From the league itself:
BACK TO FOOTBALL!
The NFL returns this week and it’s time to get “Back to Football.” That means the next five months will be packed with the sizzle and suspense that comes only with the National Football League.
America’s favorite sport roars back into action Thursday night (NBC, 8:30 PM ET) in the first game of NFL Kickoff 2011 Weekend. This year’s contest features the past two Super Bowl winners as the defending champion GREEN BAY PACKERS host the Super Bowl XLIV champion NEW ORLEANS SAINTS.
The Thursday night celebration will start with “NFL Kickoff 2011 Presented by EA Sports,” a special pregame show that will feature award-winning artists Kid Rock, Lady Antebellum and Maroon 5.
Everybody is ready for the unique unpredictability of the NFL. And every team enters the new season with hope.
Last year, nearly 67 percent of the games were within one score (eight points or fewer) in the fourth quarter. And for the 15th consecutive year, at least five teams made the playoffs after missing out the year before.
The 2011 season promises more of the same. It’s time to get “Back to Football!”
As the 2011 NFL season kicks off, it comes packed with changes, quests and questions:
CAN THE SUPER BOWL CHAMPION PACKERS REPEAT?: It’s tough. It’s happened only eight times since the first Super Bowl in 1967. But the Packers are up for the challenge. “The way we prepared last year, it brought us a title,” says Green Bay cornerback CHARLES WOODSON. “This year, we’ll prepare even harder.”
MILESTONES ON THE HORIZON: Records are made to be broken…So what records will be set this year? Some milestones that can be reached this season: Indianapolis QB PEYTON MANNING can become the first quarterback with 12 4,000-yard seasons and needs 22 passing TDs and 286 completions to move into second place all-time…Jets RB LA DAINIAN TOMLINSON needs six rushing TDs to become the second player with 150 and needs 698 rushing yards to move into fourth-place all-time…Atlanta TE TONY GONZALEZ needs 34 catches to move into second place all-time…Baltimore LB RAY LEWIS needs 1.5 sacks to become the first player with 40 sacks and 30 interceptions…Green Bay CB CHARLES WOODSON needs two interception-return TDs to tie for the most all-time…And Chicago’s DEVIN HESTER needs one punt-return TD for the most in NFL history.
NEW COACHES/PLAYERS IN NEW PLACES: There are eight new head coaches in 2011 – JOHN FOX in Denver, LESLIE FRAZIER in Minnesota (interim for six games in 2010), JASON GARRETT in Dallas (interim for eight games in 2010), JIM HARBAUGH in San Francisco, HUE JACKSON in Oakland, MIKE MUNCHAK in Tennessee, RON RIVERA in Carolina and PAT SHURMUR in Cleveland.
And there are a lot of well-known players with new teams, including KEVIN KOLB & TODD HEAP with the Cardinals; NNAMDI ASOMUGHA, DOMINIQUE RODGERS-CROMARTIE, CULLEN JENKINS, RONNIE BROWN, VINCE YOUNG & STEVE SMITH with the Eagles; PLAXICO BURRESS & DERRICK MASON with the Jets; JOHNATHAN JOSEPH with the Texans; CHAD OCHOCINCO, ALBERT HAYNESWORTH & SHAUN ELLIS with the Patriots; DONOVAN MC NABB with the Vikings; MATT HASSELBECK with the Titans; REGGIE BUSH with the Dolphins; RAY EDWARDS with the Falcons; BRAYLON EDWARDS with the 49ers; AUBRAYO FRANKLIN, OLIN KREUTZ & DARREN SPROLES with the Saints; SIDNEY RICE, TARVARIS JACKSON & ZACH MILLER with the Seahawks; and TAKEO SPIKES with the Chargers.
ON-THE-FIELD TRENDS IN 2010: Scoring was up…passing soared…running backs impressed…young (and, in some cases, undrafted) players made their mark…and surprise teams continued to emerge.
