DENVER — The 2013 NFL season kicked off here Thursday night with a playoff rematch between the Baltimore Ravens and Denver Broncos. Here are 10 things to watch when the other 30 teams open their seasons Sunday and Monday:
A GIANT ISSUE
The Cowboys have made the playoffs just once in the past five seasons, and their inability to beat the NFC East rival New York Giants — especially in Dallas — has been part of the problem. The Giants have won eight of the last 11 meetings in the series, including all four at AT&T Stadium (formerly Cowboys Stadium) since it opened in 2009.
WEEK 1: Picks for all 16 games
PREDICTIONS: All the picks for 2013
Snapping that skid Sunday night no doubt would give QB Tony Romo and the Cowboys a boost in a season that figures to make or break the Jason Garrett era. Then again, Dallas beat the Giants in last year's opener in New York — and lost five of its next seven on the way to a third-place finish at 8-8. Consistency, not putting on one good show on national TV, is what the Cowboys need most.
SLIDE, RG3, SLIDE!
Only the Washington Redskins made the playoffs out of the NFC East a year ago, thanks in large part to a dynamic rookie season from QB Robert Griffin III, who makes his return from knee reconstruction Monday night against the Philadelphia Eagles.
Can RGIII put all the offseason drama behind him and hit the ground running? Or at least hit the ground when danger is near?
"I just know I have to be safe, slide," Griffin said. "But I'm not going to go out and play scared. That's not the way I play."
Redskins coach Mike Shanahan has a history of getting his teams off to fast starts – he's 15-4 all-time in openers. New Eagles coach Chip Kelly has his work cut out for him.
PATRIOTS MOVE ON
Finally, New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick can stop deflecting questions about Aaron Hernandez and Tim Tebow and do what he does as well as anyone: scheme to win on Sundays.
PREVIEW: AFC East
First up is a road game against a Buffalo Bills team that has a rookie coach (Doug Marrone) and rookie quarterback (first-round draft pick E.J. Manuel, who is coming off knee surgery). With extended time to prepare, it wouldn't be surprising to see the Patriots deliver a lopsided welcome to the NFL. They've won nine consecutive openers, the league's longest active streak.
REX'S LAST STAND?
The atmosphere at MetLife Stadium could get downright toxic if the New York Jets don't come out charging Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. New general manager John Idzik traded away the Jets' best player, CB Darrelle Revis, as part of the rebuilding process, and Revis returns to town with the Bucs.
Rookie QB Geno Smith is starting in place of injured incumbent QB Mark Sanchez, perhaps before he's ready, but Smith insists he won't be nervous.
"They'll try to rattle my cage," Smith said about the Buccaneers. "I expect those guys to come out fired up and they want to make a statement. They've got a rookie quarterback, and they'll want to hit me and get me off my game, but I expect those things. And I look forward to it."
Meanwhile, coach Rex Ryan seems more detached than ever — which might be just as well, if Smith falters and the J-E-T-S chant gives way quickly to other four-letter words.
SAINTS MARCH IN
Coach Sean Payton is back, and so are the expectations for a New Orleans Saints team that missed the playoffs for the first time since 2008 while Payton was suspended for his role in the Bountygate scandal.
What better way to send a message than knocking off the defending NFC South champion Atlanta Falcons at the Superdome?
The Saints are 10-2 in the series with Payton on the sideline, and QB Drew Brees remains on top of his game. But the Falcons have the personnel to be a title contender and were one of the NFL's best road teams a year ago, going 6-2 away from the Georgia Dome.
TOUGHEST SCHEDULE BEGINS
Coming off a 4-12 season, the Detroit Lions will play a dozen games against teams that finished above .500 last season and seven against 2012 playoff teams.
If coach Jim Schwartz is going to keep his job, winning at home — beginning Sunday against reigning MVP Adrian Peterson and the NFC North rival Minnesota Vikings — is essential. One break in the Lions' schedule: They'll travel fewer miles (4,202) than any NFL team. The San Francisco 49ers will travel a league-high 32,948.
FIRST SHOT IN WILD WEST
No division figures to be more competitive than the NFC West, and Sunday will provide tests all around.
The 49ers host the Green Bay Packers in a divisional playoff rematch. The Seattle Seahawks face QB Cam Newton and the Panthers in Carolina. And two teams that should be improved – the young, fast Rams and the Arizona Cardinals, who brought in veteran Carson Palmer after years of incompetent QB play – square off in St. Louis.
Let the race to 11 wins (or 12? 13? 14?) begin.
The Pittsburgh Steelers have won 10 consecutive home openers — the longest active streak in the NFL — and need to make it 11 on Sunday against the Tennessee Titans to avoid putting themselves in a hole as they try to reclaim the AFC North.
PREVIEW: AFC North
The schedule gets tougher from there, beginning with a Week 2 trip to face the rival Cincinnati Bengals, whose exciting rookie RB Giovani Bernard makes his NFL debut Sunday against the Bears' opportunistic defense in Chicago.
ONE WIDE-OPEN AFC
Remodeled rosters and talented young stars have several other AFC teams optimistic, but questions remain entering Week 1.
Will the Miami Dolphins (at Cleveland) reap the benefits of their offseason spending spree? Will coach Andy Reid's steady presence allow the Kansas City Chiefs (at Jacksonville) to put last season's mess behind them?
Will Andrew Luck make the leap the Indianapolis Colts (vs. Oakland) believe he can in Year 2? And will Arian Foster stay healthy enough for the Houston Texans (at San Diego on Monday night) to ride on his back offensively?
One loss isn't a death knell for any team, but keep these numbers in mind: The 47 Super Bowl winners are 38-8-1 in Week 1 of their title seasons.
And since 1978, when the NFL went to a 16-game schedule (excluding the strike-shortened 1982 season), teams that have won their openers have made the playoffs more than twice as often (52.6%) as teams that have lost their openers (23.7%).
The best Week 1 record all-time? That belongs to the Cowboys (35-17-1).