(Reuters) - The Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens and Denver Broncos, the hot favorite to lift the title, raise the curtain on the NFL’s 2013 season on Thursday as the opening act to a Week One full on intrigue.
Recycled players, rivalries, revenge and a return to the sidelines highlight the opening chapter of a five-month drama that will reach a chilling climax on February 2 when New York and New Jersey host the first outdoor, cold weather Super Bowl at MetLife Stadium.
Some familiar names have been recycled with quarterbacks Carson Palmer (Arizona) and Alex Smith (Kansas City), running backs Reggie Bush (Detroit) and Steven Jackson (Atlanta) and wide receivers Anquan Boldin (San Francisco), Greg Jennings (Minnesota) and Wes Welker (Denver) getting fresh starts.
The New Orleans Saints, coming off their first sub-.500 season since 2007, will look to draw inspiration from the return of head coach Sean Payton to the sidelines following his year-long ban resulting from the team’s ‘Bountygate’ scandal.
The Superdome is sure to be rocking on Sunday as Payton is reunited with quarterback Drew Brees for an NFC South clash against the division rival Atlanta Falcons.
“No suspensions, no lockout, no protracted contract negotiations, no wire-tapping. We’re ready to go,” Saints General Manager Mickey Loomis said on the team’s website. “We’re not going to win or lose the Super Bowl (because of Sunday’s result), but it’s a real good test for us.”
When it comes to NFL rivalries none are bigger than the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys who will renew hostilities in an NFC East tilt in Texas while the NFC North’s Detroit Lions and Minnesota Vikings open their accounts in the Motor City.
The Cowboys and Giants may be a classic matchup but New Yorkers will already be looking ahead to Week Two when New York quarterback Eli Manning faces older brother Peyton, signal caller for the Broncos, in Manning Bowl III.
Minnesota and Detroit will feature a fascinating clash of styles with the Lions offense revolving around record smashing wide receiver Calvin Johnson while the Vikings rely on bruising running back Adrian Peterson, the NFL’s reigning most valuable player.
The focus for Tampa Bay and Washington supporters is on the wounded knees of Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III and the Buccaneers’ prize off-season addition cornerback Darrelle Revis.
Griffin, the NFL’s rookie of year, will try to avoid the dreaded sophomore jinx and calm the jittery nerves of Washington fans when he leads the Redskins against Michael Vick and the Philadelphia Eagles in one of two Monday Night contests.
Regarded as the best cornerback in the NFL, revenge will be on Revis’s mind as he returns to New York to face his former-team the Jets, who traded him away after tearing his ACL early last season.
The All-Pro, known as ‘Revis Island’ for his air-tight coverage that left wide receivers stranded, will be licking his lips at the prospects of going up against Jets rookie quarterback Geno Smith.
Smith will not be the only rookie quarterback making his debut on Sunday with the Buffalo Bills handing EJ Manual the starting job against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.
Above all, Week One will offer up two riveting rematches that will shed light on some Super Bowl ambitions.
In the Mile High City the Broncos and Ravens clash in a rematch of last season’s double-overtime AFC divisional playoff won by Baltimore while San Francisco and Green Bay hook up in a rematch of their NFC divisional round showdown.
With the addition of Welker and Manning now in his second season with Denver, the Broncos are the betting favorites to win the Super Bowl but the Ravens have not backed away from their stated objective to become an NFL dynasty.
”We are legitimately one step closer to building what we’ve been talking about building,“ said Ravens head coach John Harbaugh. ”The idea is to build that dynasty.
“That’s always been what we’ve said we’re trying to accomplish here and that’s the ultimate mission.”
Editing by Frank Pingue