The Baltimore Ravens, as had long been speculated, will begin their title defense with a return to Denver and a primetime Thursday night rematch of last year's classic AFC divisional playoff game with the Denver Broncos.
The NFL announced its regular-season schedule Thursday night and the trip to Denver will be one of four primetime games featuring the defending Super Bowl champion Ravens.
It's become customary for the defending Super Bowl champion to host the NFL's Thursday Night Kickoff Game, but the Ravens were unable to resolve a scheduling conflict with the Baltimore Orioles and Major League Baseball, and, as a result, will become the first defending champion since 2003 to open the season on the road.
Baltimore will host its home opener the following week, returning home to host the Cleveland Browns in a 1 p.m. game Sept. 15.
Ten of the Ravens' first 11 games are scheduled for the afternoon, including a matchup with Ed Reed and the Houston Texans Sept. 22.
Reed, who spent the first 11 seasons of his storied career with Baltimore, signed with the Texans as a free-agent in March.
Including the game against Houston, three of the Ravens' first five non-division matchups will be against teams that made the playoffs last season, as also they host the defending NFC North champion Green Bay Packers in Week 6.
The Ravens' first matchup with the Pittsburgh Steelers will be at Heinz Field in Week 7 and the second will be a primetime Thanksgiving night game in Baltimore in Week 13.
Including the home matchup with Pittsburgh, three of the Ravens' final games will be nationally televised. They'll travel to play the Detroit Lions on Monday Night Football in Week 15 and then return home to face the New England Patriots on Sunday Night Football in Week 16.
Based on 2012 records (137-119, .535), Baltimore will face the NFL's fifth-toughest schedule this season.