The NFL opens its 2012 regular season on Wednesday night when the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants host the Dallas Cowboys. Fifteen other games fill out the schedule of the new season’s first week. Here’s a preview of the action:

Wednesday, Sept. 5

Dallas Cowboys at New York Giants – 8:30 PM

MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, NJ
The defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants open at home in prime time against the Dallas Cowboys. The Giants’ victory over the Cowboys in the final week of the 2011 regular season was the start of New York’s impressive run to the title. Giants’ quarterback Eli Manning must avoid a Dallas pass rush led by DeMarcus Ware, while new Cowboys Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne attempt to jam the New York receiving corps. Dallas quarterback Tony Romo will face the Giants’ fierce pass rush and hope that Dez Bryant and Miles Austin can exploit the unproven New York secondary.

Sunday, Sept. 9

Indianapolis Colts at Chicago Bears — 1:00 PM

Soldier Field, Chicago, IL
Rookie quarterback Andrew Luck makes his first regular season start for Indianapolis against the fearsome defense of the Bears, who could be without middle linebacker Brian Urlacher. Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler is fully recovered from the broken thumb that sidelined him at the end of last season. He’ll have wide receiver Brandon Marshall and a powerful running tandem of Matt Forte and Michael Bush to help hammer away at the Indianapolis defense.

Philadelphia Eagles at Cleveland Browns — 1:00 PM

Cleveland Browns Stadium, Cleveland, OH
Philadelphia’s high-powered offense features running back LeSean McCoy and wide receivers Jeremy Maclin and DeSean Jackson, but keeping quarterback Michael Vick healthy is the key to the Eagles fate in 2012. Cleveland will start rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden, who failed to throw a touchdown pass in three pre-season games. Trent Richardson, the talented rookie running back whom the Browns chose with the third-overall pick in the NFL Draft, may see some action against the Eagles’ leaky run defense. Richardson missed nearly the entire preseason after undergoing knee surgery on Aug. 9.

New England Patriots at Tennessee Titans — 1:00 PM

LP Field, Nashville, TN
The New England Patriots did everything except win the Super Bowl last season. Quarterback Tom Brady will return with a talented receiving corps, but his offensive line is as suspect as it has been in years. Tennessee free agent-signee Kamerion Wimbley and second-year pro Colin McCarthy lead an improved Titans’ defense against the New England onslaught. Tennessee quarterback Jack Locker will be the first to find out if the Patriots’ defense improved over the off-season. Titans running back Chris Johnson must be a more consistent threat than he was in 2011.

Atlanta Falcons at Kansas City Chiefs — 1:00 PM

Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City, MO
Atlanta suits up quarterback Matt Ryan and one of the NFC’s most talented offensive units against a Kansas City defense that is beset by injuries to key players like Tamba Hali and Brandon Flowers. The Chiefs’ offense figures to be led by the running tandem of Peyton Hillis and Jamaal Charles, both of whom are capable of a big game against the Falcons’ defense.

Jacksonville Jaguars at Minnesota Vikings — 1:00 PM

Mall of America Field, Minneapolis, MN
Jaguars’ running back Maurice Jones-Drew ended his holdout in time to play in the season opener, but Rashad Jennings should get the bulk of the touches against Minnesota. The real pressure will be on Jacksonville quarterback Blaine Gabbert, who will face a fierce pass rush led by Kevin Williams. Vikings star running back Adrian Peterson, who is returning from a late-season knee injury, will be a game-time decision, but backup Toby Gerhart has enough power to help control the ball against the Jacksonville defense.

Washington Redskins at New Orleans Saints — 1:00 PM

Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans, LA
All eyes will be on Washington rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III to see if he can start his career by victimizing a depleted Saints defense. Redskins running backs Roy Helu and Evan Royster must be effective to keep defenses from keying on Griffin. New Orleans’ defense and coaching staffs will be affected by ‘Bountygate’ suspensions all year long, however quarterback Drew Brees and the dangerous Saints’ offense will still be capable of piling up yards and points against anyone.

Buffalo Bills at New York Jets — 1:00 PM

MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, NJ
Jets’ quarterback Mark Sanchez must show that the offense is better than it was in the preseason, when the first-string accounted for zero touchdowns in the first three games. The presence of Buffalo free-agent signee Mario Williams across the line of scrimmage will not be comforting for Sanchez or back-up Tim Tebow. The Bills offense has weapons with running backs Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller, but for their team to win, quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick must limit turnovers against the experienced New York secondary.

