Peyton Manning missed the 2011 season because of neck problems, but he won't get to ease back into the action when he makes his long-awaited comeback with the Broncos.
The future Hall of Fame quarterback, who was released by the Colts after 14 seasons, found out Tuesday night that he'll face three playoff teams to open the 2012 season. It starts in prime time against the Steelers at home, a rematch of the AFC wild-card game won in overtime by Denver's Tim Tebow, who was traded to the Jets after Manning signed with the Broncos. Manning is then on the road on Sunday night in Atlanta before returning home to face the Texans.
Welcome back, Peyton.
The defending Super Bowl champion Giants host the Cowboys on a Wednesday night to open a grueling schedule, while the previous year's champions also have their work cut out, especially early in the season. The Packers host the resurgent 49ers, who lost to the Giants in the NFC Championship Game, in Week 1. Only four days later, Green Bay will host the NFC North rival Bears in the season debut of the NFL Network's Thursday Night Football. There's more drama in Week 3 for the Packers, as they visit Seattle in a Monday night game that will feature former Packers backup quarterback Matt Flynn against 2011 MVP Aaron Rodgers.
The defending AFC champion Patriots have the easiest strength of schedule in terms of the 2011 records of their opponents, but they'll be tested nevertheless. There's a Week 3 Sunday night game against the Ravens, which is a rematch of the AFC Championship Game, a Thanksgiving night visit to the Jets and prime-time games against playoff teams Houston and San Francisco in Weeks 14 and 15.
The Ravens host the Manning brothers in back-to-back games late in the season. First, it's Peyton and the Broncos in Week 15, then Eli's Giants the following week.
The Saints begin a challenging year without coach Sean Payton, who was suspended for the season because of the team's bounty program that ran from 2009-11. New Orleans opens at home against the Redskins.