NFL: Patriots to play in Detroit on Thanksgiving

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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — The New England Patriots will open the season at home against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sept. 12.

The NFL released the schedule Tuesday night. It’s the league’s sixth most difficult based on the 136-120 combined 2009 record of Patriots’ opponents. New England plays in an improved AFC East after the New York Jets and Miami Dolphins made key offseason moves.

The Patriots have a bye in Week 5 and return for a home game against the Baltimore Ravens. New England will visit the Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving.

Six of New England’s eight home opponents made the playoffs last season, including non-division foes Minnesota, Indianapolis and Green Bay. On the road they will play San Diego, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Detroit, Miami, Buffalo and the Jets.

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Saints open season with Vikings

NEW YORK  — The Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints will get an early test when they host the Minnesota Vikings in the NFL season opener, a rematch of their thrilling NFC championship game decided in overtime.

That nationally televised game will be Thursday night, Sept. 9. New Orleans won its first conference title by beating Minnesota 31-28 on a 40-yard field goal by Garrett Hartley 4:45 into overtime. The Saints went on to defeat the Indianapolis Colts 31-17 in the Super Bowl.

The Saints also will play at Dallas on Thanksgiving Day; the Cowboys handed New Orleans its first defeat after 13 victories last season.

In an effort to make late-season games more meaningful and avoid teams sitting out regulars once they have clinched a playoff berth, the NFL set up all intradivision matchups for the final Sunday, Jan. 2. That adjustment caused much of the delay in the release of the schedule this year; it normally is announced in early April or before.

Indianapolis begins its 2010 schedule at Houston on the first full day of the season, Sept. 12. Another highlight that Sunday will be the regular-season debut of the new Meadowlands Stadium, with Carolina at the New York Giants. The next night, Baltimore is at the New York Jets in the same venue, followed by San Diego at Kansas City in what has become a traditional Monday night doubleheader to kick off the season.

Two games will be played abroad: Denver vs. San Francisco in London on Oct. 31, and Chicago vs. Buffalo in Toronto the following Sunday, Nov. 7.

The Jets also will host the Thanksgiving night game, against Cincinnati.

Donovan McNabb’s first game as Redskins quarterback will be against a familiar foe: Dallas. The Cowboys visit Washington in the Sunday night game on Sept. 12.

McNabb goes back to Philadelphia on Sunday, Oct. 4, the fourth week of the schedule and the first week with byes.

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