St. Louis Rams at Detroit Lions — 1:00 PM

Ford Field, Detroit, MI
Rams’ quarterback Sam Bradford is healthy again and will have running back Steven Jackson back to help the offensive effort. Unfortunately, that may not be enough against a Lions’ defense led by Ndamukong Suh and Cliff Avril, who figure to test the St. Louis offensive line often. Detroit’s high-scoring offense returns quarterback Matthew Stafford, receiver Calvin Johnson and a healthy Kevin Smith at running back. They will be a challenge for the Rams defense to stop.

Miami Dolphins at Houston Texans — 1:00 PM

Reliant Stadium, Houston, TX
Dolphins’ rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill gets to face the Houston 3-4 defense in his first regular season start. If Miami running back Reggie Bush isn’t effective, Tannehill could be in for a long day of pressure. The Texans’ offense returns its weapons with running backs Arian Foster and Ben Tate, quarterback Matt Schaub and wide receiver Andre Johnson, who should play. The Dolphins’ defense will be pressed to consistently stop all that talent.

San Francisco 49ers at Green Bay Packers — 4:25 PM

Lambeau Field, Green Bay, WI
After falling just a few plays short of the Super Bowl last year, San Francisco is out to prove that 2011 was not a fluke. The 49ers start on the road at Green Bay, where quarterback Alex Smith must guard against turnovers against Packers’ defensive guru Dom Capers’ schemes. New wide receivers Randy Moss and Mario Manningham should help. Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers will see constant pressure from the aggressive San Francisco defense. Packers running back Cedric Benson may need to chip in on blocking and picking up some yardage on the ground.

Seattle Seahawks at Arizona Cardinals — 4:25 PM

University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, AZ
Despite signing free-agent quarterback Matt Flynn in the off-season, the Seahawks will start rookie Russell Wilson, who looked solid throughout the preseason. Running back Marshawn Lynch is the center of the Seattle offense, so Wilson will not have to beat the Cardinals by himself. Arizona starts John Skleton at quarterback after he and Kevin Kolb both stunk up the preseason. The Cardinals offense does have wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald and running backs Beanie Wells and Ryan Williams, all of whom will be challenged by Seattle’s physical defense.

Carolina Panthers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers — 4:25 PM

Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, FL
Panthers’ quarterback Cam Newton will hope to avoid the sophomore jinx and capitalize on the running back tandem of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, who figure to stress the Tampa Bay defense. The Buccaneers’ offense has added some weapons, like rookie running back Doug Martin, but quarterback Josh Freeman has to show that 2011 was a fluke year. The Carolina defense hopes to continue his misery.

Pittsburgh Steelers at Denver Broncos — 8:20 PM

Sports Authority Field at Mile High, Denver, CO
Quarterback Peyton Manning makes his regular season Broncos debut in prime time, as Denver faces Pittsburgh and its relentless defense on Sunday night. Denver wide receivers Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas must be in synch with Manning’s check downs, or the Steelers defense will try to tee off on the immobile veteran. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is a big target for the Broncos defense, especially second-year pass rusher Von Miller. The Steelers will need to develop a running game to keep Big Ben from being constantly blitzed.

Monday, Sept. 10

Cincinnati Bengals at Baltimore Ravens — 7:00 PM

M&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore, MD
The Baltimore defense will be without Terrell Suggs, but it should still create plenty of havoc for Bengals’ quarterback Andy Dalton, who will have an untested offensive line in front of him. Cincinnati wide receiver A.J. Green is a budding star, but the Ravens will seek to keep him in check. Quarterback Joe Flacco and running back Ray Rice will lead the Baltimore offense against a Bengals’ defensive unit that must prove itself.

San Diego Chargers at Oakland Raiders — 10:15 PM

Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, Oakland, CA
When these teams met in the final week of last season, San Diego kept Oakland from its first playoff appearance —and first winning record since 2002 — by beating them with the pass. New Raiders coach Dennis Allen blew up the defensive unit responsible for the meltdown. They will face their first test against Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers, whose offensive line looks shaky. If Raiders quarterback Carson Palmer leads the offense instead of running back Darren McFadden, it could be a long season in Oakland.

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