday,
January 2.

The playoffs begin with wild card weekend on January 8-9.

The Patriots will be on prime time four times, including two
Monday night games.

The Cincinnati Bengals will host a Monday night game for the
first time in 15 years when they play the Denver Broncos on
October 25.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will face two of their former Pro Bowl
players -- defensive tackle Warren Sapp and safety John Lynch -- in consecutive weeks. Sapp signed as a free agent with the
Oakland Raiders, who will host the Bucs on September 26. Lynch
was cut by the Bucs and signed with the Denver Broncos, who
visit Tampa Bay on October 3.

The Houston Texans will return to national television for the first time
since their inaugural game when the Packers come calling on Sunday night, Nov. 21.

"Anytime you play either a Sunday night or a Monday night it's
special to players, coaches and everybody in the organization. You
always want to go out and put on a good show," said coach Dom

Information from The Associated Press and SportsTicker was used in this report.