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NFL opening day: What to watch for this season (VIDEO)

2012 NFL season kicks off with the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants hosting the Dallas Cowboys.
Nfl season kick offEnlarge
The Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders perform at Cowboys Stadium on August 29, 2012 in Arlington, Texas. (Ronald Martinez/AFP/Getty Images)

Remember when they played football on Sundays?

It seems the National Football League’s expanse knows no bounds, proven again tonight as the 2012 season kicks off with the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants hosting the Dallas Cowboys.

It’s Wednesday, remember.

Soon, the NFL will back up all the way to Monday nights … Oh, right, that happens.

Part of the reason for tonight’s game is to avoid conflict with that other spectacle happening in Charlotte when President Obama addresses the Democratic National Convention on Thursday.

Regardless of when the games are played, NFL football is still America’s favorite obsession.

Here are five stories to watch for tonight, this weekend and this season.

1. No Doubt vs. Mariah Carey
Opening night football now carries nearly as much hype and hyperbole as the Super Bowl. 

Starting in 2002, the NFL struck upon its “Kickoff Game” concept, ex-Baltimore Ravens coach Brian Billick writes on FoxSports.com.

In 2004, the league started offering the game to Super Bowl winners.

“When the Baltimore Ravens began the 2001 season as the NFL’s defending champions, we started the new campaign with … just another home game,” Billick said.

“No national TV. No prime time.”

Now, we get performances by Mariah Carey and No Doubt.

2. Replacement refs
Due to stalled labor negotiations and the NFL locking out its regular officials, replacement refs are going to work Week 1 games. 

There appears to be little chance the more experienced crews are back at work any time soon.

After one called the Atlanta Falcons “Arizona” and another awarded New York a free play against Chicago, we’re sure everything will go smoothly tonight.

(Cough)

“We just have to hope and pray,” Baltimore Ravens safety Bernard Pollard said on CNN.

3. Manning his post in Denver
Already a Hall of Fame quarterback from his time with the Indianapolis Colts, Peyton Manning begins this season with a new team (Denver Broncos) after missing all of last season with a serious neck injury. 

Needless to say, expectations are Mile High.

Manning told the Denver Post he’s not worried.

“There is a lot of time, and a lot of things are going to happen, between now and when the Super Bowl is played,” he said. “Our goal right now is to get better this week.”

4. Tim Tebow a wildcard in wildcat
He was a great college quarterback who didn’t command much respect from NFL teams, falling to the Denver Broncos with a late draft pick.

He sat on the bench. He prayed for his chance.

When he did play, it was always exciting – like a high-wire trapeze act.

Now, Tim Tebow is a New York Jet.

Despite criticisms about his throwing style, accuracy and decision making ability, Tebow is going to play for the Jets … somewhere.

The Jets are coy about using Tebow as a quarterback or in some other fashion (say, returning kicks or in the hybrid wildcat offense).

More importantly, here’s an ultra-religious sort mixing with a team that set a record for profanity during its time on ESPN’s Hard Knocks documentary series.

While Tebow appeared in pro-life TV ads, Jets coach Rex Ryan watched foot fetish videos with his wife.

To top it all off, he’s going to be under intense media pressure.

“God made us all the same and loves us all the same,” he said recently of adjusting to life in NYC. “You want to go out there and live a normal life. . . . Go to the movies or to Dave and Busters and mess around with your brothers and friends. Some of the (attention) does get tiring.”

Uh-oh.

5. Bounty of bounties
The New Orleans Saints have been one of the NFL’s premier teams since 2006.

Now, after the NFL slammed the team with sanctions and fines stemming from a bounty scandal, it remains to be determined how this prime-of-life franchise survives.

The league suspended coach Sean Payton for the entire season, but he’s still convinced the team is capable of winning the Super Bowl again.

“There are still days where obviously you miss it, because this is what you've done for so long,” he told NOLA.com. “But really overall, looking from afar, the preseason seems to have gone well. Everyone has really come together.”

That, like everything else, remains to be seen.

More from GlobalPost: Replacement refs to work opening weekend

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatches/globalpost-blogs/world-at-play/nfl-opening-day-what-watch-season-video