DANA POINT, Calif. -- The Steelers get their opening-night showcase as Super Bowl champions. The oldest rivalry in football has a first-week renewal in prime time. An old AFL-style doubleheader closes out the weekend.
That's how the NFL will begin the 2009 season, starting with as juicy a matchup as possible: Pittsburgh hosting the Tennessee Titans, who merely had the league's best record in 2008 and who beat the Steelers 31-14 in Week 16 of the 2008 season.
Opening kickoff is Thursday night, Sept. 10 on NBC, which also gets the 178th meeting between the Bears and Packers, in Green Bay on Sunday night, Sept. 13.
For those surprised that the Cowboys, who open their palatial new stadium this season, are not featured in a night game in Week 1, well, baseball got in the way. So Dallas, the NFL's biggest TV draw, which is moving to Arlington, Texas, near the Rangers' ballpark -- the Rangers are home that weekend -- will have to wait until the second week, when the Cowboys are expected to host the Sunday nighter.
"We have the chance to get on the national game the second weekend with not being able to get on the first weekend," Cowboys vice president Stephen Jones said Monday at the owners meetings. "We're having to work with the league on some things."
The Cowboys and Lions get to keep their traditional Thanksgiving hosting slots.
The Lions go back to meeting the Packers that day, a matchup that occurred every year from 1951-63 and will happen for the 19th time. The Raiders will be at the Cowboys following that, and the NFL Network night game will feature the New York Giants at Denver.
"The Thanksgiving game is a tradition and we're proud to have it and to continue it in the new stadium," Jones said. "It's very important to us."
Commissioner Roger Goodell acknowledged there continues to be discussions about rotating the Thanksgiving afternoon contests.
"We did not feel it was appropriate at this time," he said, adding the league's competition and broadcast committees were looking into the matter.
The Monday night doubleheader on ESPN on Sept. 14 will feature Buffalo, with Terrell Owens, at New England, with, the Patriots hope, a returning Tom Brady. That game will be followed by San Diego at Oakland -- all original AFL franchises.
While the AFL began play in 1960 and is not 50 years old until 2010, the NFL has chosen to observe the 50th season of play by those franchises. The celebration of that league, which merged with the NFL in 1966 and began play as one entity in 1970, begins with the Sept. 14 doubleheader.
Goodell said he was hopeful a proposal for an expansion of the regular season to either 17 or 18 games could be presented to the owners at the May league meetings in Fort Lauderdale. The league is considering dropping one or two preseason games and extending the regular schedule, but remaining within the current 20-game format, although not likely before 2011.
To do so will involve discussions with the players union and the league's media partners. Of course, the collective bargaining agreement with the players expires after the 2010 season, so a longer schedule is just one of many issues in getting a deal done with the NFLPA.
"I haven't made a decision on whether we'll have a 17-game or 18-game season. We'll have a good feeling on it when we come out of these meetings," Goodell said. "We have to sit down with our partners and go through negotiations. We think our content continues to be more valuable to our partners."
Goodell also mentioned possibly creating a developmental league: "I would like to explore that in the next negotiations."
He noted that nearly three-quarters of the teams did not raise ticket prices this year, and that the NFL has been hit by the economic downturn. The league trimmed its staff by 15 percent and many teams have laid off employees -- even as free agents reap millions in guaranteed salary.
"It's definitely hitting us on our revenue side," he said of the economy. "The risk becomes greater in that kind of a climate and your revenues become challenged. There's a lot of uncertainty out there."
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press