The New York Giants will visit the Washington Redskins and the New York Jets will host the Dallas Cowboys on Sept. 11, marking the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
With the NFL and its locked-out players mired in negotiations over a new labor agreement, the league on Tuesday announced its 2011-12 schedule — assuming the season starts on time.
The regular season kicks off Thursday night, Sept. 8, when the Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers host the New Orleans Saints at Lambeau Field.
The first Sunday features several high-profile games, including Indianapolis at Houston and Atlanta at Chicago. But much of the national focus will be on Washington and New York, the two cities most affected by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
"That stadium is going to be full of emotion, not only the people from the area but in the entire country," said Jets coach Rex Ryan, who will be matching wits with his brother, Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. "The fact that it's the 10th anniversary of 9/11, that's where the focus should be, not me playing against my brother."
The Redskins and Giants kick off at 4:15 p.m., with the Jets and Cowboys at 8:20 p.m.
"For nearly 10 years, we have felt an obligation to use our platform to make sure none of us ever forget the tragedy and heartbreak and courage and heroism of Sept. 11," Giants spokesman Pat Hanlon said. "That responsibility becomes even greater."
Pittsburgh was the third NFL city most closely affected by the terrorist attacks after Flight 93 crashed 80 miles away near Shanksville, Pa. The Steelers will visit the Baltimore Ravens on Sept. 11.
New England travels to Miami and Oakland visits Denver for the opening Monday night.
The final Sunday of the regular season falls on New Year's Day, when all 16 scheduled games are between division rivals, enhancing the potential for playoff ramifications.
The regular season covers 17 weeks, with the opening round of the playoffs scheduled for Jan. 7-8 and the Super Bowl on Feb. 5 in Indianapolis.
The NFL has expressed a desire to stretch the season to 18 games, one of the sticking points in the contentious fight between owners and players over a new labor agreement.
The two sides resumed court-ordered mediation on Tuesday in Minneapolis, with a federal judge's decision expected soon on a request to immediately halt the lockout.
The two sides spent 16 days immersed in mediated talks in Washington without coming to an agreement, resulting in a class-action antitrust lawsuit filed by the players against the NFL and the league's first work stoppage since 1987. They've recently spent about 20 hours over three days meeting in Minneapolis, with more discussions planned for Wednesday.
In a statement announcing next season's schedule, the NFL did not provide any contingencies should negotiations on a new collective bargaining agreement stretch into the fall.
"I'm confident we will have season," Rex Ryan said Tuesday night. "We're going to be ready to play. Whenever they say, 'OK, we're going back to work,' we'll be ready to play."
Among the other highlights of the schedule, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will host the Chicago Bears at Wembley Stadium on Oct. 23, one of two games outside the United States and the fifth consecutive year the NFL has played a regular-season game in London.
The Bucs lost to the New England Patriots at Wembley Stadium in 2009, while the Bears will be marking the 25th anniversary of their preseason game against the Cowboys in London.
The Buffalo Bills will play a game in Canada for the fourth consecutive season when they host the Redskins at the Rogers Centre on Oct. 30 in Toronto. The Bills have a deal with Rogers Communications through 2012 to play five regular-season games in Canada's largest city.
The Thanksgiving Day games include the Packers at Detroit, Miami at Dallas and San Francisco at Baltimore, when new 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh faces the Ravens and coach John Harbaugh in the first meeting between sibling head coaches in NFL history.
The Packers play the Bears in the only game on Christmas Day. There are 13 games scheduled for Dec. 24, including the Giants against the Jets.
The NFL will again use "flexible scheduling" for Weeks 10-15 and the final week of the regular season, allowing the league to move the start times for select games.
AP Sports Writer Dennis Waszak Jr. in New York, Tom Canavan in East Rutherford, N.J., and Jon Krawczynski in Minneapolis contributed to this report.