A record 11,283 points were scored, with games averaging 44.07 points, the highest average in 45 seasons (46.12 in 1965). In all, 1,270 TDs were scored, tying the record set in 2002…The league-wide passer rating (84.1) and TD-INT ratio (1.47: 1) were both all-time bests, as were TD passes (751) and passing yards per game (443.1)…A record 22 QBs passed for 3,000+ yards and 11 had 25+ TD passes, second-most all-time… Indianapolis QB PEYTON MANNING set a single-season record for pass completions with 450…Kansas City RB JAMAAL CHARLES became the second player to rush for 1,400 yards (1,467) and average 6.30 yards per carry (6.38)…Houston RB ARIAN FOSTER became the second undrafted player to lead the NFL in rushing yards (1,616) since the advent of the common draft in 1967…Chicago’s DEVIN HESTER set an NFL career record with 14 combined kick-return TDs...The KANSAS CITY CHIEFS rebounded to win the AFC West after a last-place finish in 2009, marking the NFL-record eighth consecutive season a team went from “worst-to-first” in its division…And a record-tying 13 teams won at least 10 games (2003 and 2005).
NEW RULES: There are several new rules in 2011 focused on enhancing player safety…Existing unnecessary roughness rules have been standardized and protection for defenseless players has been expanded, including additional safeguards for defenseless receivers, players who receive “blindside” blocks and quarterbacks, kickers and punters on changes of possession. Illegal “launching,” which has been defined as a player leaving both feet prior to contact to spring forward and upward into an opponent and delivering a blow with any part of the helmet, has been prohibited. Roughing the passer rules have been clarified so hits to the head of a passer by an opponent’s hands, arms, or other parts of the body will not result in fouls unless they are forcible blows…Due to an increasing number of injuries on kickoffs, several rules have been changed to make those plays safer for both the kicking and receiving teams. The kicking team’s restraining line has been moved to its own 35-yard line. The kicking team formation for kickoffs has also been adjusted so all players other than the kicker must be lined up no more than five yards behind the restraining line.
Two adjustments were made to instant replay procedures in the interest of competitive fairness: 1. The replay official will now initiate reviews of all scoring plays throughout the game from the booth, allowing confirmation of all scoring plays and providing more flexibility to coaches in the use of their challenges. 2. Teams will now be penalized 15 yards for initiating a challenge after a foul that prevents the next snap. This prevents a team from challenging the previous play if it commits a pre-snap foul.
Dead-ball personal fouls by either team at the end of a half will now be enforced on the ensuing kickoff of the third quarter, eliminating the extension of a half after a five- or 15-yard penalty enforcement that includes a dead-ball personal foul against the defense. This ensures consistent enforcement for all dead-ball personal fouls on both the offense and defense in these situations.
Absent prior approval from the NFL, the surface of the entire field must be a league-approved shade of green, preserving the uniform appearance of all NFL games.
There will also be points of emphasis on several existing rules this season (although the rules themselves have not changed). All rules that encourage player safety will continue to be strictly enforced, including runners grasping the facemask of defensive players, horse-collar tackles, chop blocks and clipping. The focus will be on eliminating these tactics from the game. The rules pertaining to what constitutes a completed catch were reviewed by the Competition Committee and language was added to the rulebook to further clarify the guidelines.
THE INTERNATIONAL NFL: For the fifth consecutive year, the NFL will play a regular-season overseas game in the United Kingdom when the Chicago Bears face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at London’s Wembley Stadium on October 23. Closer to home, the Buffalo Bills will host the Washington Redskins on October 30 in Toronto, the sixth of eight games over a five-year span for the Bills at the Rogers Centre.
SPECIAL PATCHES: All NFL players, coaches and sideline personnel will wear a special NFL 9/11 ribbon as a patch or pin on their uniforms and sideline apparel to remember the courage and resilience that followed the events of September 11, 2001…All NFL teams will wear a pink ribbon decal on their helmets to celebrate BREAST CANCER AWARENESS MONTH in October…The New England Patriots will honor the memory of MYRA KRAFT, the late wife of owner Robert Kraft, with a jersey patch…The Chicago Bears and Tampa Bay Buccaneers will wear an “INTERNATIONAL SERIES” patch during their October 23 game at London’s Wembley Stadium…The Buffalo Bills will wear a “TORONTO SERIES” patch when they host the Washington Redskins on October 30 at the Rogers Centre…The San Francisco 49ers will honor the memory of Pro Football Hall of Famers JOE “THE JET” PERRY and JOHN HENRY JOHNSON with helmet decals.