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Ready for some (American) football?

The Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens and the Denver Broncos, the hot favorite to win the title, raise the curtain on the NFL’s 2013 season on Thursday as the opening act to a first week full of 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 Feb. 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 after 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 Atlanta Falcons.

“No suspensions, no lockout, no protracted contract negotiations, no wiretapping. We’re ready to go,” Saints General Manager Mickey Loomis said on the team’s Web site. “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. Reuters
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